George Finnegan is in bullish mood. Dublin is heaving, and so is Butler's, the townhouse hotel development which started life as a dilapidated Georgian property. Year one has flown by and, with an annual average occupancy rate in excess of 80% for the 20-bedroom property, even the low season was bearable. This was due in part to a stroke of luck. A consultancy company took four rooms from Monday to Thursday throughout the winter, and weekends didn't prove difficult to fill.
Rates have also been pushed up higher than anticipated. Double rooms, which started at £IR105 (£90) when Butler's started trading, are now selling for £IR129 (£110). Even Finnegan is amazed at this. "I would never have dared ask that much in the beginning - I wouldn't have thought we would have got it."
As a result Finnegan has achieved a turnover of £IR500,000 (£427,200) - bang on budget. The objective of creating the country house hotel in the middle of the city has been achieved. The RAC has recognised Butler's in its townhouse section and the AA has given it 5Q Premier Select status, the highest grading available to a non-hotel. Under Irish law Butler's cannot be recognised as a hotel because it is not open to the public and does not offer a full meal service. Even so, this has not prevented listings in Best Loved Hotels and the European Connection directory of elite establishments, both at less than £1,000 per annum.
The customer base over the past year has provided a few surprises. Some 20% is from the home market, 50% from the UK and 30% from overseas. That the home market has proved such a good source of revenue is unexpected. "I can only surmise that it's because Butler's has a car park," says Finnegan. He is also delighted at the response from the UK, which he puts down to the price wars between the airlines, with no-frills operators such as Ryan Air flying the route for about £90 return.
With year one safely under his belt the challenge for Finnegan will be how to proceed with marketing for year two. While an establishment like Butler's will inevitably attract a fair proportion of repeat business, its high prices mean that it must constantly appeal to a new clientele. But any form of marketing must be carefully targeted so that the relaxed country house hotel image is maintained.
One way forward could be through the Internet, which Finnegan hopes will be a substantial tool for attracting the visitor in search of something different. Butler's now has its own Web site at http://www.butlers-hotel.com with information in five different languages. Cost of developing the site by consultants Equinox was £IR900 (£769) and annual cost of connection is £IR400 (£342). There are 200 key words that would lead browsers to Butler's Web pages and monthly site-activity reports will be provided by a company in Seattle.
Some things have caught Finnegan out. Laundering the Egyptian linen has cost £IR15,000 (£12,816) against a prediction of £IR10,000 (£8,544). And the carpet in the main hallway at an original cost of £IR24.50 (£20.93) per square yard didn't prove up to the job. It has been replaced by a more expensive version at £IR48 (£41) per square yard.
It may be only one year down the line, but Finnegan is already starting to think about the future. Butler's 27-bedroom sister property Longfield's, where Finnegan is general manager, has been sold for £IR3.325m (£2.841m). Wife Helen, Butler's general manager and a driving force behind the couple's success, is expecting their first baby. The next couple of years will be ones of consolidation for Butler's, but then, who knows? Maybe a country house hotel in the country? Now there would be a novel concept.
Next week we catch up with Avins Bridge, Ardingly, West Sussex. A new series of Adopted Businesses starts in August