As part of my "3000 post" series, I've looked ahead at where I expect training techniques to go in the next six years, and what we'll be teaching in the next six years. What about the hotel business?
You might expect the hotel business to be staid - to be stationary - but if you do, you'll be surprised. When we opened for training in Melksham in 2000, there must have been six B&Bs and hotels that our delegates could use in the kilometre between us and the town centre, but that shrunk away and by 2005 there were just three. One of the others closed at about that time, and we bought out one of the remaining two. The final one closed a few months ago - because the owners retired, just like many of the others. And in the meantime we've seen a couple of others start up, then the owners loose interest and fizzle. I've seen it said that a third of accommodation businesses fail each year. Thank goodness we're not just an accommodation business - we're much more than that.
We established Well House Manor
to be a supporting act to our training courses - to make our product complete - and that was a ten to fifteen year project. In amongst all the hussle and bussle and things that change, we're broadly on plan
; it's been a help in terms of room occupancy (and thus keeping staff occupied - you can't have half a person on duty!) that we've been able to provide a service to others, and we'll continue to do so. And having other facets to the business means that having the necessary minimum (one person!) on duty means that such a person can be involved in other tasks too in the long hours of little activity - helping their motivation and the bottom line too. Even if Penelope can't update a web page, and Marjorie can't configure computers for next week's course, we can schedule their shifts at a time that there's wasing and ironing to be done, areas to deep clean, rooms to change so that Rachel can write and Chris can set up.
I see us bucking the trend. I see Well House Manor
remaining open - as a hotel - very stable for the next ten years. The fabric was refurbished - and with quality materials you wouldn't expect in a hotel - five years ago, and for the most part that's fabric that should last the planned life of the place out. The carpets will probably need replacing once, the decorations redone twice, new coffee mugs will be needed three times and knowing how quickly technology moves on, and how computers are made down to a price, they'll probably need replacing four times.
And what about staff turnover? I can't say this too often or too boldly - The staff make a hotel
. A team that's happy at their work, provide excellent customer support, and believe in their product, can make or break a place. Find the right people - even if they join to fill a short term vacancy - and they'll stick around, growing into the role, and the rate of attrition will be lower - far lower - than you might expect in a high turnover industry. We have an excellent team; we added to it a couple of months ago as you may have read, and those were the first additions for 18 months. I had seven new names for you at that point, and as is the nature of temporary, part time roles, two have already moved on to better things for them - amicably; I wouldn't want to stand in the way of someone who's only guaranteed a job with us for a short while as he or she finds a career position, or joins a family business long term. See current staff page
The staff make a hotel
. For the make the customer experience. That's from the web site experience as they chosoe to stay with us and book the first time, through reception and breakfast to checkout. They need to have a friendly word for the guest - to be happy (truely happy) when a guest who booked a twin room (and that was specially set up, as we're usually all doubles) turns up alone, when asked to book a taxi, or when a guest phones five minutes before our 11 a.m. cancellation deadline to cancel (we have many nice reviews on TripAdvisor, and one points out how good we were when someone had had to cancel - twice - and rebook). And it's not just the front line staff that make the hotel. JB may not meet Rachel, but he appreciates the nicely turned out room. EM may not meet Lisa, but she likes the well-confirmed booking and the cheery note asking if she wants to be picked up from the station.
We've had to crispen up in the last four years on a few things with relation to staff; it's all too easy to use honour and trust while we're all headed in the same direction, but previously-lovely people will wave flags like "racial discrimination" and "unfair dismissal" at you when they thinks there may be some money in it for them when they've decided they should move on. The law, rightly, looks after the employee against the exploiting employer but at times it's gone too far ... "I don't need Well House any more, so I may as well take them for what I can"; alas, I'm not always a good judge of character, we have
had a couple of cases which have cost us dear in terms of defence, time, and emotional wear, even though we're clean.
Wouldn't it be marvellous if we could predict the future - know what's going to work, and what's not? Sound research helps, but isn't the total answer, and there gets to be a limit as to how much research you can do before you take something on. And so it was that we also opened our doors at Well House Manor to external events. We knew they would be hard work, and indeed they are; we're not afraid of hard work, but at the volume we can handle them, they don't make financial sense; they're not the lucrative meal-for-500 dos held at some grand ballroom, and we spend almost as much as we charge. Get an accident such as someone not being able to lift a table, so dragging it and breaking the legs off it (something that someone would never even consider doing with herown property, of course), or ruining a table cloth, and in effect you've paid your event group to come!
So what to the future?
• Very much "Steady as she goes".
• Continuing to provide excellent rooms for delegates, and other visitors to Melksham.
• Continuing to develop each member of our team.
• Only very limited events. Direct people elsewhere
• Keeping an eye open to customer requirements.
• Increase the revpar.
Ah you will have spotted a technical term in that last bullet point. "Revenue per available room". It's the way that hotels and hotelliers measure how they're doing. Take the income over a period, and divide it by the number of room-nights you had for sale. The way to increase the revpar is to increase the amount you charge for each room, to decrease any discounts, or to sell more rooms. Essentially, for "n" rooms you'll have largely fixed costs, and so extra / reduced income goes almost straight to the bottom line.
But there's an issue with a small hotel - "empty" and "full and turning people away" are perillously close to each other, and marketing has to be very clever to increase the revpar without needless increasing sales and marketing costs - there's little point in investing in getting an average of 90% occupancy when what you've actually done is generated so many leads that you could have sold some nights three times over, whereas other nights you've still not achieved "full". In fact, it's negative marketing to oversell; you get the reputation of being very hard to get in at, people will stop trying, and you need to put your sales machine into overdrive to overcome your poor availability reputation.
I do have - but not for publication - some current figures, and targets. The staff make a hotel
... and I'm very happy to share the data with them. And the occupancy rate figure in that target is lower than you might guess; the clever bit is in acheiving as high a figure as practical, with as low a figure of "turnaway"s as possible, and at a sensible amount of effort. And we do have work to do in this area - not that the solution is obvious when you look at 200% booking requests for the Saturday night of a wedding, with big fat zeros on the Friday and Sunday as a result ...
• In a further five years ... start looking towards what happens at the end of the project.
Looking forward, you see clearly what's close. You see some vague outlines a bit further ahead. And then things disappear into the mists of time. I'm just beginning to see a few vague outlines here, and I can see there will be choices to made before we get to them. Lisa and I will be coming up to retirement age - and there will be something of a choice as to whether we carry on actively running the business, pass it on to family, or sell it out to staff or others. But then we may ourselves be getting a bit less active and move from our 4 floors, little on each floor, home to somewhere else, and that may influence. And you might be surprised how often we get letters asking if we're prepared to sell the property so that in can be "infilled" - with housing, flats, or retirement homes, and possibly to the detriment of the current house on which we had a 15 year refit performed some five years ago. But I'll leave it at this point; so far ahead, it's a definite "don't know".
Links to other articles in the series
A brief look back
Looking forward in overview - the next 3000
How will course presentation change in coming years?
Course subjects - what does the future hold?
Well House Manor - the next six years
Personal stuff - back and forward six years. (written 2010-10-24, updated 2010-11-08)
Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter http://melksh.am/nnnn for individual articlesM100 - Introduction to Well House Manor 
A hidden hotel gem in Melksham - (2013-07-31) 
Special weekend at Well House Manor - come and see Wiltshire - (2013-01-20) 
Guest Guide for Well House Manor and Melksham - (2012-09-18) 
Fancy a weekend away? Try Well House Manor in Melksham, Wiltshire - (2012-07-09) 
Christmas in June? Melksham hotel bookings and Santa train - (2012-06-15) 
A customer thanks Well House Manor - (2012-02-13) 
Telling you something about us in just one line - (2011-03-15) 
Perl, Python, PHP, Lua, Linux, and more - and business hotel too. Menu for 2011 - (2010-12-31) 
Christmas 2010 - Well House Manor, Melksham, Hotel - (2010-10-01) 
Wedding season in Melksham - somewhere good to stay - (2010-08-31) 
Fresh air and beautiful places in Wiltshire - (2010-08-15) 
Weekend and Christmas Promotion - Well House Manor Hotel, Melksham - (2009-09-26) 
We have lost a regular business guest - (2009-04-10) 
Make your business a DESTINATION business - (2009-04-05) 
A New Advert for Well House Manor - (2009-03-11) 
Well House Manor Hotel - on plan for 2009 business guests - (2009-01-03) 
Review of 2008 - (2008-12-31) 
What a difference a day made - (2008-11-02) 
The Story of Well House Manor - (2008-07-12) 
Well House Consultants Training and Hotel - 2008 news - (2008-01-01) 
Well House Manor - a year on - (2007-10-12) 
An email update for past guests and delegates - (2007-10-08) 
Hotel in Melksham at Christmas - (2007-09-29) 
Melksham Hotel - Five Star Kitchen! - (2007-09-04) 
High summer at Well House Manor - (2007-07-08) 
A lot has happened in a year - (2007-05-31) 
Well House Manor, Melksham, Art Gallery - (2007-04-02) 
Bank Holiday country breaks in Melksham, Wiltshire - (2007-03-17) 
Well House Manor in the Snow - (2007-02-09) 
Rail trouble forced me to buy hotel - (2007-02-07) 
Open Source Courses and Business Hotel - products and prices for 2007 - (2007-01-01) 
Meet the neighbours - (2006-12-20) 
Wellhouse Manor, Hotel, Melksham - (2006-12-10) 
Winter at Well House Manor - Open Houses - (2006-11-23) 
Brand new hotel and training centre, Melksham - (2006-10-22) 
Well House Manor Hotel, Melksham, Wiltshire - (2006-10-10) 
The Wilts and Berks Canal - (2006-07-05) 
Seeing the bricks for the trees - (2006-06-11) 
Sympathetic development - (2006-04-09) 
Well House Manor - (2006-01-21) 
Exciting futures - the Well House Manor project - (2005-11-30)M107 - Well House Manor Newsreel 
Reaching a hotel standard where 99% of guests would return - and maintaining that standard - (2013-10-01) 
International Melksham - industry, and beautiful countryside - (2013-06-15) 
POETS day at Well House Manor - (2013-05-24) 
Hotel bedroom - even larger TV! - (2013-01-04) 
Well House Manor, Melksham - on national TV next week - (2012-12-30) 
National TV - Melksham - 9th January 2013, Pre-alert. - (2012-12-27) 
Apple Pressing Day 2012 - (2012-10-07) 
The apple crop of 2012 - (2012-09-15) 
Geekmas 2012 - celebrating open source languages such as Perl, PHP and Python - (2012-08-11) 
Pimms and Croquet in Edwardian Melksham - 8th September 2012 - Food Festival Event - (2012-08-05) 
Melksham Community Apple Pressing Day - (2012-08-05) 
Well House Manor at Dawn ... and later in the day - (2012-07-28) 
Keeping our hotel looking like new, by using our gained experience - (2012-03-09) 
Emergency First Aid Provision at Well House Manor - part of the service - (2012-01-19) 
Melksham, Luxury Hotel Rooms, Christmas. - (2011-12-02) 
Well House Manor - Winter Warmers - Open 7 days a week, 11 to 5 ++ - (2011-11-01) 
Where do businessmen stay in Melksham? - (2011-08-25) 
Customer Review - Hotel Room, Melksham - (2010-10-03) 
A Winter Weekend Special at Well House Manor - (2009-09-26)M350 - Well House Manor - project diary 
A course is not just for a year - its for a career - (2013-02-20) 
Expecting nothing, but prepared for anything - (2013-01-05) 
The Accidental Hotelier - (2012-08-24) 
The changing Hotel and Bed and Breakfast business in Melksham - (2012-01-18) 
Three big events - TWSW, Business of the year and the police - (2007-03-03) 
Telling a story in different ways - (2007-02-20) 
Snagging - (2006-11-24) 
A tale of a wee wall - (2006-11-19) 
Before and After - Well House Manor - (2006-11-18) 
Where quality costs less - (2006-10-15) 
Open - (2006-10-09) 
Coming together. - (2006-09-29) 
4 weeks to go - (2006-09-11) 
From the Manor written - (2006-09-07) 
Fitting our bathrooms - (2006-09-04) 
Hotel, Melksham, Wiltshire - (2006-08-24) 
Above the parapit, Well House Manor - (2006-07-28) 
Naming Rooms - (2006-06-24) 
We can offer a room, but we can't operate on a dog - (2006-06-05) 
The eye - (2006-05-31) 
Residential - (2006-05-15) 
Planning a hotel refurb - an example of a Gant chart in PHP - (2006-05-14) 
Hotel novelties - (2006-01-05) 
2006 - Making business a pleasure - (2006-01-01)
Some other Articles
Tuning Apache httpd and Tomcat to work well togetherSeventh day traveller on the six day railwayThe legal considerations of your web presence - revisitedLogging the performance of the Apache httpd web serverWell House Manor - the next six yearsAudio equipmentException handling in Perl - using evalWhat are .pid files?Children, zombies, and reaping processesExpect in Perl - a short explanation and a practical example