For some entrepreneurs, this period is really tough. How do they deal with the bumps and valleys they encounter on their way? Are all activities at a standstill or have they turned their business around? Three hospitality entrepreneurs tell how they have been shifting gears recently.*
Cees de Vries, Hotel Spoorzicht & Spa and Wellness Resort De Waterlelie 'Ready for the future'
As owner of Wellnessresort de Waterlelie in Zevenhuizen and Hotel Spoorzicht & Spa in Loppersum, I have had to take the blows twice. The past year was a time of repeatedly taking it in and moving on. I lived from press conference to press conference between hope and fear. Perspective was never offered. I felt like a plaything in a field I could not influence, I had to constantly switch gears.
Still, I managed to do that well. At Wellnessresort De Waterlelie, there is a director who was really only concerned with keeping her people motivated. Maintaining contact with everyone and drinking coffee while earning nothing. That takes a lot of energy. Since last year, I have been mainly occupied with the renovation and new construction of Hotel Spoorzicht. Despite everything, that has given me a lot of energy.
In 2014, I fell in love with the landmark property of Hotel Spoorzicht, and that wasn't the only thing. From my knowledge and expertise in the wellness industry, I also saw opportunities to modernize the spa and wellness that came with it. Falling in love costs money I knew, so I decided to buy the hotel. After ten years of running the Waterlily, I was ready for a new challenge. I more than found that in professionalizing Spoorzicht.
Getting building permits completed was difficult. Already in 2015, a reinforcement process began that I had not anticipated. The negotiations with NAM took me a couple of years. Then the status of National Monument meant that both the central government and the province and municipality had to approve my plans. A Kafkaesque process.
For corona, the construction of long-stay apartments was just about finished. Two weeks after corona's outbreak, I put my signature on the contract for the new construction of 37 hotel rooms. It felt like I had a noose around my neck. I weighed the risks, made choices and went for it. My idea was that the era after corona would fundamentally not be much different than before corona. That confidence is called entrepreneurship I think. If I had postponed my plans then it wouldn't have happened now.
Since I could not host guests for the past year, the work went faster than planned. Rebuilding the monument was scheduled for the next two years, after new construction. That work was brought forward. Because that was not calculated in advance, it was an extra drain, that will be clear. Fortunately I was able to make good arrangements with the bank. As a result, over the past six months I was sometimes busy with several projects at once.
The national monument has been remodeled inside while retaining its characteristic elements. That is precisely what sets it apart, otherwise guests might as well go to a chain hotel. The new construction of the apartments is almost complete. When all the work is finished, the capacity of the hotel will have doubled. I am convinced that the professional approach will pay off. We are in a good position with the hotel, the long-stay apartments, the restaurant and a spa at this location in the northern Netherlands. Great that we will finally be allowed to reopen soon.
Heinri Schonewille, La Brochette, Grandcafé Marron 'The perspective is good'
Ever since I was 16 years old, I have been in the hospitality industry. With my wife I started 23 years ago. La Brochette, a day business in the main street of Hoogeveen where people can go for coffee, pastries, a sandwich and from where we provide corporate catering. Two years ago, together with our children, we started Grandcafé Marron, a metropolitan catering establishment on the church square in the middle of Hoogeveen. In total we have about 80 employees.
Marron was booming and popular in Drenthe and surrounding areas from the beginning. Anyway, so then came corona. Of the two years the grand café has been open, we have been closed for almost a year. It was like driving from a flying start at 180 into a tree. The whole summer was sizzling, in October we had to close the doors. Of two businesses. Then suddenly you're thinking about how to survive.
In part, we used government subsidies. A number of on-call employees went looking for another job and we were unable to extend a number of contracts. A great pity for the team, because you have built up something together in the meantime. With the group that remained we decided to keep the momentum going. You can try to get as many subsidies as possible and drag things out as long as possible, but that was not what we wanted.
MKB Fonds Drenthe
The MKB Fonds Drenthe offered to spar with us and we did. You notice that we as entrepreneurs ourselves have good ideas about what we can and cannot do and what we can do in the market.
We figured out that by selling meal boxes, people could enjoy dishes from world cuisine, Italian dishes, tapas or desserts at home. An offering that was quick and easy to prepare and fit well with our business operations. Many boxes were ordered. We didn't make a profit with it, the loss was less I say. And it was good PR, people were talking about it. Now that we are allowed to open again until the evening we have stopped. Our kitchen has to be focused on dinner, and with those boxes it is difficult.
We also started selling crispy chicken during corona. LB Chick'n is La Brochette's own service based on the American model and new in Hoogeveen. We bought electric bicycles and started driving cars to deliver not only the chicken but also our sandwiches. This is going so well that we will continue to do so. Service and hospitality Not only us, but also the staff is elated that we can partially open. The cooks love serving beautiful dishes on a plate again instead of in a box, and the ladies and gentlemen of the waiters love receiving guests and showing their service and hospitality. That, of course, is why we chose the hospitality industry. To give our guests moments they look forward to and talk about afterwards.
It is not yet ideal. We welcome guests on our terrace between 10 and 8. A three-course dinner will just about do, four courses or after-dinner dining will not. When the weather is nice, our terrace can seat 150 people, but when it rains we are limited to 50 guests under our heated terrace roof. That means we constantly keep an eye on Buienradar to see what the weather will do. If the weather is good, we quickly call in extra people; if the weather is bad, we have to scale down. That is difficult. Even though we have so much space inside.
The outlook is good. La Brochette will be running as usual. With Marron, we've had so much positive feedback in the year we've been running that I'm convinced it will be busy again soon.
Emmy Saimi-Roozeboom - We'll keep in touch.
'The corona impact on hospitality businesses is unimaginable. Especially if you have also just started. Of course there are support packages, but these generally fall short and an entrepreneur would also naturally prefer to be at the helm himself. From the regional funds (FOM, GROEIfonds and MKB Fonds Drenthe) we keep in touch with the entrepreneurs and try to provide financial assistance where necessary. Impressive and admirable are the resilience, creativity and perseverance among these entrepreneurs. Let us assume that it will be a great summer for them. From the MKB Fonds Drenthe, we gave a coin to all employees of our portfolio companies with the Christmas package, which they can hand in at our hospitality and leisure companies after reopening. That is at least a small gesture to encourage visits to these companies after reopening.'
Marc de Bruin, Foodbar Leeuwarden 'We are ready for it'
Because of corona, my work as a manager and organizer in the music industry fell silent. During a vacation in Italy the idea of a food bar with different kinds of soup and different kinds of salads was born. You often come across this concept abroad, but not in this form in the Netherlands. It is usually either soup or salads. As a soup and salad lover, I think it is a logical combination.
The bank wouldn't even listen to my plans, I was told that they don't finance hospitality and I had to make do with that. Through social media I came across the FOM. Their regional role in funding and employment immediately appealed to me. The contact was perfect, I found the process tough, but I learned a lot from it. The fact that FOM wanted to finance together with another party gave me even more confidence that my plans were a good fit.
To protect myself from taking the wrong steps, I hired a hospitality consultant. He put me in touch with the right parties in the fields of interior design, wholesale and personnel. It all happened quickly. The funding was completed in December, the renovation began in January, and we opened in April. A week later we started delivering.
The fact that we opened the store while the rules were still in place was not in our budget. In December we were still very optimistic about opening in March. The negative side of that, of course, is that your budget is not right from the start and you actually have more costs. The positive thing is, and that is perhaps more important in the long run, that we were able to proceed step by step and pay more attention to the quality, the store and the staff.
Under the guise of if you do it you must do it well we are at a-location on one of the busiest streets in Leeuwarden. That's where the marketing actually begins. While the city is still comparatively empty, we are already being spotted in abundance. Of course we have also done our best to make it a striking and trendy food bar, a lot of time and attention has been paid to the look and feel. Every day I see people looking in curiously.
We are open all days, because soups and salads are something you eat at any time of the day. On the menu are homemade soups, salads, bread slices, bowls and bites, all daily fresh and also super healthy. We also serve vegetarian, organic or vegan food. The most important thing is that everything is super tasty, that's what we do it for. We have already had a good review in the newspaper, free publicity and a reward for the concept. We notice that people respond to that.
We are ready to open the dining area next June. Only then will we be able to see how many staff we really need, how much turnover we are making and whether we will continue with delivery. Whether it will be a success will be seen in the coming months. You need time to build something up. The challenge is for it to become a top business, where happy people work who deliver quality. I am proud of what is already there.
* The talks took place in May. Rules for the hospitality industry were relaxed on June 5. This article appeared in the June 2021 edition of the NOMMER.
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