Hotel group enjoys suite success with stylish makeover

by Scott Douglas

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

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BOSSES of a pioneering apart-hotel group say business has been boosted dramatically thanks to a wide-ranging image makeover for staff.

Jennifer Lindsay, Director of Skene House HotelSuites  has been amazed by the benefits of investing in bespoke new uniforms – yet only took the decision after a chance meeting with Scotland’s leading work wear experts, NKD Clothing.

Now she says staff morale has skyrocketed – while she has achieved significant savings and taken major steps towards improving the group’s carbon footprint.

Jennifer, whose father founded the Aberdeen-based Skene Group, met NKD Clothing boss Gill Eastgate at an event organised for female entrepreneurs by the Institute of Directors.

At first she was keen to source new white blouses for the women staff among the company’s 200-strong workforce, adding: “Trying to find a blouse that suited all shapes and sizes, washed well and looked smart was, frankly, a nightmare. And we’d had the issue for years. It was a real problem.

total makeover

Jennifer quickly spotted wider benefits so is implementing a complete image overhaul over the next 12-18 months. That will mean a new look for every member of staff in three Skene House venues in Aberdeen, which offer 184 suites of various sizes.

She added: “Had I known how deep a positive impact this would have on the business I would have done it years ago. Working with a company like NKD clothing is brilliant because they are incredibly knowledgeable and the whole process has also been very enjoyable.”

The firm started out providing accommodation for workers and their families relocating to the city during its original oil boom. It grew by refurbishing properties, while adding more facilities and services to maintain its competitive edge.

Now Skene House has created a niche in the overnight accommodation sector that is a hybrid of the best of serviced apartment and hotel style accommodation. HotelSuites offers 24/7 reception, concierge, porter and daily maid services, business centres, conference facilities and dedicated staff to arrange leisure programmes, sightseeing, tailor-made weekends, including golf, and excursions for individuals to groups of up to 60.

Last year’s £4m investment in its Rosemount site created a further 37 suites and a new conference facility at its flagship venue – while Jennifer says rolling out a bespoke new look for staff is a crucial next stage in the company’s development.

small changes

The first, small changes introduced by NKD Clothing signalled exactly what was achievable and Jennifer added: “We knew workers didn’t like wearing their Skene tartan ties.

“From student staff right through to Henry Ross, our senior concierge who is in his 60s, it was unpopular. Think of the effect it would have on you if someone gave you a tie you hated as a gift and you then had to wear it every single working day.”

NKD sourced a modern striped tie in Skene’s corporate colours of black and gold. It proved such an instant hit with male workers that female colleagues jumped at the suggestion they could wear a matching scarf.

To overcome previous problem with blouses, NKD Clothing also suggested outfitting women staff with stylish, black cotton tops with three-quarter sleeves. Jennifer added: “The difference is unbelievable. The new tops have overcome all the problems we previously had with the blouse.

Flattering

“The cut means it flatters all figures, it sits neatly across the hips and is cool and comfortable. It also has enough give that there are no more gaping buttons and it doesn’t have to be continually tucked back in.”

As staff became more involved in the process Jennifer took a decision to go further and after feedback sessions involving workers, Skene House introduced a more tailored, higher quality two-piece black suit for female staff. New suits are planned for male colleagues.

She added: “The new black suit for the women is gorgeous. We knew there was no one-size fits all uniform solution, but Gill and her team are such experts they can deliver a chic look with enough flexibility to work for everyone. The lift in staff morale has been amazing.”

A third of Skene staff have already been made over, with a rolling programme planned to restyle the rest. Yet the makeover has saved the company money in its first year and is likely to deliver thousands of pounds of savings in future years.

Sustainable tourism practices

The company, which has already invested in improved recycling and use of green cleaning products, says the new uniforms – which are completely machine washable – help its environmental credentials by reducing the need for dry-cleaning chemicals in accordance with sustainable tourism practice.

Gill Eastgate, who successfully turned NKD Clothing into a £1.3m a year business which is being fast-tracked by Scottish Enterprise, said she was delighted with the way Skene House staff had embraced the changes.

She added: “We never tire of telling potential customers how staff perform better when they look and feel better. Any investment in better quality fabric and designs at the outset also brings long-term rewards for businesses with the foresight to see that.

“At a time when many people are looking to cut costs, I’m delighted that Skene House is now discovering the all-to-real benefits of investing in well-dressed staff.”

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