This month

Matt Townley
General Manager

 

Dakota Hotels

Neil Kirkham

What does an 80 year old military airplane and Manchester’s newest luxury hotel have in common? We delve into what it takes to build a lasting legacy and the patterns that lie behind doing that in a sustainable way. Welcome to this month’s issue of Patterns of Business, we hope you enjoy your stay.

Patterns of business

The businesses that change the way people experience life truly understand their business and the wants, needs and the patterns of their customers. In the WeThree Patterns of Business Newsletter, we showcase the visionaries and collaborators who, by seeing brand and business as one, are able to unlock and drive business success. We analyse the formation of these business patterns, we explore the strategies behind them and we reveal the key brand drivers around their creative success.

Formation.

Brand Insights

Everywhere around the world discerning travellers like you have a choice. The luxury hotel chain with dozens of locations that’s predictably the same wherever you go? Or the no-frills offering that’s within reach but leaves you feeling distant from the city you want to connect with? Not to your taste? What about the new wave of little establishments where you struggle to find a single person to help you? Wherever you look, the hotel industry seems to be sending the message that you can’t have the best of all worlds. Be enveloped in a story and pay the astronomical price or stay within budget but bear the compromise?

Founded in the mid 2000s by the eminent hotelier Ken McCulloch and owned by the Evans Property Group, Dakota Hotels takes a different tact. Neighbourhood brasseries that open the gates to the city and luxury interiors that evoke the prestige of the golden days of travel – it’s all been thought through and available at competitive rates. With five in-demand locations in the UK, the latest of which is open in May 2019, Dakota hotels bring heart, soul and a friendly hand back into business travel, elevating the experience and the industry.

But what are they doing so differently? It’s all down to an often forgotten pattern: exquisite design, heart-warming service and a generous helping of story told superbly at every turn. Tweaked and made even bolder by people willing to go just a little bit further for their guests.

Exploration.

Brand Strategy

In 1933, the Douglas C3, or C-47 as its military designation was known, took to the air. The aircraft was a formidable competitor to Boeing’s planes – large enough to haul freight, and spacious enough to be a people carrier. The functional design of the vessel led it to play a role not just in wartime, but in bringing air-travel to a mass market, and changing the way people looked at and experienced the world. And so timeless was the design that it’s still in use today. The C3’s other name? Dakota.

Dakota Hotels is, as its naming origin suggests, underpinned by bringing the very best of luxury hospitality to more people. An independent brand and not part of a conglomerate, it prides itself on doing what the ‘big boys’ can’t do: think small and make adaptive tweaks every day to get closer to the guest’s ideal experience. WeThree spoke to Matt Townley, ‘We don’t do hotel keeping from a manual, we do it from the heart…We think like the guest every single day.”

It’s this pattern of fine-tuning based on the desires of guests coming through the doors that allows the people of Dakota hotels to deliver the right experience. And the brand has no illusions about it – people make hotels what they are. Townley takes pride in the fact that Dakota hires people with the right attitude and trains them. As the often quoted Branson saying goes, ‘Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.’ Because of this, Dakota’s hospitality experts resist London’s calling.

Creation.

Brand Experience

So what does a dedication to affordable luxury, a penchant for thinking small and a focus on people feel like? One would need to look no further than Dakota’s newest hotel in Manchester set to open in May. The hotel is distinctly Dakota. Of 137 rooms, a little more than 20 are ‘luxury’ suites. But make no mistake, each and every room is luxuriously elegant in its own right.

From getting the big things right like interiors that are modern in their relaxed comfort but historic in their opulence – the product of Amanda Rosa’s keen design eye – to the smallest details, Dakota delivers. ‘We pay attention to the little things. Does the soap lather?’ Every detail is curated for the guest. The music, the lighting, it’s all carefully considered. And it’s not just in the guest bedroom where Dakota delivers on its promise of special treatment – Manchester’s only cigar garden, champagne rooms, energising cocktail bars and a heart-warming brasserie as you would only expect from the founder of Malmaison, Dakota delivers outside the room as well.

Most importantly, luxury, just as it was in the golden days of aviation and in today’s very best service brands, is delivered through people. Whereas people are the first to go in the quest for efficiency in any industry, the opposite holds true at Dakota. Butlers, chauffeurs, the very best waitstaff and hotel professionals literally open doors to a new form of hospitality, enliven the trip and leave little to be desired.

Conclusion

A Legacy of Luxury

The most powerful hospitality brands are the ones that understand the importance of a story. Not only in terms of telling one – but letting the guest become a part of one. Dakota extended a bold strategy to put timeless luxury within reach to a brand experience in which guests are put front and centre, novelty and exclusivity without compromise. Beyond a conscious focus on dropping cost, they chose to add value instead. Matt Townley puts it best: ‘If you get the guest experience right, the bottom line will take care of itself.’ A powerful statement in an industry that seems to be providing less, when guests need more.

At WeThree, we believe that sometimes the best way to lead an industry forward is to turn it on its head, break old patterns and “dare to be different”. At WeThree, we strive to find the unquestioned assumptions behind businesses and industries and find the truths that help build brands that reach more people. Just like Dakota, we’re dedicated to our craft – alternating between big business thinking and the minute details of beautiful design to change the way people experience life.

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