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Martin Miller – My Life in Hospitality

29 March 2010 by

Martin Miller is the owner of Millers Hotels.

Martin Miller is not a conventional hotelier. Yet this is the secret of his success. A world-renowned antiques expert and publisher of the hugely successful Miller's Antiques Price Guide, his first foray into the world of hospitality was in 1976 when he opened a bed and breakfast in Petworth, Sussex.

A new interest in restoring and developing period properties led to the opening of his first hotel in 1978: Chilston Park, in Maidstone, Kent. Miller originally bought and renovated the grade I listed building to use as a family home. However, his wife insisted that - with 40 bedrooms - it was way too big.

However Miller's inexperience was immediately apparent. "I forgot I needed a drinks licence, so for the first three months we were giving the booze away," he says. "Looking back though, it was an excellent marketing tool."

Miller's can-do attitude meant he was able to successfully combine his three career interests: publishing antique guides, restoring period properties and running a hotel.

"I used to run the publishing business out of the hotel, which was absolutely stuffed with antiques. That made a nice showcase when publishing the price guides."

In 1999, Miller expanded his range of interests again with the launch of Miller's Gin. His reason? "I was a gin drinker. Vodka was all the rage at the time and I wondered why no one was looking at gin." He concedes that the venture could have been a disaster, but is proud to say that Miller's Gin has received a number of awards.

Almost 20 years after opening Chilston Park, Miller opened Miller's Residence, in London, which is run by his daughter Tara. However, he says it's not really a hotel because there's no restaurant and, with the exception of Champagne, the bar is free.

In 2006 Miller bought Glencot House, a Jacobean mansion in Somerset, and last year he opened Millers at the Anchor, which is run by Tanya Miller, another of his daughters. Opening these two hotels proved to be a very different experience to Chilston Park.

"I didn't make the same mistakes," he says. "Glencot was already a hotel when we took over, which made it easier, but I still made sure we did everything correctly."

What Miller didn't change was his inimitable style. "I have a thing about moving hotels away from being hotels. I do all the interior decoration myself - it's an extension of when I was a young boy making camps in the countryside. I just do it with better materials these days."

HIGHS… Miller's biggest rewards come when his guests really appreciate what he's doing. "An Italian interior designer stayed with us recently and he told me ours was the only hotel he'd ever stayed in that he felt really had soul," he says proudly.

Last year Glencot House hosted the Flaming Art Festival where visitors were invited to bring a piece of art they hated to be auctioned. Anything unsold went on the bonfire. The street artist Banksy delivered a piece of his own work to be burned, but unsurprisingly it was sold before it got anywhere near the flames.

LOWS… During the recession of the 1990s, Miller was forced to sell Chilston Park.

"It went down the tube," he says. "Even though I was making £500,000 a year in profit I was paying interest of 23% and it simply wasn't sustainable."

Despite this, Miller's career remains remarkably unmarred for a man who admits that most of what he has done would not have happened had he done a hotel management course.
Family Married, five daughters
Age 63
Favourite holiday Italy
Drives Volvo called Beryl
Motto Cover the downside and make sure it works in the worst case scenario

Tighten belts in every corner. I'm a great believer in multi-tasking, so get your staff to do more than one job

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