Country Lanes operates a programme of UK cycling holidays, mainly for overseas visitors – especially Americans – and has set-up four cycle tourism centres.
These are in the New Forest at Brockenhurst station and at the Sandy Balls Holiday Centre; in the Cotswolds at Moreton-in-Marsh station; and the Lake District at Windermere station.
Originally owned by Achmatowicz, all four centres were impacted by the foot-and-mouth epidemic last year and Country Lanes employees were given a stark choice: leave or stay with a company that had an uncertain future and which could not guarantee to pay wages.
"Staff were given the opportunity to receive a generous profit share instead," said Achmatowicz.
"The risk-averse took redundancy; the entrepreneurs stayed and started behaving like owner-managers."
Despite being forged in adversity, the new approach worked for two of the centres.
"When drafting our foot and mouth recovery strategy I decided that rather than spend on recruiting and training new employees it made sense to develop a business model using owner-managers," said Achmatowicz.
The resulting Country Lanes franchise package was worked up by a British Franchise Association-recommended consultant. So far this year Country Lanes has signed up two of its four existing cycle centres. They saw value in retaining the Country Lanes brand and after training programmes now operate on-site cycle hire services using Country Lane’s name, established supplier relationships and on-line marketing from Country Lane’s web site.
Gareth Wood, franchise operations manager at Country Lanes, wrote the operating manual, conducts franchisee training and offers business development advice to franchisees.
"Supporting owners who are motivated to grow the business is tremendously rewarding,’ said Wood.
"It now remains for us to recruit franchisees into our remaining locations at Brockenhurst and Moreton-in-Marsh, while also identifying expansion sites to extend our cycle tourism brand nation-wide."
In October 2001 Transport Minister John Spellar presented Country Lanes with the Best Whole Journey Experience Cycle Mark award for its contribution to rail-cycle transport integration. And in March of this year Country Living magazine hailed Susan Achmatowicz as "one of Britain’s most enterprising rural women" in their Enterprising Rural Women Awards 2002.
Country Lanes operates from a converted railway carriage at Brockenhurst station. This rail-cycle tourism and integrated transport scheme was ‘Highly Commended’ in the British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Awards 1999.