Entrepreneur Steve Perez, the man behind the new-build Casa hotel, tells Ed Robertson of the philosophy behind it, his way of working and why he was happy to go £4m over budget
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Having bought a plot of land in Chesterfield in 2006, entrepreneur Steve Perez had a number of ideas for what to do with it.
A new headquarters for his Global Brands drinks business, a restaurant where he could sell produce from his nearby, organic Walton Lodge Farm, or a hotel, were all ideas he toyed with. However, it was only once he decided to incorporate all three businesses in the same building that his vision really came to shape.
"I found by accident another site in Chesterfield which was a fantastic place to relocate my global headquarters to so I bought it," he says.
Having travelled frequently himself, when it came to building the hotel he had some strong opinions about what it should be like.
"As an international travelling businessman, I know what I want in a hotel and thought to myself: ‘Wouldn't it be a dream to build a hotel that I would want to stay in and a restaurant that I would want to eat in?'," says Perez.
Realising the size of the project, Perez hired Steve Downham, who had been recommended by former Marston Hotels managing director Chris Scragg, to help plan before construction began in the autumn of 2009.
He adds: "[I told him to] design a hotel that you can operate and I can build within a budget."
However, Perez admits his desire to build the best hotel possible meant the budget was continually broken.
By the time the hotel and additional conference facilities opened in November 2010, its construction cost £14m, about £4m over budget. Perez maintains the cost was worth it, adding: "There aren't many brand new hotels being built in this climate and what we're finding is people are coming back here because we've got great rooms, great standards and really importantly, great staff."
One thing I couldn't do without
Having been there at the start of the process, overseen the design and construction of the hotel and still there as its operations director, Perez is adamant over the vital role Downham plays.
"I'd really struggle without him, he knows this hotel inside out and knows every leaking pipe and fuse box, and he's a good team leader and manager," he says. "We've produced a fantastic hotel, although he has probably found it more tough working with me and my different ways than me with him."
Targeting business travellers during the week, Perez was quick to ensure sales staff were talking to local businesses to ensure they knew what was on their doorsteps.
"We have a sales team who call the businesses and invite them down for lunch," he says. "As an independent hotel we've got to be very proactive and look at different ways to market."
He believes talking to guests is vital as they can alert him to business opportunities and the hotel organises intermittent drinks nights on Wednesdays, allowing guests and managers to mingle for this purpose.
With about half of all bookings being made through the web, and half of these bookings made direct via the hotel's site, Perez is also keen to use social media.
Facebook and Twitter are both used to drive discounts and deals, while booking platforms, including Laterooms.com, also bring in sales.
While 70% of the restaurant's customers are guests, Perez targets the majority of its marketing at the local audience and with local press adverts, local radio station sponsorship and banners on both the hotel site and in Chesterfield.
"The ethos of the hotel revolves around the local community, so we have spent a lot of time letting the local community know they can use the restaurant and bar," he says.
While the hotel may boast occupancy of about 80% during the week, Perez says he is now looking at growing the average occupancy at the weekend from 50%.
Weddings are already proving popular and he is keen to target group bookings, and hopes plans to build an on-site spa by Christmas will drive leisure bookings.
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While the hotel has been built to Perez's standards, he has ensured the staff have been trained to offer the kind of service he expects.
With many members of staff coming from the local community, even their inexperience of such hotels has proved to be a boon.
"We're finding the management are experienced but the staff are really inexperienced and really that's quite good in a way as we've got a blank canvass - staff can operate how you want them to," Perez says. "I don't want overly formal service, I want it relaxed but I want good service and attention to detail."
He also adds that the attention to training and keeping the staff happy has led to an exceptionally low turnover rate.
Spotlight on favourite suppliers
Owning both the 350-acre organic livestock Walton Lodge Farm and Global Brands, which owns, distributes and markets drinks, Perez's favourite supplier is himself.
The farm is four miles away, meaning it takes care of all his meat and egg needs, although he has encountered one problem from being on both sides of the hotelier and supplier relationship.
"We have to find a way of using the whole animal. You can do a lot of lamb dishes but then you've got the leg of lamb which we do as a Sunday lunch roast and really get the staff to push," says Perez.
"We can sell also as many fillet or sirloin steaks as possible but it is very hard to sell the topside or silverside or the mince so we sell that back to the butcher who we work with."
Perez adds that he has ensured other suppliers are all local wherever possible.
Steve perez's revelations
Favourite hotel Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons
Favourite restaurant Cocina at Casa Hotel
Favourite pub I haven't been to a pub for years
Which chef, hotelier or industry person do you most admire? Rick Stein
What book has inspired you? Going for It! How to Succeed as an entrepreneur, by Victor Kiam
If you weren't a hotelier, what would you have been? Rally driver
Facts and stats
Room rates from £99
Average nightly covers in restaurant 50 (weekdays)
Average cost of two-course meal £32 (with drink)
Owner Steve Perez