Q What's the background of Niche Hotels?
A Niche Hotels was set up in 2002 by Alan Corlett, previously operations director UK and Ireland at Le M‚ridien Hotels and regional general manager UK of Principal Hotels before it was bought by Nomura and merged with Le M‚ridien in 2001. After many years in corporate life Corlett decided to take the plunge on his own. It helped, of course, that he had a name, aided by his wife Alison on the sales side and Simon Eccleston as finance director. With funding from the Royal Bank of Scotland and private investors, he bought the 26-bedroom Queensgate hotel in London's Kensington in November 2002 for £4.47m and Niche Hotels was born.
Q What other hotels are in the portfolio?
A Wyck Hill House hotel in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, a 32-bedroom manor house with 100 acres, was bought from Wren's Hotel Group on 1 March this year for £4m. It's currently being refurbished.
The third property is the Grey Street hotel, a 49-bedroom boutique hotel in Newcastle upon Tyne. This £6m project opens in December. Some 6,000sq m of restaurant space will be outsourced to restaurant and bar group Living Ventures and operated under its Living Room brand.
A fourth property in Cardiff will open in the middle of next year.
Q What's the concept?
A Boutique (maximum 70 bedrooms), trendy and cool with the latest in technology, Hypnos beds, Egyptian cotton and really good showers. The service culture is one of "never say no". "Good service is a strong message that creates marketing in its own right," says Corlett.
Q Who are the competitors?
A In the main, Furlong, Firmdale, Hotel du Vin and Malmaison.
Q Any plans to take on the universe?
A No, just one or two a year for the next two or three years until eight or nine. Then it will be time to take stock as the systems aren't set up for any more than that at present. Edinburgh and Glasgow are next on the wish list, plus another one in London. Also looking at Liverpool.
Q How about staffing levels? Twenty-seven at the 32-bedroom Wyck Hill House, although some of these relate to the head office; 18 for the 26-bedroom Queensgate (no food and beverage) and 17 for the 49-bedroom Grey Street hotel in Newcastle (food and beverage is outsourced).
Q So what's with the name Niche?
A Niche summed up what the company wanted to do. At the moment branding is subliminal, but there will be a point some way down the line when the Niche name will be promoted as the main brand.
Q Will food and beverage be outsourced at other hotels?
A Depends on the location. In a country house hotel it's important to keep control, but in a city centre the company is looking for further partnerships. When there's so much competition from restaurateurs it doesn't make sense to do the food and beverage when others can do it better.
Your vital statistics
Niche Hotels: managing director Alan Corlett; sales director Alison Corlett; finance director Simon Eccleston
Hotels: four, two up and trading
Queensgate hotel, London
Average occupancy 2004: 84% Average achieved room rate 2004: £94
Projected average occupancy 2005: 84%
Projected average achieved room rate 2005: £115
Turnover 2004: £3m
Projected turnover 2005: £5m
Ownership: Niche Hotels, with funding from private investors, Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Scotland