BHN talks to Oliver Heywood, one of the brothers behind Cheshire-based brand Flat Cap Hotels.
• You are third-generation hoteliers – what is it about this industry that you love and makes you want to carry on the family tradition?
“Everything – from the creation and running of the business to the day-to-day operations. I think the most rewarding bit about what we do is when your ideas and hard work come to life. This can be measured in many ways, from transforming an empty room into a full hotel with a packed restaurant or from seeing a new dish on the menu. Moreover, we both love seeing guests enjoying themselves, relaxing and having a good time, that is a great feeling. On a personal level, Flat Cap Hotels is currently creating a cross-department development and management programme so our employees can work across the group and develop their skills and experiences. We are focusing on creating local employment and building life-long careers in hospitality.”
• Who would you say are your inspirations, both in the hospitality sector and beyond?
“Dominic and I have both worked for corporate groups and independent private owners throughout the UK. Our passion and interest originally stemmed from living, working and breathing in our father’s (Peter Heywood) hotels, pubs and restaurants. He has been an owner/operator for 40 years, as was our grandfather before that. Peter’s guidance and experience has been invaluable and it has been combined with our own experiences to create Flat Cap Hotels.”
• What attracted you to the crowd-funding model for your Knutsford project, and what has the response been like?
“The crowd funding campaign worked very well. Seedrs were fantastic in their support and it allowed us to speak to people who knew nothing about Flat Cap Hotels, explain who we are and what we are doing – the response was overwhelming. Crowd funding option was a great PR and marketing tool as well.”
• What do you think attracted your new private investor to get involved with Flat Cap Hotels?
“We made it very clear from the start that we are not trying to reinvent the wheel with our brand, concept or vision. Behind closed doors, we have been developing the business model and strategy for a few years now, and have proved our worth with The Vicarage Freehouse & Rooms. The Courthouse is the next piece in the jigsaw. There is also a third property to be announced very soon. The strategy is to get to five assets by 2019 all within a 50 miles radius, all in a market and demographic which we have a lot of experience in as a family.”
• Do you think your young age (for hoteliers) is helping you to target a guest demographic that your older peers perhaps don’t understand so well?
Historically, the traditional hotel model (regional and city based) has focused and appealed to particular demographic according to the hotel offering. Our concept is simply turning this on its head, we want everyone to be able to enjoy our properties – both corporate and leisure guests. There has been a huge shift in the industry in recent years from the development in the food and beverage market between the old-fashioned country public house and the restaurant, combined with the ever developing boutique luxury hotel market. I do think our age will definitely benefit the growth of the company and the brand, as well as hopefully attracting a younger demographic. We’re full of energy and optimism and we aren’t scared to try something new and step away from the old “tried and tested” philosophy. Dad has enough grey hair for both of us!
• How many properties are you aiming for with Flat Cap Hotels, and do you have plans to expand beyond your Cheshire heartland?
Five hotels by 2019 in Cheshire is the strategy, one a year effectively from now, and we are on track to do so. We are also looking at other areas of the UK that we feel Flat Cap Hotels would fit. The Vicarage was a derelict site and The Courthouse is a conversion from a former crown court. No.3 will be the re-positioning of an existing trading asset.”