by Alice White
Having been invited by Keith and his wife Fiona on a tour of their flagship hotel in Torquay, I gained a valuable insight into what makes them – and their hotels – work so well.
Two things spring to mind when thinking about Keith Richardson – two motivators that are separate, and yet can be so intrinsically related in business: Love and money. Whilst Keith insists his priority is accountancy and the need for profit (essential if any business is to survive), I sense that he and his wife share a real underlying passion for architecture and renovation.
Keith’s empire has certainly grown from humble beginnings – first purchasing a Manchester house in 1963 and converting it into three flats, producing a handsome return. Through the decades Keith’s knack for figures has stood him in good stead, as he now owns a string of hotels under the Richardson Hotels brand.
Always a lover of architecture, Keith purchased his first hotel in 1988; the Idle Rocks in St Mawes, Cornwall, with a view to turning it into flats. However, his plans for this fell through and it had to remain a hotel, which started Keith on the hotel route. He managed to increase the capacity from 17 to 27 bedrooms with some clever re-design and extensions and, once up and running, he acquired the Beech Hill Hotel in Cumbria five years later, working the same magic. Since then, he has added the Fowey Hotel in Cornwall, The Metropole in Padstow , the Falmouth Hotel and The Grand Hotel to his portfolio – the latter being one of Agatha Christie’s favourite haunts. Keith and Fiona continue to renovate period properties with the use of a regular team of Architects and Building Craftsmen.
Showing me around the Grand Hotel – a 4-star hotel situated on the stunning coastline of Torquay – Keith Richardson knew every inch of the building. “This staircase cost £30,000 and was hand-made for us” he explains nonchalantly, before showing us around the new state-of-the-art boiler room that feeds the 132 rooms with hot water. After five minutes of showing us dials, pipes, large machines and switches, it was clear that Keith and his wife Fiona are involved with every decision, design and decoration within their hotels; in fact, they are actively driving change and aren’t afraid to shell out if it means a better customer experience.
“This is where we design and make all the soft furnishings for the rooms” says Fiona, as we enter a small room filled with fabrics and sewing machines, found expertly by entering and exiting a number of winding yet charming Victorian corridors. The extent to which Keith and Fiona go to make each room special and unique is amazing. “We refresh each room about once every two years, and hand-make all of the cushions and curtains”. Fiona has built a career around furnishings and interior decorating and design, so her marriage to Keith in January 2011 seems a match both for love and success.
The Gainsborough Restaurant within the Grand Hotel has recently been refurbished, and offers wonderful food and magnificent views out over Tor Bay, whilst the inviting library area enjoys dark wood panelling, a large fire and walls of books. Moving upstairs via a brand new lift, I am then shown one of the newly finished suites, boasting a luxurious sitting room, two double bedrooms, large bathroom and entrance hall. It is hard to believe that such opulence exists in the UK at such an affordable price, but somehow Keith and Fiona have put their clever minds together and produced a hotel customers can really get passionate about.
Coming away from my tour of the Grand Hotel, I return back to my original observation; Keith and Fiona Richardson serve their needs and wants – and in turn their customers – very well: The need to make a profit must be paramount , but their want to make their hotels the best they can be is where the passion lies. Therefore their logistical and sometimes cold approach to business and number-crunching can be deceiving; I can tell that they let their hearts rule their business just as much as their heads, and that’s why they remain a steadfast favourite for any UK holidaymaker.