Charles, Earl of March and Kinrara, is never short of a new proposition. Having spent the past 15 years transforming the Goodwood estate into a mini-conglomerate of businesses, the entrepreneurial earl is moving into the hospitality industry. Lord March is particularly fond of the expression “unique selling point”, says the FT. In this instance, that might well be the eye-popping £200,000 membership fees he’s planning to charge for the privilege of joining the Goodwood Club, which will be housed in “the doghouse” – a palatial Georgian edifice that was originally home to the estate’s hunt packs.
The new club is an important element of March’s strategic “sporting bet”, says The Sunday Telegraph. Since inheriting the management of the estate from his father, the Duke of Richmond, in 1991, he’s been on a mission to turn it into Britain’s most glamorous sporting brand. As well as Glorious Goodwood, the 200-year-old racing meeting, there are now two annual motor-sport festivals, an aviation club, a golf course and one of the oldest cricket pitches in Britain. And there’s a 3,000-acre organic farm and a BMW-run Rolls-Royce factory.
At Goodwood, long-dead family members continue to play their part. “All these sports were started by key members of the family,” says March. The estate’s current renaissance owes a lot to his grandfather, Freddie March, who established motor-racing at Goodwood in 1948. When the present earl came to revamp the race track in the early Nineties, he hoped to tap into its past glamour. It worked. Between them, Goodwood’s Festival of Speed and Revival meetings bring in 600,000 visitors a year. The latter does more than celebrate vintage cars, says Nick Foulkes in The Mail on Sunday: “it summons up an era of elegance”. It also got March’s business strategy up and running. “If motor-sports had failed,” he says, “the brand would never have happened.”
March, 51, “straddles the ancient and modern in his professional life: a man of inherited wealth who spends a great deal of his time being entrepreneurial… He is the Tony Blair of hereditary peers: New Aristocracy”, says Sathnam Sanghera in the FT. But his career didn’t get off to the best of starts, says the Daily Mail. He left Eton by “mutual agreement” at 15 and spent four months in hospital, having pranged his mother’s MG. Things took a turn for the better when he set his sights on photography, beginning a career that lasted 20 years. Certainly, arriving at Goodwood when a motor festival is in full flight is like “walking on to a giant film set”, says Foulkes. But then nothing on the estate is entirely life-like. Even the Rolls-Royce factory, where hand-tooled cars are pushed manually down the production line, is housed in a spectacular building featuring an eco-friendly “living roof”.
The big question is whether Goodwood Estate Company can establish itself as a viable leisure group over the long term. The figures aren’t over-encouraging, said The Sunday Times last November: there was a drop of almost a third in pre-tax profits in the most recent accounts, down to £580,000 for the year to December 2004. But this was largely to due to investment in the new clubhouse. Even so, with costs nearly equalling the estate’s £40m turnover, it’s no get-rich-quick scheme. “Luckily, we haven’t got any shareholders and we can take the long view,” says March. “But the difference between this and most businesses is that I can’t walk away. There’s no exit strategy.”
Lady Alexandra… Goodwood’s glamorous new ambassador
Often compared to Hugh Grant for his foppish good looks and rakish charm, the Earl of March appears to inhabit a “different universe” from the “orange-coloured budget one” of Stelios Haji-Ioannou, says James Hall in The Sunday Telegraph. Yet his new golf venture demonstrates he is a disciple of the Easyjet founder. Golf at Goodwood, launched in March, is based on the Easyjet principle that the cost of the service will be directly linked to demand – the lower the demand, the cheaper it will be. There will be no dress code, no waiting list for new members and no prohibitive prices – members will instead buy reasonably priced “golfing credits”. The aim, says March, is to create “an inclusive experience in an exclusive environment”, its unique selling point being to make it “more egalitarian” for women. No doubt the on-site Ralph Lauren boutique will help.
It’s open to question what those preparing to shell out £200,000 to join the upmarket Goodwood Club will make of sharing their facilities with such “budget” players. But if anyone can pull off this marketing conundrum, March probably can. Marketing nous as well as sporting zeal seems to flow through the veins of this family. Lord March’s daughter, Lady Alexandra “Atty” Gordon-Lennox, is already making a promising start, says David Thomas in The Mail on Sunday. The 20-year-old speed freak, who speaks fluent Russian, is shaping up to be a potent youth ambassador for the glamorous and newly edgy Goodwood – and is currently on a mission to big up the “street chic” qualities of Rolls-Royce. “You see them in London outside all the really great clubs and think, ‘Yeah! I’ll go in there’,” she says. Rollers are “very gangsta now; very cool”.