Better Business – Holdsworth House

10 August 2012
Better Business – Holdsworth House

Built in the 17th century, Holdsworth House was a private residence for more than 300 years before becoming a private members' club and, finally, a hotel. Ed Robertson talks to co-owner Gail Moss

Need to know
Holdsworth House was built in 1633 and used as a private residence until 1963 when current co-owner Gail Moss's parents Freddie and Rita Pearson bought the property, opening the ground floor as the Cavalier Country Club in 1963. The family lived upstairs while about 1,500 members paid seven guineas for annual membership.

By 1966, the club was offering overnight stays to members and their friends following the construction of 12 rooms. In 1979, another 18 rooms were built, then a further 10, including four suites, were built in 1984.

Meanwhile, the hotel was proving to be such a success by the mid 1970s, the decision was made to change it from a club to a full-time hotel with its name reverting to Holdsworth House.

"The hotel side of the business was so popular that it was no longer profitable for it to remain a members-only club," Moss says.

Moss and her sister Kim Wynn inherited ownership of the hotel following their father's death in 1988.

Target market
Holdsworth House's target market during the week remains the corporate market and the property benefits from Lloyds Banking Group having a head office in nearby Halifax.

Moss says that with about 6,000 staff at the office, the hotel is able to target the steady influx of businessmen and women visiting it with free Wi-Fi and a glass of wine on their arrival.

Weekends are dedicated to the leisure market, which Moss drives with themed breaks including its Bronte break, which packages an overnight stay with tickets to the nearby Bronte Parsonage, the former home of literary sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte.

Overall, the hotel's rooms account for 40% of the property's £2.1m annual turnover with the rest generated through its two restaurants where 82% of hotel guests eat.

Holdsworth House has a two-AA-rosette restaurant which seats 50 and offers an à la carte menu, charging £36.50 for a three-course dinner with a glass of wine, while the lounge bar offers a simpler menu.

Focusing on local suppliers and seasonal produce, the hotel has strong local custom with up to 40% of all diners coming from outside the property.

Moss says: "For non-resident diners we are the special place to eat so we need to keep that and distinguish ourselves from so many other places."

The main focus of all marketing activity is online. The hotel uses marketing company HEY! Marketing, whose director Liz Howe says the online strategy relies on social media, with Facebook, where the property has 550 likes, and Twitter, where there are 633 followers, used to communicate anything from deals to the latest produce in the kitchen. Meanwhile, Pinterest focuses on broader themes such as the hotel's wedding services and Bronte breaks.

A blog provides further customer news while an internal staff news service ensures that employees are kept up to date with the latest promotions.

Howe says the strategy has driven the hotel website's search engine optimisation, particularly on Google, while web traffic for the first six months of 2012 is up 35% year on year.

Business advice
Moss maintains that the best way to keep ahead of competitors is to be aware of what they are doing. "I visit lots of hotels here and abroad and I'm always looking at what we can do to keep ourselves at the cutting edge of trends," she says

Introducing the latest trends occurring in London in hospitality and catering, from vintage china for weddings to cupcakes, ensures Holdsworth House is ahead of local competitors.

"New fashions become quite old in London when they are only just being picked up in the provinces," adds Moss.

Holdsworth House is also a member of Yorkshire's Fine Hotels, a group of nine hotels whose members meet up to four times a year to discuss challenges and share good practice.

Future plans
With weddings such a big part of Holdsworth House's business model, Moss is determined to further capitalise with another wedding venue. On the property's two and half acres lies a 17th century barn and outbuildings which she is keen to renovate to provide a less formal venue. "We would keep the integrity and rustic style," she says.

Although plans were approved in the past for the work, they have expired, meaning the plans must be resubmitted. It is hoped that, provided the plans are approved the second time, the work can be completed towards the end of 2014.

Spotlight on weddings

Holdsworth House weddings
Holdsworth House weddings
With a licensed 17th-century gazebo seating nine people in a formal parterre garden, Holdsworth House boasts what it claims is the smallest wedding venue in the UK.

While the tiny venue is popular with some brides, the majority of the 147 weddings booked for Holdsworth House this year are held in the private Stuart Room which holds up to 120 guests.

There are also a further five licensed areas where vows can be taken.

Weddings are marketed online and via word of mouth while Holdsworth House holds two wedding fairs and six open evenings each year at the property.

Moss also keeps up to date with the latest wedding trends herself, adding: "Brides now have such exact ideas about how they want the wedding to be, I look to anticipate what they might need."

She says they are targeting 160 weddings next year while the additional capacity from the converted barn will further drive growth in 2014.

Although weddings are vital to Holdsworth House's business model, Moss works hard to ensure the events cause minimal disruption. She said: "The Stuart Room can be closed off from the main part of the hotel so it doesn't interfere with the corporate and leisure guests."

Gail Moss's Revelations
Favourite restaurant Pollen Street Social
Favourite hotel Shutters on the Beach, Santa Monica
Who do you most admire? Peter Banks, managing director at Rudding Park
Motto The customer is also our guest
Describe your hotel in five words Yorkshire history around every corner

Facts and stats
General manager Shane Williams
Head chef Simon Allott
Staff 42
Number of rooms 40
Average occupancy 68%
Room lead-in price £85

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