Tracey Stephenson, Co-founder and MD, Staying Cool
London-based Tracey Stephenson is co-founder and MD of Staying Cool serviced apartments. The company, founded in 2005, owns über-chic apartments in Birmingham, Manchester and Barcelona. Staying Cool has continued to thrive in a tough environment with year-on-year sales growth of 23 per cent in 2012.
Tracey, who has a background in marketing and sports sponsorship, talked to us about the Staying Cool concept and how this small, independent company attracts business in a sector dominated by large corporate chains.
Tracey told us: “My friend Paul Taylor and I set up the business in 2005. We both have a passion for design. Paul is both a qualified lawyer and architect and we both travelled a lot on business and felt that there was a gap in the market for a new brand that offered all the style, individuality and service elements of a true boutique hotel but with the space, freedom and flexibility of an apartment.”
Staying Cool began with three apartments in Manchester and one in Barcelona, and in 2008 expanded into Birmingham when the city’s iconic Rotunda building was transformed from derelict office space into apartments by cutting-edge developer, Urban Splash. Tracey said: “It’s a unique building, in a great location and it is very different to other hotels, not least because of its cylindrical shape.”
How does Staying Cool stand out in a crowded market? Tracey said, “We are a small business and our marketing budget is 4 per cent of turnover, but I like to think that makes us more creative.” She continued: “First of all, we stand out visually – Paul did a wonderful job on the interiors and no two apartments are quite the same. We commissioned bespoke British furniture and worked with artists such as Lou Rota, which gives the interiors great integrity.
We also decided to invest in really great photography from day one to capture all of this and that helps enormously with PR because our visuals jump out at picture editors and journalists.“
Staying Cool stands out visually, from its interiors to its press photography
“We’ve found that focussing on PR pays dividends in national coverage,” explained Tracey. “Our first break was when the Guardian featured us as hotel of the week in Manchester when we had just three apartments. Over the past year, we invested more in that area which resulted in a jump in national coverage. And we were really excited when the Rotunda was recommended by the New York Times.”
“We have a decent website which we redesign every two years, like everyone else we allocate resources on SEO and are generally hot on digital marketing, but cannot compete with the advertising spends of large corporate chains. This is where online media reviews and guest review sites play a valuable role and drive web traffic,” she added.
“Our small team loves coming up with creative solutions. For instance, we tend to be quieter on Sunday and Monday evenings so we created an Alternative Weekend package, which rewards guests with a complimentary breakfast and champagne if they come to stay on those nights.
“Lastly, I had always worked for arts organisations and local authorities before now – albeit on the commercial side – where joint working is the norm. We have therefore developed great partnerships with like-minded organisations such as our local independent cinema, coffee shop, Style magazine, theatre etc. to raise awareness and drive bookings.”
The 2012 Global Serviced Apartment report showed a worldwide increase in inventory of 34.1 per cent since 2010. The sector is set to boom and Staying Cool is ready to capitalise on demand and to take its Rotunda model to other cities.