The Royal Sportsman is an AA three-star, 28-bedroom country house hotel in Porthmadog, Gwynedd, on the edge of the picturesque Snowdonia National Park. It currently employs 16 members of staff.
Despite enjoying a prime location and little competition, the building had been allowed to deteriorate over a decade, managing to lose its AA star rating. When Louis Nardi and his business partner, Estelle Metso, bought the property in September 1998 they got a declassified business with no marketing systems, financial controls or management disciplines. Technology was non-existent, equipment old, and room furniture was second-hand, broken and dated, and the only customer base was the rather unprofitable coach trade. "The hotel was trying to turn a profit on the £23-per-night coach trade, but what I envisaged was a good three-star market, open to families, couples and corporate clients," says Nardi.
Both Metso and Nardi have previous experience in turning around struggling customer-focused businesses as management and marketing consultants, but they had no specific hospitality experience. They estimated that more than £500,000 would be needed to restore the hotel to suitable standards. "We had to rebuild it from rock bottom, but that meant we could freshen up every aspect, and you don't have to compromise your vision," Nardi says. The pair dismissed all but one member of staff and rebuilt everything.
Unfortunately, Nardi and Metso "had a run-in" and Nardi bought her share of the business. He then suffered from two bouts of serious illness in September 2007, which left him unable to give the business the attention it needed.
In November 2008 Nardi returned to work, realising he could still improve the marketing and food offering of his business. "We're up on last year, but we're not doing as well as we could be. What I want to get out of the mentorship is someone to share feedback with. I suffer from ‘the loneliness of the long-distance runner' syndrome. I want to develop a culture where we get ideas from the bottom up, instead of me doing it alone. To improve our marketing and our food offering."
In the first meeting, mentor Peter Birnie went through the hotel's menus and their presentation, the wine lists and the rooms. He suggested tweaks to the flavours in the dishes, and looked at the balance of hot and cold desserts. "He indicated things from the perspective of someone from the outside looking in, and I didn't disagree with a single thing. I couldn't have asked for a more relevant person than Peter to help us out," Nardi says.
Birnie says of the property: "It seems to be a very well-run hotel and has been consistent in its commitment. There's also a very friendly team, which is a massive plus. Louis is a confident owner who is open to brainstorming ideas, but I am conscious of the mantra, ‘If it ain't broke, don't fix it' when I'm ladling out advice.
"The main two things he needs to work on are his wine list - it's not as ambitious or comprehensive as his food offering, and he's missing a real chance to increase revenue by not offering high-quality wines. Also, some of the lower-tariff bedrooms are not as bright as the superior rooms, and this could prove disappointing to a returning guest who's previously experienced one of the better rooms."
Following the heavy snowfall, the hotel had a lot of cancellations. "They simply couldn't get here - but most have postponed and rebooked for when the weather gets better," says Louis Nardi. On a brighter note, late January saw "a mad rush of corporate customers" and several bookings for the April-August period.