Today’s interview is with Tom Walsh, CEO of Staycity. I was introduced to Tom by a contact of mine, Pawel Grabowski. Similar to my last interview (Creating products that customers love – Interview with Chris Ives of Ilkley Brewery), Tom is an ‘outsider’ in his industry. Tom shares his story of how they are building and developing their business, what he has learnt along the way, what the biggest challenges have been and why customer service is key to everything they do.
This interview is number sixty-four in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things and helping businesses innovate, become more social and deliver better service.
Here’s the highlights from the interview I did with Tom:
- Tom is an engineer by training and worked for 15 years for Loctite in their manufacturing operation, where, he says, he gained his managerial experience.
- Describes himself as a frustrated architect and so has always liked property.
- Always wanted to work for himself.
- Started with a single serviced apartment with his brother. After being bowled over by the success of the one apartment, ended up entering the serviced apartment business almost by accident.
- Not having a background in hospitality has been both a hinderance and a help.
- However, his engineering and operations background has helped in their approach to running and scaling the business.
- They are trying to emulate what has gone on in the US and Australasia, where 7-10% of all ‘hotel’ type accommodation is via serviced apartments. However, in Europe it is only 1-2%. That is driving demand and opportunities to grow.
- In an industry where the ‘product’ can be quickly commoditised, it is the service that you provide that makes you stand out.
- To make sure they stay ahead of their competitors in terms of customer service, they measure intensively and every week there are two customer service reports posted up on every noticeboard in the company (both at head office and across all of their properties). These cover their own customer service survey results and also what is being said about them on sites like TripAdvisor and Booking.com.
- They take a continuous improvement approach to drive better performance and are always drilling down into the survey results to see where they can make incremental improvements.
- However, they know that it is a journey and that they are never finished.
- Apart growing their business by owning and leasing properties, they are also looking to use a franchise model to help grow their business. However, Tom also knows that that is a new area for them and another area that they will have to experiment with and learn about if they are to make it successful and keep up their quality and service standards.
- Tom’s biggest lessons form the last 3-4 years especially coming from a non-hospitality background is that success is driven by customer service, customer service and customer service.
- They know that going forward they need to invest time and energy to be able to deliver the highest standards of customer service as that will be what creates what he calls ‘sticky customers’, who will proselytize and evangelise about Staycity.
- Being honest, Tom realises now that that was something they were quite slow to learn but now it is something that is now completely ‘hard-wired’ into the organisation and they are fully committed to.
- They currently have 13 properties across Europe with 800 apartments and have another 1000 apartments in the pipeline.
- Tom’s top tips: 1. success is driven by 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration and 2. Built a great team and trust them to do their work.
About Tom (taken from his Staycity bio)
Tom was previously Plant Manager of Henkel Loctite Ireland, a high-tech specialty chemical and biomedical manufacturer with a €150m turnover. Tom was in charge of all Operations, Logistics and Engineering with a staff of 200 employees. He holds a primary degree in Engineering (Dublin) and a first class honours Business degree from UCD. Tom worked part-time for Staycity since April 2003, and joined full-time in 2006.