Robert Bull is the CEO and driving force behind RoyaleLife, the largest provider of bungalow living in the UK. The company sells the experience of coastal or countryside bungalow living to customers throughout the country, providing affordable access to sought-after locations across the landscape. Each bungalow produced by RoyaleLife is finished to the highest possible standards of quality and is located within safe and secure communities designed to encourage socializing and a sense of togetherness— all exclusively for people over the age of 45.
Under Robert Bull’s leadership, RoyaleLife has been instrumental in helping popularise what’s become known as the ‘bungalow lifestyle.’ This approach to housing not only provides a low-maintenance and relaxation-centric approach to life, it also enables owners to afford greater financial security as they enter the second half of their lives.
Bull has led RoyaleLife as they’ve expanded to over 64 developments, with over 30 more currently in various levels of planning, development, or construction.
Over the course of his career as CEO of RoyaleLife and beyond, Robert Bull has established himself as an ambitious driver of growth for a range of organizations and brands. He’s led RoyaleLife from its roots as a family-owned business dating back to 1945 into a modern success story that continually strives to live up to the principles of its humble beginnings.
Bull has also made RoyaleLife famous in business circles for their unmatched attention to detail and commitment to service— from the very first phone call with potential clients to the moment new bungalow owners receive their keys and move in.
What’s next for Robert Bull? Continuing to grow the RoyaleLife brand and organization while creating life-changing living situations for their clients.
How did you get started in this business?
In the past 10 years as the UK’s major developers have turned away from building bungalows, RoyaleLife saw a gap in the market for high-quality single-story homes for those over 45.
The company has risen to prominence over the last five years and is now the UK’s largest provider of bungalow living for this group.
With a heritage dating back to 1945, RoyaleLife is a business with longevity and stability at its heart whilst growing rapidly and evolving into a corporation that is redefining bungalow living.
The company has struck a nerve with the property buying public: indeed, a recent survey says that a bungalow is the most popular type of home for those over 65.
The National Home Building Council, NHBC, also cited releasing capital, low maintenance and low running costs as key contributors for this generation wanting to move.
To address this need, RoyaleLIfe offers a range of fully furnished two-bedroom bungalows with private driveways and gardens at luxurious gated developments, with almost 90 park locations in some of the most desirable parts of the country. Prices start at £149,950 rising to £550,000.
How do you make money?
That’s an interesting question. It all depends on whether you’re speaking in the literal sense or the more general, figurative sense.
In the general sense, I make money by identifying where a consumer need isn’t being met by the market. This occurs often but can be difficult to see before the opportunity has passed. It’s all about looking at what’s currently available, how people are living their lives, and how their needs aren’t quite being taken care of. In the case of RoyaleLife, I realized that the UK market’s move away from bungalow-style living wasn’t a sign of the industry’s death— it was the sign of opportunity for anyone willing to fill the gap left by companies that had abandoned the concept.
In a more literal, specific sense— I make money by selling bungalow homes to people over the age of 45 who want to transform their life for the better.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
I’m not sure I can pinpoint the exact moment when we moved to profitability, but I will say that it felt like both a long time and not long at all. You’ll find that for many business leaders, their answer will be the same. When you look back at the significant milestones in your career, they often seem like they were both timely and too late somehow all at once. I think that comes from the energy and effort that comes from pursuing profitability or other career goals— it can both stretch out and condense time in interesting ways. That said, I certainly could have made decisions that sped up the path to profitability in the early days.
My one big failure in the early days of building the business was a lack of knowledge and experience in dealing with commercial agreements. I overcame it by an intense and lengthy period of self-education – this entailed listening very carefully to lawyers and accountants and observing how they overcame the day to day challenges they had.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Doubt is a part of any business and any career. If anyone who has achieved some level of success tells you that they never experience doubt, chances are that they’re lying. The key is to develop enough of an instinct and expertise— which only comes through focused, diligent learning and experience— that you can recognize those doubts as simple human nature and not as a warning sign of impending catastrophe.
Sharing the load and taking people with you along the way is essential, and helps you push through those doubts when you have others pushing you forward and believing in your vision. Planning the direction of travel is essential, followed by a mixture of ambition, determination, and resilience. Resilience is really the key, particularly when you’re just starting out, with few believers.
How did you get your first customer?
I’m not sure where my first customer at RoyaleLife came from, because they did already have a business in operation when I took the reins. That said, I’m inspired and excited by every new customer we acquire as we spread the bungalow lifestyle throughout the UK to bring independence and comfort to more people than ever.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
I believe that one of the most effective marketing strategies isn’t directly marketing at all. It has to do with how you live your life. If you are a genuine person, someone that other people can count on, and if you go out of your way to forge connections with others, independent of whether they have immediate business value, it will eventually come back around. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a contact from years ago reach out, from out of the blue, with a massive opportunity that I never could have seen coming.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
I was recently forced to back off from a pursuit within the business that I had been very passionate about. There was a development we were hoping to make happen, and it simply didn’t work out despite our best efforts. But those things happen in business. You simply have to roll with the punches.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I think it’s instilling in my team that we’re precisely that: a team. People work with me, not for me. This has been equally important for learning myself— the people who fail to succeed are those that believe they can do everything themselves, without heavy involvement and support from other people.
Another critical element of my success, I think, has been my commitment to my habits. Habits are the building blocks of success, and establishing habits that work for your specific goals and lifestyle is essential.
A typical day for me starts at 6.30 a.m. with a 4,000m row on my machine in my home gym. This is followed by a shower, a breakfast of porridge or peanut butter and jam on toast before a short 10-minute drive to the office at 8.30 a.m.
The first task is when my PA, Jo, presents me with a plan for the day, itemising phone calls and meetings. Time is blocked out for contact with each of RoyaleLife’s heads of departments to ensure we all have an overall view of the business on any given day.
I consider myself to be health-conscious, so lunch would be a salad at my desk from M&S or a local supplier. The afternoon is spent with more calls and meetings before a finish at around 7.00 p.m. Evenings are reserved for family time – I have two boys aged 5 and 16 – and they enjoy TV, films, reading or watching football – I’m also a fervent Man Utd supporter.
This time for family and habits isn’t just important for making the most out of the things that matter most in life. It also makes you better at business when you can find balance and draw inspiration and motivation from the people that matter most to you— your family.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
It’s difficult to say. I’m not someone who tends to hang on to particular moments, events, or achievements when it comes to business. I know that’s not a particularly exciting answer.
I must say, often the satisfying moments in business for me aren’t the achievements, but the changes in processes or addition of new tools that help me and my business do what we do better.
I wouldn’t say it’s the most satisfying moment I’ve had, but one very satisfying moment has been when we discovered a new software solution that made our business much more efficient. Elite Dynamics software solutions help us manage the business more efficiently. Built on the latest Microsoft Dynamics technology, the software supports all aspects of our operation, including sales & leads, finance & accounting, park management, reservations, owners, marketing, events, activities, memberships and customer relationship management.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
One of the trends that excites me is downsizing into a bungalow, freeing up equity and using the funds to, perhaps, retire or pursue a better lifestyle without worrying too much about money. More and more people are realizing that this not only allows them to live the life they want to live today, but sets them up to live the ultimate life years and decades down the road. As more people begin thinking about their retirement and how to put themselves in the best possible position, the bungalow lifestyle can have massive benefits and upside.
For those people wanting to downsize, RoyaleLife provides the perfect turnkey solution. I believe that’s what’s allowed us to succeed where other companies have failed or been forced to abandon this offering. Offering certainty in an uncertain world, not only will the company enable people to release valuable cash when moving home, but it will make their move a much easier experience. In addition to this, their new RoyaleLife bungalow will be luxuriously furnished and low maintenance.
With the company’s Home Part Exchange scheme, RoyaleLife offers the downsizer 100% of the current market value of their home. So, if their current home is valued at £450,000, and a RoyaleLife bungalow is purchased for £300,000 that will leave £150,000 cash. There are no hidden costs: RoyaleLife takes care of the estate agents’ and solicitors’ fees as well as any stamp duty, and, with all the homes fully furnished with all home comforts and the very best appliances, there will be no large-scale removal fees.
What business books have inspired you?
Into the Upwave: How to prosper from slump to boom by Robert Beckman.
Even though it’s more than 30 years old it’s a bible for realism and its insights have been invaluable. Beckman is a genius when it comes to communicating advanced business concepts in a way that’s compelling and memorable, and it’s made his book a favorite of mine and one I turn to time and time again over the years. He also does an excellent job at attempting to predict the future while also acknowledging that some things can’t always be predicted. It’s really a shame that this book hasn’t obtained more of a widespread audience— it’s an absolutely essential tool that I think has really given me an upper hand in a lot of my major business ventures and decisions.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
This is a tough question, not because I can’t think of a response but because I don’t even know where to start. There are so many things I’ve learned over the years that have been essential lessons for me, and it’s astonishing to think of what I could have achieved much earlier if my younger self already had those lessons internalized. That said, there are three main lessons that come to mind that I could have benefitted from early on in my journey. I would also say that they can be applied to anyone who’s out there right now looking for tips on getting started in business.
– Don’t be arrogant – nobody likes arrogance in people.
– Always have an open mind – no one is ever too smart, too experienced, or too old to learn.
– Always take the long view. As a young man, I could be impulsive. You’re much more effective if you plan well – that’s the focus of everything I do today.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
I’m a firm believer in mentorship, and I don’t believe that it has to be in a formal role to have benefits for both the mentor and the mentee. I believe that much of the power of mentorship comes from the benefits it brings the mentor. By exposing your mind to a newer, less jaded approach, you can often discover new insights or ideas you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. It can be a very powerful thing, and it’s an idea that we’ve strived to incorporate into everything we do at RoyaleLife.
New ideas are of crucial importance at RoyaleLife as the company looks to innovate at every opportunity as they continue to redefine bungalow living in the UK.
With a team of 400, I like to encourage a fairly flat management structure to ensure ideas from everyone in the company find a voice. As market leader, it’s important we stay out in front. Once we’ve got hold of a particular idea, we’ll discuss the pros and cons and fully explore it and, if it has legs, the first step in our process is to cost it out. Managing finances is a top priority. We have a 40-strong team in accounts led by CFO Jason Williams, who is supported by Head of Finance James Harris, Group Financial Controller Cherelle Ball, and Business Development Manager Ashley McVicar.