Acquisition was a homecoming for experienced hotelier
By Dave Hunter
WHEN hotelier Susan Stuart was looking to make the move back to Scotland from London, the Loch Earn area was a no-brainer.
Not only was the well-established Four Seasons Hotel on the market, but Susan already had a relationship with the area which stretched back to her childhood.
“Up here to Loch Earn was one of the places I used to come to picnic when I was little,” Susan told SLTN.
“So I always knew the area. It was familiar to me.”
The decision to relocate from London wasn’t taken lightly. Having worked in the capital for the past 30 years and chalked up experience with hotel firms such as Sheraton and Intercontinental, Susan had been considering a move back to Scotland for several years, keeping an eye on the property market to see what was available.
“There’s been a lot of hotels on the market in recent years, and some sit on the market for five, six years and their prices have halved,” she said.
“But there’s a reason why their prices have halved: they just don’t have the business going through their doors.
“So timing was everything: finding the right property at the right time in the right place.
“Sometimes it’s just meant to be.”
The Four Seasons sits right on the banks of Loch Earn, just west of the village of St Fillans.
Timing was everything: the right property at the right time and place.
As well as 12 letting rooms, several with direct views of the loch, the property includes six chalets (two of which were famously occupied by The Beatles in 1964 during a tour) and a self-catering apartment.
Operationally, taking over control of the hotel late last year had its challenges.
The day Susan received the keys for the property, contractors working on a nearby project – unrelated to the Four Seasons – accidentally cut the main power line to the hotel, a problem that took two days to fix.
“My bank relationship director says I have had more than my fair share [of issues],” said Susan.
In terms of developing the business, Susan has several plans to tweak the offer in the course of the next year.
The first stop will be an upgrade to the hotel’s 12 rooms.
“It sounds terribly grand to say moving the hotel into the 21st century, and actually it’s not that grand,” she said.
“For instance, we have televisions that are quite small.
“We need to update the televisions, because they’re all sitting at 22, 24-inch TVs. It’s that kind of thing – bringing them up to the right size and having Netflix on them.
“And instead of having double beds, having kingsize beds wherever the rooms can accommodate them.
“We’re a very pet-friendly hotel, but what we’ve done is developed a pet-free wing in the property, which addresses a need in the marketplace.”
There are also plans to add a ‘farm-shop’ to the hotel, which will act as a showcase for the hotel’s food offer (the restaurant has two AA Rosettes) and local suppliers.
Planning permission is required, but Susan hopes to get the project underway next year.
In the meantime, the focus will be on maintaining customer service standards through staff training.
“One thing I’m noticing is the younger staff don’t have the confidence to actually talk to guests,” said Susan.
“So it’s empowering them and reassuring them constantly that, actually, it’s OK to go up to a guest. You don’t have to wait to be called.
“It’s about being confident enough to be proactive. And I think that’s probably the most important thing I’m doing, training-wise, is giving staff that confidence level.”