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Better Business: Brockencote Hall, near Kidderminster

01 February 2013
Better Business: Brockencote Hall, near Kidderminster

The Eden Collection has moulded Brockencote Hall into a small boutique hotel that offers something special - and it's already winning the accolades. Ed Robertson reports

Need to know
New owners are forever keen to stamp their own identity on a property, while the switch-over normally provides a timely opportunity to update it.

That was very much the case when the Eden Hotel Collection bought Brockencote Hall hotel in July 2011 from private owners who had converted the Victorian house into a hotel over a period of 28 years.

While the hotel continued operating initially as normal, Mark Chambers, the group's managing director, decided to close it in January 2012 to carry out a six-week refurbishment of the public areas.

"Brockencote lacked the capital investment needed to bring it up to date. The vision was to turn it into a luxury boutique hotel, so it needed an interior overhaul," he says.

Following the reopening, the main house's rooms and suites were refurbished between February and April, with an additional three added, bringing the total to 10, while 11 rooms in a separate wing were given a makeover from April to July. In total the refurbishment cost £2m, while the overall cost, including the property's acquisition, was £6m.

Chambers adds that while the refurbishment was sensitive to the building's design, the group also kept in mind one of Brockencote's other core attributes its client base.

"We are attracting new clients but we've also been careful to retain the old ones," he says. "Brockencote has a very strong local following and we were keen to keep our loyal customers."

Suppliers Keeping up with current trends, Chambers espouses a philosophy of high-quality ingredients sourced as locally as possible. However, few other hotels can boast honey from beehives kept on the grounds, while head chef Adam Brown's love of foraging means the kitchen has a number of more unusual ingredients to work with.

Chambers says the hotel also benefits from attention from the group's food and beverage director, Simon Haigh. He adds: "He's a Michelin-starred chef in his own right.

He's really responsible for pulling the guys together. If one of the chefs finds a good supplier, he'll get those in the neighbouring hotels to use them, too."

The restaurant With food and beverage sales accounting for 60% of Brockencote's revenues, pressure is already on its 50-seat Chaddesley restaurant to perform, and this will only get greater as the property targets its first Michelin star within three years.

Head chef Brown brings ample experience to the role, having worked in sister property Mallory Court's Michelin-starred restaurant as well as Restaurant Gordon Ramsay eight years ago.

Chambers says: "Professionally, he's determined to have a Michelin star, and until he does so he won't be satisfied."

Brockencote also has two private dining rooms seating about 20 people each and a loyal following for its traditional Sunday roasts, which are always oversubscribed.

Chambers says: "It is the one meal in the week you can’t mess about with. People expect roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, and you can’t make it too fancy."

Best business advice Chambers believes that identifying what you're good at and sticking to it is vital, and this starts from the moment you consider buying a property. He says: "It's a lot like buying a house or a car - you sort of know whether it is right for you, especially if you know what you're good at. Our group is really good at running really small boutique hotels, which are a unique offering.We won't look at something that has 180 bedrooms as it's not our bag."

Future Chambers' to-do list for Brockencote is short. He wants to grow the hotel’s accommodation business, win four red stars with the AA and a Michelin star.

He is confident the winning of Hotel of the Year at the recent Worcestershire Welcome Awards shows the hotel is on the right track following the refurbishment.

Chambers says: "Some of those awards you can take with a pinch of salt, but what was most important was that it was voted for by our customers, which suggests we are doing what people want us to do.”

Spotlight on Marketing
Chambers still uses traditional marketing techniques and regularly books adverts promoting weddings in regional glossy magazines.

The group also focuses heavily on the internet, with a near-full-time employee working on web content, while special offers and other promotions are regularly e-mailed to Brockencote's database of 2,600 consumers.

Some 22% of the hotel's bookings are made online, and the property avoids using third-party websites for sales.

However, Chambers believes that some of the most effective marketing has come from the group's own events as well as newly formed local business partnerships.

Events are also held in conjunction with local businesses, and one particularly fruitful partnership has been formed with a car dealership. Chambers says: "We have a good relationship with BMW Rybrook - our hotel's a great place where they can do drive days.

"They park the cars out front, take customers out for a drive and come back and entertain them. It is not necessarily stuff thatÁ¢â‚¬â„¢s expensive; we donÁ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to exchange lots of cash to do it.

"You have to do things like that. Sending a brochure to someone or putting an ad in the local paper is in the past.

"When you get down to it, it is really niche marketing. YouÁ¢â‚¬â„¢re exposing the right people to the right products. It is better value than speculating with an advert that costs you hard cash.

"Most importantly, you get to shake hands with all those people and you get a personal interaction."

Mark Chambers' revelations

Favourite hotel The Fearrington House Inn, North Carolina, USA
Favourite restaurant Locanda Locatelli
Who do you most admire? Meeting Lord Forte when I was 17 made an impact
Motto If you always do what you always did, youÁ¢â‚¬â„¢ll always get what you always got
Describe your property in five words Elegant, hospitable, opulent, friendly, characterful

Facts and stats
General manager
Dean Gunston
Head chef Adam Brown
Average room rate Á‚£126
Number of rooms 21
Average occupancy 60%
Staff 40
Average spend per head in the restaurant £80 for a three-course meal including drink
Total covers per week 500

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