In an impressive feat of organisation, the Alexander family managed to run a local campaign to launch their new operation despite ongoing building work to convert a Victorian mansion into their 65-bedroom Castle Green hotel in Kendal, Cumbria.
This ability to take the market with them impressed the judges. "I would have been proud to have launched my hotel like that," said one. "It shows a clear marketing brain," said another.
Locals were the target market of the Alexanders, and their aim was to generate awareness of their £4m venture's December 1997 opening and its facilities. These include conference facilities for up to 500 delegates, a 100-seat restaurant, fitness and leisure club, pub, and a business and training centre.
The target was to achieve 6,000 pre-Christmas party covers and banqueting sales of £150,000 between 3 and 23 December.
Their campaign exceeded these aims by 15% and 20% respectively and required an outlay of only £15,000. Trading since December has also been 20% ahead of budget.
The brothers, James and Ronald Alexander, and their wives, Catherine and Sandy, decided to position the hotel under the banner "The Kendal hotel for Kendal people" as part of a long-term strategy. They realised that as it was an independent hotel it could find itself relying on tourist trade to the Lake District and would, therefore, be vulnerable in winter. The hotel was well positioned to take advantage of low competitor activity in the town to attract local membership to its health and fitness club.
The assault on the locals started in August with a series of pre-opening events. The summer garden party led to 25 Christmas bookings. There was also a barbecue, and some 200 prominent local people were invited to a dinner dance, attracting extensive press coverage and raising £2,500 for local charities. The opening on 1 December was marked by a fireworks display. All in all, the campaign succeeded in pulling 6,000 local people through the hotel.
The Alexanders made sure they had as much coverage as possible in the local media. The hotel was featured in a three-month series of advertisements in the Westmorland Gazette. Lord Cavendish was invited to turn the first sod,an event which was shown on local Border TV. There was also a teaser campaign of 240 10-second slots on Bay Radio. Last but not least, the Alexanders made personal visits to all businesses in Kendal.
During the building works telephone enquiries were handled at all times of the day. And despite the building chaos some 300 prospective customers wishing to see the function rooms were given the "hard-hat tour".
The success of the campaign was crucial to the short-term survival and future prosperity of the new hotel. As managing director James Alexander - a former sheep farmer in Australia - has acknowledged, the customers were being asked to have faith in their promises and in the building contractors' ability to complete on schedule.
What impressed the judges was that the Alexander family had succeeded in achieving just that.