How to start a chalet business 1. “Non!”

A picture of General de Gaulle

“We would very much like you to consider renting two of your chalets in La Tania to us for the 2021/22 season, covid permitting.

Would you accept 40,000€ for the two chalets for the season?”

Well, I couldn’t see much wrong with it. I had, after all, fettled and honed it in my best French over several hours. it was January 2021 and we all know that was going on then (Brexit and Covid, if you were on a cruise to the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy), so I thought my hand would be bitten off. It was my first and very nearly my last, step into the world of chalet rental negotiation.

I was, I think it’s fair to say, a little naïve. My approach was, I think it’s equally fair to say and with some understatement, not a success.

Our plan to start a ski holiday business, maturing over several years, had effectively fallen before its first ski jump.

It’s not that I’m a complete novice in the small business world. After all, I have run a small business myself, advising small businesses. I have also been a tax inspector, something I’m bizarrely proud of, so I ought to know something about negotiation Well, I thought so, but that was clearly a mistake.

My second was to assume that negotiating with a French person would be much the same as negotiating with my fellow Brits.

In the UK, I am used to making a reasonable proposal which is usually humorously rebuffed. Then there’s some toing-and-froing and a bit of banter, possibly some vagueness and maybe a bit of repackaging and the deal’s done.

With the French (at least, my Frenchman), it’s all about words and face, logic and rationality.

My email to him, topped and tailed with an introduction and a flowery French sign-off, was short and succinct. His reply, when it eventually arrived, was not.

A paragraph or two (a hundred words or so), politely explaining why my offer was absurd and that he must reject it out of hand. Then a few more paragraphs on why he would have thought that I would know the terms under which he had rented his chalet to my previous employers, now no longer trading. They had not behaved with integrity and therefore he could not trust us. He wanted twice what I had offered and all the money up front. I should also realise that he had many options, all of which he was considering. Even if I were to agree to his conditions, he would wait and see what the market was doing and would not be prepared to sign anything until the late summer.

I was taken aback, shocked even. I was a little annoyed. I considered his logic Trumpian. I ranted. I poured a beer. Of all the things that Covid and Brexit had thrown in the way of starting a hospitality business in France, I hadn’t anticipated that renting a chalet, especially in La Tania, would be one of them.

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