Buying a Blackpool hotel: interview with the owner of Number One South Beach

PropertySales.com takes a look at hotel investment – one of the UK’s post-recession success stories – with the help of experienced hotelier Claire Smith.

The UK hotel industry is continuing to benefit from an improving economy and is expected to see impressive growth over the next two years.

During the economic downturn consumers made cutbacks on luxuries and hotels had to fight hard to attract customers. However, since then the industry has made a significant comeback and UK occupancy rates are now at a record high.

PropertySales.com spoke to Blackpool-based hotelier Claire Smith about her experiences in the hotel trade and got some invaluable advice for anyone thinking about buying a hotel.

Location, location, location

Claire started in the hospitality industry at the age of 13. Now a hotelier for 24 years she is the proud owner of award-winning hotel Number One South Beach and B&B Number One St Lukes.

Claire and her husband chose to be located in Blackpool for two reasons: because it’s what they know and they see it as more economically viable, with a longer season, than all other coastal resorts. 

Other resorts close down at the end of summer, she told us, just as Blackpool is building up to its busiest time of year, the ‘illuminations’, which extends the season to mid-November. 

 

 

A photo posted by Property Sales (@ftpropertysales) on

 

Buying process

Surprisingly, Claire describes the buying process as the easy part: “It’s all taken out of your hands at that point and put into the hands of agents and solicitors.”

Finding the right property can be a lengthy process, she says, and before you commit to the idea of buying you must:

• Do thorough research

• Speak to the neighbours

•  Contact the council and enquire into planning permissions

•  Employ a good solicitor  

• And make sure all parties communicate regularly

Daring to be different

The Smiths went above and beyond in researching prospective purchases. Alongside their business plan they commissioned a feasibility study, which Claire describes as “the most invaluable piece of work” they did.

“It provided us with all sorts of information to the nth degree about the needs and requirements of our prospective guests, the requirements of a prospective property, information on how to brand ourselves and the behaviours of our prospective demographic.

 “One of our problems was we wanted to do something different and the banks get scared when you don’t fit in the usual box! However, it was this that convinced the banks to lend to us.”

Identifying a gap

Twenty-four years ago the Smiths identified a gap in the Blackpool hotels market: there were no other five-star establishments in the town.

Five-star guests have very specific requirements and Claire knew from the outset that there would be a number of additional considerations:

• They often have expensive cars, so off-road parking is paramount

• They usually want a good night’s sleep rather than a party atmosphere, so a quieter location is necessary, but with easy access to all that Blackpool has to offer

• They’re not usually ‘bus’ people so a bus stop isn’t helpful, although the trams should ideally be within short walking distance

• They probably want both indoor and outdoor space, larger rooms and en-suite bathrooms including a bath and separate shower

(For tips about running a hotel at the lower end of the price spectrum read this article about ‘the best value hotel in the world’.)

 "A property can be remodelled, restyled and extended but you cannot compromise on the location. It has to absolutely fit all necessary requirements – get one aspect wrong and you may not be able to attract the market you’re aiming for. "

The perfect premises

In order to find the perfect premises you will have to identify your target market, research its requirements and tailor your offering accordingly.

Claire told us that you can compromise on the size of your premises and its facilities if you have a big enough budget to make alterations – for example:

• A property may not have a car park but, if there is enough land, then one can soon be created

• If there’s enough land then an extension could give you more space  

However, you should always check with the appropriate planning authority before purchasing a property. You don’t want to risk having your plans rejected, especially if you’ve already spent money on the project, and invalidating your business plan if it projects profits on the assumption of additional space.

Making yourself at home

If the hotel is going to be your home then you need to ask yourself a few questions:

• Are you prepared for guests coming in and out at all times of the day and night?

• Are you prepared to give people who you know absolutely nothing about a key to your home?

With any business there are pros and cons and the hotelier lifestyle can mean there are fewer boundaries between your working life and personal life: “Be prepared to work extremely long hours, be disturbed anytime of the day or night, miss theatre trips, dinner with friends, family occasions etc, because you’re guests have been delayed.

“They said they’d be arriving about 2pm so you organised your day accordingly. Then they ring about 5pm to say they decided to have lunch on the way and then visit a friend, so now won’t be arriving until about 7/8pm.

“Your own arrangements are now out of the window – that’s the way it is.”

Saying all that, Claire says there are some benefits to living in your business premises: you live mortgage- and rent-free and other living costs are covered by the running costs, making it a potentially lucrative business if you run it wisely.

“We wouldn’t do anything else. We have a great time, meet great people and we wouldn’t swap our lives with anyone,” she says.



Melanie Luff

About the author

Melanie Luff is an in-house journalist and writes for all titles in the Dynamis stable including BusinessesForSale.com, FranchiseSales.com and PropertySales.com as well as other industry publications.

@Be_TheBoss