- Pandemic led to redundancies after huge 90 per cent drop in revenues
- Hotel staff used lockdowns to plan switch from servicing large corporate events to focusing on smaller weddings, staycations and spa
- Aston University programme and marketing academic vital in refreshing company’s brand and identifying new offerings
A Midlands hotel group which suffered a nightmare 12 months with COVID-19 freezing almost all its operations is now preparing for a changed marketplace when lockdown ends.
Hogarth Hotels, which has venues in Solihull and Kidderminster, lost most of its staff and 90 per cent of its revenues following the first lockdown in March last year.
But “lifesaver” financial support from the government along with a new business strategy devised with the help of Aston Business School means the group has survived and is now looking confidently to the future.
Founder and owner Helena Hogarth was talking about her experiences in the latest podcast of a series called 'Aston means business: SMEs building resilience to COVID-19 challenges', presented by journalist Steve Dyson.
Ms Hogarth originally trained as a solicitor but entered the hotel sector when she bought a run-down, eight-bedroomed bed and breakfast in Solihull which “took off”. She converted more areas into further bedrooms, gradually increasing from eight bedrooms to 49, plus further banqueting facilities.
She then bought and revived the Stone Manor Hotel in Kidderminster, which she remembered from family events as a child. By the beginning of 2020, the Hogarth Hotels group had about one hundred staff on each site and a turnover of around £7 million. But then COVID-19 happened.
Ms Hogarth said: “The impact of COVID was extreme, and it’s sometimes hard to believe. Both hotels were required to close, and the downturn was probably over 90 per cent of revenues. We had to manage our outgoings, not knowing how long we were going to be closed, preparing for significant redundancies. And we put a lot of our personal resources into the business to keep it going, along with significant government support.”
She said the furlough scheme had been a “lifesaver and saved some jobs” and that the business rates holiday was “another massive help … because that’s an outgoing we would really struggle with at the moment.”
Financial survival aside, Ms Hogarth said the business took advantage of the lockdowns to improve staff skills, redecorate “everywhere”, and work on their website. Prior to lockdown, both hotels regularly hosted business events such as conferences, but Ms Hogarth said: “I'm not sure business travellers will come back quickly or even in the same way. So we had to think about what we can do differently, and we reduced a lot of bigger event spaces into smaller rooms, so rather than a big group we can take several smaller groups or gatherings.
“We are looking at how we can accommodate weddings. We will probably do about a hundred on each site, for probably 20 or 30 people depending on how restrictions pan out. We are also developing a spa product at Solihull because it seems the staycation market is going to be really popular over the next few years with a reluctance to travel abroad.”
Ms Hogarth said the last year had been “really hard”, but that “as the business leader I’ve got to be the one that remains optimistic to keep motivating the team around me”. She highlighted how she and a senior manager from each hotel were helped by Aston’s Small Business Growth programme.
“It helped keep us positive and thinking about how we can pivot the business and what different revenue streams we can attract, and how we can reposition ourselves to take advantage of that.”
Dr Rob Thomas, a teaching fellow in Marketing and Strategy at Aston, has been helping the Hogarths team with rebranding, refreshing what they do and identifying new target markets. He also spoke on the podcast and praised Ms Hogarth’s “proactive approach” at “looking for new opportunities”.
Describing the rebranding process, he advised businesses to “go back to basics” by asking: “What is your mission? What do you want to be known for? What value do you add? How are you different from competitors? Using those building blocks, find out where you want to go.”
While COVID-19 had devastated many businesses, Dr Thomas added: “It’s a wonderful chance to revitalise who you are.”
- Notes to Editors
Founded in 1895 and a University since 1966, Aston is a long established university led by its three main beneficiaries – students, business and the professions, and our region and society. Aston University is located in Birmingham and at the heart of a vibrant city and the campus houses all the university’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Alec Cameron is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.
Aston University was named University of the Year 2020 by The Guardian and the University’s full time MBA programme has been ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking. The Aston MBA has been ranked 12th in the UK and 85th in the world. The University also has TEF Gold status in the Teaching Excellence Framework.
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