We celebrate 10 years in business

20 The Baron in snow

This week we celebrate 10 years in business. This post is a retrospective, written with huge gratitude for a decade of learning, laughter and lessons in luxury letting

Ten years ago this week we decided to pivot our family business from standard letting to serviced apartments, and to place ourselves at the top end of the luxury market. We had just moved into a new house and had baby twins and a five year old daughter. It seemed the perfect time to start a new business we knew little about, and to renovate an old Victorian property as part of the process. Excitement and enthusiasm and a lot of very special helpers carried us through a mind-mumblingly tough first few years. Accounting, compliance, letting agents, accountability, managing builders and data management were all new to us and completely unfathomable initially. The learning curve was perilously steep and we swerved major mistakes narrowly. 

When we started, our first bookings were through our original website and were nearly all short leisure stays. Our first guests were families and couples coming to visit relatives in Richmond or planning Christmases in London. Christmas 2012 was quite busy with short stays, but January came and was totally dead for us, then February too, and March wasn’t looking good. We were beginning to wonder if the massive loan we’d taken on to up-spec’ the apartments was in fact a smart move. Was speculating to accumulate what we’d done, or had we just overstretched ourselves? We worked so hard to learn the fundamentals of corporate and film letting and to build our reputation. We had to prove that we were serious and offered something new and different. When the average apartment provider had maybe 50 units and we started with only three, we had to be a cut above the rest so that we could be taken on by some of the best industry agents such as SilverDoor, Situ and Lil and Kate London. They realised we wanted to grow and learn from them and they helped train us really –  and trusted us with some of their most prestigious guests. As we grew in experience and we took on more apartments we realised that we needed to not only look good but we had to be good. Good and safe. So we opted for membership of Quality in Tourism, Visit England and ASAP/ISAAP. All  leading providers of quality assessment, internationally and nationally. Every year we review and enhance our safety and hygiene and sanitisation standards to make sure we are secure and safe (Covid safe too) accommodation.

 As the agents grew to know us, and us to know them, we built a good reputation and began to relax into creating our own unique style. We began to carve out the 20 The Barons character. Yes, we’d provide welcome packs but they’d be more generous than the usual offering. We’d supply high quality tea bags, not trashcan tea; We’d insist on face to face meet and greets (until Covid of course) so that we could make that important first contact with our guest and build a connection in order that they always felt they could contact a team member to resolve any queries; we’d decorate each apartment in a unique style so that it wasn’t just a question of offering two bedroom options, it was offering a two bed with a balcony decorated in a European classic style, or a two bed warehouse style apartment with a garden. More choice, more individuality and more client interaction to enhance customer satisfaction. We grew to love what we do because it wasn’t formulaic. Each stay was different as each guest was different. It is genuinely a lot of fun getting an apartment ready for a family of five coming over from the US to see their family for Christmas. We share in their excitement and understand how much the trip means to them. We love to get colouring books for the kids as well as ‘healthy’ emergency snacks for hungry little ones just off the red-eye. There’s a lot of satisfaction to be had from decorating a Christmas tree with traditional British touches for kids from abroad and from leaving little gifts scattered around. It’s great to get the positive feedback and to know that we’ve made a good first impression.

It sounds very trite to say that people are at the core of our business. But it’s true. People are everything to us. Our guests, our staff and our family. I love interacting with our guests. From A list actors and VPs of bluechip giants to families travelling for business, people in the midst of major life changes and families wanting to explore our fantastic part of London, I’ve met some fantastic people. We’ve made friends, contacts and memories and have so many wonderful stories that we’d love to share – but can’t because discretion is our name. 

I am probably most proud that I have built up a fantastic team @ The Barons. Our amazing housekeeping team began as two and is now five, and our maintenance team didn’t even exist until a couple of years ago when we were able to persuade my partner Jason to quit his TV job and work with us full time. The people that I work with and who support me are all exceptional.  Working in a small family business means that the people who work with you become part of your family and business. It’s not how the Bluechips would work, but for us it’s the right way to be: working with people that share your vision because they are beside you, and by your side.

Our business has grown and developed as all vibrant things should. We remember now just how joyful we were when we got our first month-long stay. Now our stays are typically 2 – 12 months. We deal with corporate, relocation, film production and leisure stays. Looking to the future, our next steps are to expand our agency work. Managing other peoples’ homes and keeping them profitable and secure for them has developed and expanded as we’ve started to work with local home owners and built relationships with them. We’ve been asked to help to prepare and manage letting out homes as serviced apartments for ex-pats, relocators and locals who are too busy to become professional landlords. This side of the business is set to expand as owners see the value of professional agents rather than community based internet letting platforms.

As the serviced apartment sector evolves and we try to keep abreast of tech’ advances to keep our guests happy, comfortable and connected, we are always mindful that all the gadgets and gizmos in the world will never replace a responsive and welcoming host. Our core values are integrity, professionalism, home from home luxury and genuine hospitality.  Hospitality with heart. As Eleanor Roosevelt said  “True hospitality consists of giving the best of yourself to your guests.” 

We are looking forward to the next ten years, and hopefully welcoming you to stay soon. 

Ali 

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