Well, it’s been one hell of a ride since 1999 and, if you’re interested, this is the story of Last Night of Freedom – the highs, the lows and the tangential off-shoots:
Our Old Logo
Whilst still at Uni, Matt Mavir was experimenting with setting up a website. He decided to give the website a topic and for no particular reason picked stag nights. After a few weeks honing his (very basic) coding skills it occurred to him that if he actually found out about stag nights and wrote some decent advise about them that he might be able to convince people to advertise on his new website.
Our First Bit of Press
Fresh with a £300 investment (from his Dad – which he still hasn’t paid back) Matt toiled tirelessly for the next six months writing content, taking pictures, promoting the fledgling site, approaching advertisers and getting very, very little sleep.
And boy did the money pour in - £22.50 in the first 6 months! It became clear pretty quickly that this wasn’t going to get Matt on to the Sunday Times Rich List anytime soon.
Around about the same time the website received 3 e-mails in 24 hours from different people asking whether LNOF could arrange them a stag weekend – and boom there it was, staring Matt in the face. Take all the great advice he’d been writing and start selling stag weekends.
By The End of 2000
- First official staff member
- Arranged 30 stag weekends
Press in 2000
- Radio 2
- Times & Star
LNOF V2 - Launched Feb 2000
2001 was Matt’s final year of Uni at Manchester – Last Night of Freedom operations were split between Manchester and a converted barn at Matt’s parents’ house in Cumbria.
Having seen the success of the stag weekends and now having our first female members of staff we added a range of hen weekends to our portfolio – and arranged 49 in the first year.
By The End of 2001
- Total staff numbers rose to 3
- Organised 417 weekends
- Arranged our first Hen weekends
Press in 2001
- New Woman
Side Projects in 2001
- Last Night of Ski
- Last Night of Golf
- Last Night of Spa
Our Old Offices in Newcastle (Jul 2002 - Jul 2005)
With things really starting to take off we decided to up sticks from the converted barn in Cumbria and move to our first proper office in Newcastle.
After seeing the success of our UK weekends we tentatively started adding a range of foreign destinations to our portfolio. We started off with Vilnius, with Matt going out there and instantly falling in love with the Baltics. This love affair would continue with the addition of cities in most of Eastern Europe over the next couple of years.
By The End of 2002
- Arranged 22 weekends abroad
- Increased UK locations from 16 – 20
- Arranged our 1000th weekend
Press in 2002
- The Daily Telegraph
Side Projects in 2002
- WOW Weekends
LNOF V3 - Launched May 2003
May 2003 saw the launch of the .com version of the website for the american market, which, as it turns out was totally non-existant. Believe it or not this was actually a pretty good looking website back in the day - complete with interactive roll-over map. We were very much "on trend"...before anyone even knew what the hell "on trend" meant.
Press in 2003
- The Daily Star
- Also featured in Maxim, Woman & FHM.
Side Projects in 2003
- WOW Activity Gifts
- Last Night of Freedom.com
The Old Table Football Table
2004 brought us three major changes:
Firstly we added the first four Spanish locations to our portfolio (Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga & Benalmadena) and arranged 80 in 2004. This was great news as it meant we could finally start offering some really good abroad hen options.
Secondly we bought a table-football table and promptly saw productivity drop to an all-time low…although, if Team GB had an olympic table football team we’d probably have made the cut.
We were so confident in our ability that we had an offer that if you came in to the offices and beat us you could have £50 off your weekend!
Finally, in September 2004 we launched LNOF V4, complete with new logo.
2004 also saw our first TV appearance. Matt appeared on the Channel 4 educational programme "Holiday Maker" as the resident expert helping Karl arrange a hen weekend. This is actually now part of the Leisure & Tourism GCSE syllabus.
By The End of 2004
- LNOF V4 - Launched Sept 2004
- New Logo
- Arranged 662 Weekends
Rothbury Offices (Jul 2005 - Jul 2007)
Perhaps all that messing around on the table football table in 2004 had an effect.
In Jan 2005 enquiries flooded in at an unprecedented level. Up until this point we had been running an index card based contact management system and the deluge of enquiries totally over-whelmed our systems. If you rang us in Jan 2005 and we told you that the system was “frozen” and that we’d need to take new details please forgive our lies. The truth was we were drowning under hundreds of hand-written index cards.
This prompted us to get really serious about the business for the first time which meant:
a) bringing in a computerised contact management system
b) employing some new staff – pronto!
c) getting rid of the table football table.
Armed with our new computer systems and staff we moved to Rothbury (of Raoul Moat and Cragside Crackers fame) in Northumberland.
By The End of 2005
- Arranged 646 weekends
- Total staff numbers up to 6
Side Projects in 2005
- Wind Trap
O2 Arena Awards 2006
In 2006 the Stag & Hen Industry was just starting to consolidate - with some of the newer, more ambitious companies started in the early 2000's really asserting themselves over the mid-90's old guard.
This lead to us really ramping things up - we took an additional office within our new building and substantially increased the sales team. We also employed a junior web developer and some admin staff, and set about an eight month re-design of lastnightoffreedom.co.uk.
We also started promoting ourselves a bit more and actually got runners up spot for Entrepreneur of the Year at star-studded O2 Arena Awards - other winners including Alexander McQueen, Terry Gilliam, The Mighty Boosh and the League of Gentlemen. Guests also included Will Young, Claudia Schiffer, Rachel Stevens & The Sugar Babes.
Morpeth Offices (Aug 2007 - Present)
In Jan 2007 we launched LNOF V5. This took us 8 months to design, develop and populate. But it was worth it, the new design helped pretty much double the amount of weekends we sold the previous year. We were flying!
The increase in business lead to a rapid expansion and in Aug 2007 we moved from our lovely little office in rural Rothbury to a much bigger office in Morpeth – which had the added advantage of being closer to Newcastle to help with recruitment.
In 2007 we also launched "Denzil" as our company figure-head.
We held an online competition where our customers could vote on our short-list of names. Denzil was added to the shortlist as we’d had an especially awkward client that week named Denzel (we got the spelling wrong). We were convinced that "Sven" would win but “Denzil” was the winner by a mile. We don’t really use him anymore since our new website design – but he is still on quite few pictures around the site and we’ll always keep him up in the office watching over us.
By The End of 2007
- Arranged 2274 weekends
- Had our first "100 Club" Weekend
- Moved to 2000 sq. ft. Office
- Total staff numbers up to 10
- Launched LNOF V5
- Had a new "Figure-head"
- Launched our Customer Feedback System
Press in 2007
- News & Star
- Metro FM
- Radio Cambridge
- Spin 103.8 - Dublin
BBC Breakfast Appearance - June 2008
2008 was a vintage year for LNOF. We had a great team of sales guys (most of whom still work for LNOF) and the best website in the industry by a mile. Bookings increased on an already good 2007 to a record 2601 weekends and life was rosy.
We were making television appearances and had added a small range of accessories & novelties for our groups to purchase.
Unfortunately – it wasn’t to last – the pound was already suffering against the euro (with nearly £1 = €1) making it much less attractive for groups to travel abroad… but then the CREDIT CRUNCH HIT!
We had already made our money for 2008 so we hunkered down and braced ourselves for the oncoming storm. Thank God we didn’t know just how bad it was going to be!
By The End of 2008
- Arranged 2601 weekends
- Total staff numbers up to 13
- Launched our Novelties range – Apr 08
- Appeared on BBC Breakfast News – Jun 08
- Survived the Morpeth Floods – Sep 08
Side Projects in 2008
10,000th weekend sold celebrations
If every company has its hard-times then 2009 was it for us. The country was in a free-fall recession, our competition had upped their game and the £ was really struggling against the Euro - pretty much the perfect storm. The sale of our 10,000th booking passed with minimal & muted celebrations and we looked on helpless as bookings plummeted faster than Wile E Coyote.
A trip to The Foreign Office during a consultation on stag & hen parties at which other leading stag & hen figures were present confirmed that the whole industry was suffering. Although slightly reassuring this news came as no real comfort.
The economic fallout from 2009 lead to a lot of sleepless nights, crossing fingers and re-evaluating of our business strategy. For various reasons, we weren’t in a position to do much about the stag/hen weekends side of things until very recently.
We decided to focus on the novelties and accessories side of the business as well as pushing our recently formed web development department "e-volve" and quickly got involved in an ambitious joint-venture project by the name of "beelocal" – our most beautiful and epic failure to date.
By The End of 2009
- Arranged 1854 Weekends – ouch
- Total Staff had fallen to 11
- 10,000th weekend sold – Jan 2009
- Over 500 Products online
- "Celebrated" our 10th Birthday
Side Projects in 2009
Our brand new 2,500 sq ft warehouse
By 2010 we had completely filled our office with stag & hen novelties and fulfilling orders and managing stock over 2 floors was becoming a real pain. In August we bit the bullet and moved into a 2,500 sq. ft warehouse. This allowed us to increase our levels of stock and established ourselves as one of the leading stag & hen novelties suppliers.
Although not back to 2008 levels, things had also improved on the weekends side of things. We decided to celebrate by taking everyone to Belfast for the staff Christmas Party.
2010 also brought a media storm to LNOF. Since we started our abroad weekends we've been very keen to push the more cultural elements of a location. In Krakow this involved offering an Aushwitz tour to those who felt compelled to visit. Without exception the tours were run in a respectful way and the only participants were those stags that had a cultural interest in visiting. The Times decided to run a hatchet job piece juxtaposing the terrible suffering of the camp with the easy steriotype of drunken louts in fancy dress. In spite of this piece of lazy journalism the story went viral and pretty soon the article had been syndicated across the world. We entirely stand by our reasons for offering this tour and continue to do so to this day.
On lighter note we also celebrated the World Cup with our tribute to England's epic Italia 90 anthum "World in Motion".
By The End of 2010
- Arranged 2035 Weekends
- Total Staff had grown to 16
Side Projects in 2010
- Vacuum World
2011, 2012 & 2013 - To Follow - It takes some writing this you know.