Modern history

Group leisure manager at Historic Sussex Hotels Mike Coppin talks new brand partnerships at the group’s Bailiffscourt spa, and investing in staff to keep them motivated.

You work with quite under-the-radar skincare brands. Why is that?

Mike Coppin, group leisure managerTemple Spa actually approached Bailiffscourt. Originally, Bailiffscourt was their flagship spa, and we’re still approached today to do press trips and so on. They launched into Dormy House in the Cotswolds last January, and a lot of the way Dormy was set up was based on the way Temple Spa worked at Bailiffscourt.

Our senior therapist at Bailiffscourt, Alice, is one of Temple Spa’s trainers, and she recently went to one of the Greek islands to train the girls from [holiday company] Neilson, because Temple Spa is now working with Neilson.

We use Ila and Ren at Ockenden Manor. The design of the spa there is very organic and natural; all the water used is from a natural underground spring and the building has special insulation to reduce energy costs. We wanted product houses that fitted with that. Ren is a bit more mainstream, but not many people had used Ila, and it does the sort of treatments that fitted with our ethos.

You recently switched nail supplier from OPI to Leighton Denny. How did that transition go?

A lot of the promotional side was suggested by the team at Leighton Denny from their experience of launching into a new business. I’ll be honest, being a private hotel, we’re not the best at change, but with Leighton Denny, it was a really easy transfer. Our retail sales have gone up massively since we brought them in. The feedback from customers has been really strong.

Our big concern was that Leighton Denny is available in Marks and Spencer, so it’s a bit more mainstream. As it turns out, now Ren is also available in Marks and Spencer. M&S is still a middle to upper class establishment, and that fits with our business model.

Indoor pool at Bailiffscourt Hotel

How do you make sure the standard of treatments fit the luxury setting?

I organise a mystery shop once a year, so we can make sure standards are being met. If we’re charging £85 a massage it has to be five star.

With Leighton Denny, we’re driving therapists forward through the brand’s training programme. They’re all at bronze standard at the moment, the initial training standard. The long-term plan is to get a couple of our therapists to a minimum of silver and ideally gold standard, to demonstrate that we’re developing them as well.

The worst thing in any environment is to feel like you’re not going anywhere or your achievements are not being noted. When you get to senior therapist level, the next step is a management position, and they come up quite infrequently, so our challenge is to keep them motivated as long as possible.

The career span of a therapist isn’t that long – we reckon at the moment it’s about 10-15 years. New therapists come out of college aged 18-20, and by the time they get to their late 20s, the lure of the nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday job and possibly having kids takes them away from this environment.

How do you market the three spas?

Steam room at Okenden Manor

We made the mistake a couple of years ago of trying to market the hotels under the brand of Historic Sussex Hotels, but we realised that people don’t know us as HSH, they know us as Bailiffscourt, Ockenden Manor or Spread Eagle. They’re very individual properties and each has its own unique selling points, so we’ve gone back on that now.

Going forward, our two key business dynamics are corporate clients and leisure guests. Corporate guests are the hotel’s main business during the week, and there has been a big onus on the spa to pick up on that trend.

Here at Bailiffscourt we’ve worked quite hard on developing day packages. We need to be more competitive with our pricing midweek, to compete with the other big spas like Pennyhill, or Calcot Manor, and to try and generate more customers coming through to us midweek.

What are your plans to push things forward in 2015?

Night exterior of the spa at Bailiffscourt Hotel

Couples’ or mother and daughter spa days are where we haven’t been as strong. Our spa days generally are priced individually at the moment, but building a package around two people seems to be really popular. We tried it at the Spread Eagle for three months and they sold faster than we ever expected.

We will be focussing on our afternoon tea offering as well, because the trend in the industry seems to be for that dining-style experience. We’ve just introduced Indoor pool at Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa tiered cake stands and things like that to give the experience a bit more grandeur. People want that Twitter moment, in their robes with a glass of Champagne, that they can capture and share with friends.

There have been murmurings at board level of possibly trying to acquire a fourth hotel, in the next five years. We’re a bit stuck though, because we’re Historic Sussex Hotels, so we’ve got to stay in Sussex! 

Brand view
Nathaniel Hibbs – International sales manager, Leighton Denny

Nathaniel Hibbs, international sales manager at Leighton Denny“We always offer a bespoke product line up based on the demographic of the business, because every salon and spa is different. For Bailiffscourt, the key client is a lady who likes to come and enjoy the space; she’s a classic spa customer, who has time to sit and enjoy her manicure.

We fed the brand in step by step to Bailiffscourt, so the transition was seamless and we could fit into their way of working. In spas, nail services are never going to be the primary revenue source, so you need to be able to support the business or enhance it, not be a dead weight.” PB