A recent change of ownership for the Combe Grove Manor Hotel near Bath saw the prestigious 18th Century country house hotel move from being managed by The Hotel Collection group to genuine independent status. The sale, in June 2015, saw Rebecca Whittington and Simon Baldwin, with bank and private investor backing, acquire the freehold of Combe Grove Manor from private equity owner Lone Star.
Whittington is now managing director of Combe Grove Manor, with Baldwin joining her as a fellow director. Both have a strong track record in the sector, with Whittington a shareholder and director of acclaimed hotels The Scarlet and Bedruthen Steps in Cornwall, and Baldwin having been involved in the hotel industry for 30 years.
Set in 69 acres of private gardens and woodland, facilities at Combe Grove Manor include a restaurant, beauty rooms, a health club with swimming pool, a golf driving range and indoor & outdoor tennis courts. Baldwin says:
“Rebecca lives just outside Bath and had always been aware of Combe Grove Manor. When she heard it was in the market she was very interested, and decided to make an offer.”
Baldwin joined Whittington in the bid, and once the deal was agreed, the new owners-in-waiting realised they would face another challenge. “Combe Grove Manor had been managed on behalf of Lone Star by The Hotel Collection, with central buying in place, and almost nothing purchased locally. Between finalising the deal and completion, we would have to get a completely new set of supply agreements in place, and they would need to be up-and-running for our first day of trading.
“To make things more interesting, although as individuals we have extensive experience of the industry, we were effectively a new business with no trading history and no other hotels in our portfolio, looking for credit from suppliers.”
It was while pondering this challenge that Baldwin came across an article on Lynx Purchasing in a trade publication. Established for over 10 years, Lynx works with more than 2,200 customers across the hospitality and healthcare sectors, offering access to the best prices in the market, across a wide range of products and services, with no fees or contracts.
“We had just two weeks between exchange and completion to make sure that, as a minimum, we had the suppliers in place that would enable us to continue trading. I felt it was important for us to seek help in order not to drop the ball, and Lynx were able to step in immediately.
They were able to introduce us to suppliers across the full range of products we needed, including food and drink, hygiene and essential supplies such as disposables and room amenities.
We were totally focused on driving the purchase through, and immediately prior to exchange, from our point of view as directors, that was all-consuming. On the supplier issue, I needed something that was as simple as possible, and to be sure that it was going to happen. Lynx were able to do that for us.
Lynx Purchasing business manager Jenny Couves came back to me with a list of suppliers, and we started getting contracts sent through to us. The fact that Lynx were making the introductions helped to reassure suppliers, despite the difficulty that we were looking for credit with no trading history – although inevitably in one or two cases they wanted to proceed one order at a time.”
Lynx was also able to introduce the Combe Grove Manor team to its utilities consultant. “We needed someone who we could put a lot of trust in. A utilities contract is one of the scariest you’ll ever see. The combined electricity and gas is going to cost us well in excess of £100,000 a year, and so even a few per cent makes a huge difference.
“The specialist that Jenny put us in touch with gave us great advice. He was able to tell us which contracts not to touch, and which were worth pursuing, until we got the right deal in place.”
Working with Lynx has not been Baldwin’s first experience with buying groups. “Some years ago I was general manager of a large hotel that was part of a bigger group, and although we had the opportunity to use a buying group, I have to say that more often than not we were able to negotiate better prices ourselves.
“What has been slightly unbelievable to me is that, although quite a few of the suppliers we have taken on were already supplying the hotel, thanks to Lynx’ s relationships on the whole they were happy to keep us on the same pricing structure as when there were 20 hotels in the group.
The hotel is currently buying around 80 per cent of its supplies at prices negotiated by Lynx with its nominated suppliers. With a new chef due to take up his post, Baldwin says: “It’s fair to say that one of the weakest areas in the hotel before we took over has been the kitchen. The food suppliers Lynx has connected us with have got us off the ground very well.”