Since his appointment in September 2016, head of Hallmark Hotels David Grosfils has overseen the merger of three hotel groups into one unified brand owned by Topland Group. He tells Katherine Price about the experience and relates how he ensures the brand stands out in the market
What was it like overseeing the integration of Hallmark Hotels, Feathers Hotels and Menzies Hotels Group?
Each one had very different systems, beliefs and cultures. My biggest challenge has been to ensure the three become aligned while respecting and building on the inherited individual strengths.
How have you ensured consistency across the group?
The common thread running through our 26 very different hotels in 26 very different locations is not design-based, it is people – guests and teams – and their experiences. We have worked hard to develop the Hallmark culture.
Our new brand DNA has been cultivated across the group and is being adopted and embraced in an organic way that allows the key strengths of each of the properties to shine. I’d say, on average, our hotels are shaped 75% by group brand standards, with 25% flexibility for the general managers and the local market to tailor as they see fit.
What makes Hallmark Hotels stand out in today’s market?
We are all about home comfort, and this is particularly apparent through our food. While bedroom sales make the most profit, I believe it is the informal food and beverage that defines our brand.
How are the properties performing across the UK?
Our rolling 12-month profit is starting to show strong year-on-year growth, something we’re putting down to brand reputation. TripAdvisor reputations have improved significantly – we are now consistently averaging the top half of ratings per location, something that was not the case 18 months ago.
Have you sold off many properties since the merger?
Our Irvine property in North Ayrshire was sold to a local businessman who had worked in the hotel in his youth, and Bournemouth West Cliff was sold because we didn’t feel we needed three hotels in one town – a legacy of the three businesses merging into one.
The Queen in Chester was up for sale in April 2017, but rather than selling it, we have re-invested in the building. Today it is our flagship property and in significant profit.
Where are you focusing investment?
Predominantly on ‘back of house’ fixtures, such as boilers, kitchens and air handling, but in the last six months or so we’ve been able to shift to front of house facilities.
You’ve been working in hospitality for 30 years – what changes have you observed?
I think the big change has been the increased presence of big brands, resulting in a loss of local character. I fear that quirky British or local eccentricities in hospitality could become a thing of the past.
Has it improved for hospitality workers?
Hospitality isn’t as badly paid as it used to be, especially when you factor in tips, so it’s becoming increasingly attractive to young people. With the chance to work up from bar staff to management, hospitality can be – and very often is – a highly rewarding career.