The Lovat

Seasonally inspired

A place to find your adventurous edge, or simply slow down and take in the stunning surroundings, The Lovat is a luxurious 4-star hotel in Fort Augustus, overlooking the iconic Loch Ness. Their celebrated restaurant features a menu inspired by the ever-changing seasons, with ingredients grown in their own kitchen gardens, or foraged from the local area.

This is a family-owned, characterful, destination hotel in the Scottish Highlands, carefully managed by passionate, independent, hoteliers. 

In Conversation With...

CAROLINE KELLY DIRECTOR, THE LOVAT

DAVID GARDNER MANAGING PARTNER, 80 DAYS
CAROLINE KELLY DIRECTOR, THE LOVAT

DAVID GARDNER MANAGING PARTNER, 80 DAYS

The Challenge

The Lovat has been welcoming guests for over 150 years. Today it's owned and managed by Caroline and Sean, having been in their family for over 17 years. 

As the marketplace has evolved, especially during the last few years, the team wanted to be as prepared as possible for the future. This centred on having clear, confident brand positioning and a transition to new branding through marketing collateral and a new website.

This is the story of a 'seasonally inspired' adventure.

How (and why) did you approach the repositioning of your brand?

Caroline: We went through a coaching process and we were looking at our business model and part of the rejig of this was to look at our brand. We had done quite a bit of work on all the different elements and realised that everything needed to be aligned. It was just the natural progression really. We needed some fresh ideas, fresh impetus and wanted to work with someone who solely works within the hospitality industry. There was a huge advantage in knowing that we were going to be scooped up and looked after by professionals and there wouldn't be any confusion or misunderstanding over what we wanted. It was something that we needed to do to tie all the loose ends together.

David: It really helped us that you had been through that coaching exercise and with someone we know (Fergus King) as we know his approach, so we had a good head start on everything, a really strong foundation from which to build which of course was very helpful. Of course we challenged one or two things...

Caroline: And actually that was really good, as we were challenging things ourselves. Having that different perspective from someone else, like you and Chloe, was really great because it kind of shook things up to help us question, well is that really it? I suppose entering into the project and the process we possibly didn't fully appreciate what that would mean for us. When you had said 'this is what we'll do, we'll come up for a few days and really get to know you and ask certain questions', that was really an eye opener for us, we hadn't really appreciated that level of involvement, but it was exactly what we needed.

David: From our side, when we were going through that process, the fact that as an organisation there was so much commitment from your team was fantastic. We learnt so much just being around the hotel, but actually you've got great people and that made a big difference. Incredible input and we came to a solution very quickly because of that.

Caroline: Yeah, everybody pulled together, we all wanted the same thing. I love those kind of exercises, because people who wouldn't normally voice certain words of wisdom came forward and had some really excellent thoughts. So yeah, the catalysts were covid, the coaching and then also just us, knowing that there was something missing to pull it all together.

So, has the new 'seasonally inspired' positioning helped align the different parts of your business?

Caroline: Yes, it's set the foundations. It's given us a standing block to build on top of and helped us focus. External factors in the financial world, the business world, leisure markets in general, have meant that it's challenging to know the long term impact yet. But if we take what we've done so far, it's certainly set us on that journey to achieve what we want to achieve. And what's really lovely is that we're getting feedback from our guests, so it's clearly worked, the message that we've put out there. It's a gradual change, it doesn't happen overnight, but what's helpful is for us to continually remind ourselves of what we've achieved so far and making sure that anything that we're producing, we stop and question - well ok, what is this all about? We always look back at our starting block to make sure it's all aligned? We just need to keep it in mind, keep it breathing on a regular basis. It's really important not to forget that when you are busy, right in the thick of it. Over time, more and more of the new positioning will come through and happen quite organically.

I'll tell you what was really lovely. Thinking back to last year, trying to answer, what is the essence of us? We discussed engagement, story tellers, authenticity and how the team and the people are a really big part of The Lovat. I know that you, David, had challenged us on how can service be such a strong differentiator. Well, we had a journalist stay recently and the piece that she wants to write is all about the team, which is really, really interesting. I didn't expect that would be her angle, but she was blown away by the knowledge of our entire team, just the friendliness and how they were as individuals. She said you can see that they love what they do. That was, I suppose, a real full circle moment for us. These little moments really solidify what we're doing is right.

How has your new positioning helped you to better convey your product offering?

Caroline: I suppose it's verbalised what we already knew to some extent and it's helped in terms of training the team. A lot of it's behind the scenes, but it also allows us to be a bit more creative and think about things differently. And we've been able to think a bit further ahead rather than just being stuck in the moment. Even with the photographer coming up, we've taken photos for Christmas which we wouldn't have thought to do before. 

It's also given the team more confidence in their day-to-day decision making, they can refer back to our positioning to qualify their decisions and give them direction. We use it to challenge what we're doing too. If we're not sure about something, we can say 'hold on a minute, is that in line with what we're all about?' and if it's completely random, then 'no, we can't do that!'. 

What's been really powerful off the back of that is us having new found confidence to go out to tender for things like the photography. It just informed certain decisions that we made afterwards to make sure that everything was harmonious. In all honesty, if we'd not had that process with you at the beginning it would have been a bit disjointed and messy further down the line.

David: As you said, the reality was that the answer was already in the room. You were already saying and doing these things, just without the controls and parameters in place. You'd be eating food in Station Road (restaurant) and subconsciously thinking 'yeah, that's seasonally inspired' but just not using that language to articulate it.

Caroline: Exactly. Now it's been verbalised, we can actually live by it.

Commercially, have the changes to your positioning and brand begun to pay off?

Caroline: Well of course, part of why we undertook this exercise was to generate more revenue, to be more profitable, to raise our profile, to get the right people to pay the right prices and also to attract staff. So if you go back to the crux of it, we needed to do this to move forward.

It's been a big investment, but it's certainly begun to pay off, yes. It's something that we need to keep referring back to and it would be very difficult to quantify things right now but I know that we're driving strong revenue with perhaps less custom which is interesting. We're on that journey, we just need to see where it takes us.

The process has given us additional confidence to increase our pricing too, using more strategic yield management. And we don't offer any discounts now, only if they sign up for the newsletter. Previously we offered quite a few discounts but we've stopped all of that and it will be interesting to see how that works for us moving forward.

Of course, it's been a strange period with everything that's been going on so it's difficult to make comparisons but in terms of the revenue and rooms sold, they're comparable to 2019 so that's really, really encouraging. I think we're in a really strong position to move forward positively and with confidence.

Can you share more about how you’ve rolled-out your new branding?

Caroline: It takes time, as we stop and question, does that connect with what we're all about? And if not, how can we change it to be more in keeping with how we want to be seen and remembered?

Some changes have been big and bold, others perhaps more understated, even subliminal. We've brought some of the nature in, hanging plants in various parts of the hotel which we probably wouldn't have thought to do before. It's made us stop and think, how do we want people to feel? 

Even how the team talk, what they say to guests. We've brought in some of the narrative and story telling to our menus, so that it's not just a list of drinks - it all helps to soften some of the hard edges. Guest information in the bedrooms has evolved into a more personal booklet informing them about the hotel, the heritage. It's allowed us to move away from being too matter of fact and less corporate sounding. 

It's not just about printed material though, it's as much about the aesthetics, the styling. It inspired updated interior design work in the hotel and when we start doing more of this it will continue to inform what we do. 

And of course, new photography and the new website, they've been a big part of rolling out the brand too!

Actually, it's quite a lot that we've done, without always realising it! The more we do, the more it snowballs!

What did you find most interesting about the project?

Caroline: I think it was probably the extent to which brand informs absolutely everything. Far beyond simply what font we use, what colours we use. It's informing how we behave, all encompassing. It's been a really interesting exercise and has started to shape our culture and feeling that we need to have, rather than just text, a simple logo and a strap line. It's so much more, it's emotional.

David: Absolutely. One way of looking at it is that you're building equity in the business, brand equity. It's everything, the behaviours, the little touches, the interiors, the way the food is presented. All of these are distinct to you, your brand equity, which helps to influence how a guest feels about you and how your staff are motivated. Ultimately it will give you value in the business, which is often overlooked when you think about brand.

Finally, how has it been working with 80 DAYS?

Caroline: Bloody awful. 

David: I knew you were going to say that.

Caroline: It's been great. I'm personally delighted that we've done it together, in what we've achieved. You've got a great team, great people. And I know that Dan is super happy working with Katie, she's very knowledgeable and really, really helpful. It's been an awesome exercise, so helpful and it's ongoing. You guys are professional and you care about what you do. We're proud of working with you and I think that says a lot. I can't thank you enough for being there to support us through what we're doing. It's exciting, you've given us that spark.

Do you need help refining your hotel's brand positioning? We'd love to chat.

ITB Berlin / IHS Amsterdam

We're exhibiting at both ITB Berlin (5-7 March) and IHS Amsterdam (12-13 March).

Find out more about our participation here.
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