As one of Ireland’s newest and most ambitious hotel groups, Clann Hospitality has so far thrived because of its ‘family’ atmosphere, according Group General Manager, Darrell Penney.
Its name comes from the Irish name for family and while it might not be a household name in Ireland just yet, its properties have been leaving an indelible mark on the hospitality scene.This is particularly true of its main hotel, the Pillo Hotel in Ashbourne, Co Meath.
The GM and Clann Group General Manager took over the Pillo in 2013, at a time when receivers were the only ones coming to spend time on the premises, poring over the skeletal figures of the remains of what had been the Marriott Hotel Ashbourne.
For Darrell, it was an inauspicious start but one that he relished: “I Live in Cavan and I’d pass this hotel regularly on my commuting journey when it was the Marriott,” he says. “When the job came up, I was delighted to be successful in getting the role of General Manager.”
Darrell re-energised & re-generated the team adding some new members of management to the existing team and introduced a target-based sales function.
“We had to look at our offering here,” says Darrell, adding that they had to move with the times, reassess what they had and what they had to offer the market.
The family market offered more possibility for growth than the hotel’s original mainstay of the corporate sector. The large corporate-sized bedrooms became family rooms that could extend into an interconnecting room without charging the family extra for it – something that quickly became a USP of the hotel.The proximity of the fast-growing attraction of Tayto Park emerged as an important asset to the hotel’s success plans but according to Darrell, the real reason for their impressive growth since he’s taken over, has been down to our team:
“We grew with Tayto Park, I suppose and as the closest hotel to Tayto Park, that was an important message we had to get out there” says Darrell
but really what the success here has always been down to is the people that we have here… The biggest difference between us and our competitors around us are our Management & Staff.”
He says that the experience of Lockdown and the past summer in particular have proven that point: “I wouldn’t have got through it, the hotel wouldn’t have got through what we had to get through in the summer without them. We got most of our management back… they all have a genuine interest in the business. They don’t sit in their offices and twiddle their thumbs and wait for the phone to ring or an email to come in or react to an enquiry… they’ve a genuine interest in seeing the business grow and we’ve successfully grown all the markets that we operate in.”
The business has now grown from an operating loss of €300,000 per annum to a “positive seven-figure sum” by the 2016-19 period. They were on course for new records when Covid hit.
It was during this period, Darrell says, that he truly realised just how hard-working and positive-minded the team were. It not only offered Darrell the opportunity to experience some of the hands-on roles for himself but to see how determined the staff were to get the doors open and the hotel operating profitably once more.
From their pre-Covid levels of 170, they currently have 130 staff at the hotel. Darrell considers that they are lucky to have retained a good number of their team but acknowledges that one also creates one’s own luck, in business as in life in general.Where they do have a problem in terms of staff shortages is in the kitchen – something they certainly have in common with every other hotel and restaurant in the country.
“Our investment and our loyalty in people over the last three to five years means that they came back to us,”
says Darrell. “Every one of our management came back. I was amazed to see all our frontline staff arrive here for their Covid induction training… and what they did here over the summer was just mind-boggling; to see the levels of commitment, energy and flexibility to ensure that we would have a lot more good days than bad days.”
One of the more serious inherited problems that the hotel had was with pyrite in the structure. An original plan to tackle the issue in January 2020 was postponed for a variety of reasons but their timing proved to be spot-on in Summer 2020, when with the hotel closed and began the costly difficult works just in advance of the next wave of Covid-inspired Government close-downs of the industry.
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