We grabbed five minutes with Georgie Pearman, founder and co-owner of the Lucky Onion group, a family of design-led hotels, restaurants and country pubs, raised and rooted in the Cotswolds. So what challenges and milestones does she hope to overcome over the next 12 months in business?
Q: What are your main aims for the business 2017?
Georgie: “2017 is looking to be really busy in terms of projects. We’ve got the buildings to the left and right of No 131 opening which hopefully will give us about 24 more bedrooms and treatment rooms. It will also increase the dining areas and gardens. Both of these buildings are Grade-II listed, so it’s not straight forward in terms of what we can and can’t do.
“We’ve also got a beautiful 17th century Cotswold stone coaching inn which is operating as a restaurant/pub at the moment but we have plans to re-do the bedrooms and hopefully increase the amount of bedrooms there as well, but it’s all dependent on planning and budget.”
Q: What will be the biggest challenges you’ll have to face as a business this year? (business rates increase, national living wage e.g)
G: “We’ve factored all of these things in because we’ve known about them for a long time. They all have an effect on the bottom line but there is nothing that we can do about it. Really I think the challenge is keeping people coming in through your doors all the time with ever-increasing competition. If you can do that then the costs cover themselves and aren’t such a problem (although we are always looking at driving down costs, but I mean in relation to the fixed costs and other costs that you can’t do anything about). The challenge is keeping the sales improving like for like.”
Q: How will you continue to stay at the forefront of the hospitality industry this year with your offering?
G: “I don’t think we are at the forefront of the hospitality industry at all but thank you! There are so many brilliant operators out there and I’m not sure we could even compare.
“We won’t really change our food or drink offering materially (it’s seasonal, fresh and we focus on British suppliers and quality). But we’re always focused on our people, which I know is what everyone says but everything falls apart if you don’t have good managers and good chefs. You can forget everything else completely because your trade will soon disappear with a rude manager or a terrible chef producing terrible food. This is always our main focus along with the customer experience. Those two things won’t ever change and I don’t think we’ll ever get it 100% right, no matter what we do or how much money we spend on it, but we keep trying, year after year, again and again!”
Q: What areas will you look to drive this year? More F&B or bedrooms? Or other?
G: “We are doubling our room stock this year. In terms of our existing room stock we’ve got good occupancy and a good average room rate for our bedrooms although you can always improve. Our focus is really F&B just because our rooms take up a much smaller percentage of our overall total turnover. This might change over time but for now it is F&B and keeping people coming in through the doors and trying to deliver the best customer experience we can through good service, food and well sourced, interesting drinks.”
Q: What occupancy across all your properties did you end 2016 on?
G: “At No 131 we were on 90%, at No 38 72% and The Wheatsheaf at 76% so there is room to improve. We’ve grown total room revenue across the group steeply, which is great but it’s almost too much growth in one year in terms of revenue. So we are looking at this internally at the moment just because we want people to come back again and again and whilst people will pay a high premium at our peak periods I think we really need to consider whether every customer leaves happy; so we’re looking at balancing customer expectation as well as revenue. I think you need to feel like you’ve received value and had a great time. It’s a tricky balance.”
Q: Are you looking to take on any new properties this year?
G: “I think we’ve got enough on for 2017 but we will be looking for more properties this year for 2018.”