︎by Pete Lacey, Design
Pleo started as a boutique bed and breakfast. We had hip customers looking for something a little different. We weren’t the cheapest, but we were excellent value – exceeding the quality you’d usually find elsewhere. We had beautifully designed rooms, comfy beds, exquiste shampoos and body gels in the shower (also available to purchase in reception) - and the breakfast, oh man, the breakfast – it was exceptional. Every review would give us 5 stars, 10 out of 10. It was the talk of the town.
We’d find our guests left with a new mindset. Fully refreshed. Healed. Vowing to never stay at another place unless it was like this one.
Word spread, and bookings went through the roof. We were so happy to see our impact on people’s lives. It made us excited. Perhaps we could have a more significant impact? With only 6 rooms, we were somewhat limited in the number of people we could reach.
So we got some cash from a keen investor to expand - we can bring our unique way of designing and building beautiful accommodation to more people! We can make more people happy! We added a few more rooms out back. They weren’t quite as cute as those in the original house, but they were still great. Naturally, they were booked in seconds.
However, we didn’t stop there. We added more rooms wherever we could. We built up. Built down. Built around. We converted cupboards, basements, and storage rooms. 50 new rooms. Some rooms were too big, some too small, and some very weirdly shaped. 50 more rooms. But they got booked. 50 more rooms. People were still leaving with big smiles. The positive reviews still piling in. 50 more rooms. The local hotels in the area looked at us nervously.
We were bringing the Pleo experience to more and more people!
But it was getting tougher to run. We had more rooms to clean and maintain - more water to pump, and electricity to power. Breakfast had to be served over 5 sittings because we didn’t have space in the restaurant. With rooms dotted all around the place, we had to hire a full-time concierge just to take people and their luggage to find their room; otherwise, they had no chance of finding it (room 110 was located under stairs in the old staff quarters, between rooms 8 and 57).
Nonetheless... we occasionally saw fewer smiles. Reviews started to slip. “The Hilton has a swimming pool, it’s 3 miles away from PleoBnB, and it’s cheaper.” said one. “Eggs were overcooked, and they ran out of bacon.” said another. “Couldn’t find reception, so gave up”. “Doesn’t even have a gym”. We do have a gym – in the crawl space between the old drawing room and the barn.
This frustrated us. We were just trying to make people happy, but the more people we tried to make happy - the less satisfied they ultimately got. Yeah, we could find space to build a swimming pool - an unused grain silo could be converted. But what would be the point? It required a customer to go up a 10-metre ladder, and they would think twice about the effort.
Our customers changed too. Business travellers were no longer booking the Hilton. They booked us. They weren’t into the hip stuff – one told us, “you can’t milk an oat – bring me something from a cow!”. They wanted conference rooms. Projectors. Ice machines. A way to print documents (the 1953 Remington Quiet-Riter typewriter wasn’t appreciated – “it was good enough for Stanley Kubrick…” we said). We saw the same effect; some left with massive smiles. But an increasing number didn’t. They drifted off to the Hilton “it is not special, but it has everything, and I don’t need to think about how to find stuff”, a departing customer mentioned.
We had to rethink things. We knew we could make people happy - we had those skills. We were trendsetters in the hospitality industry. But it was becoming increasingly apparent that doing it in the same house was impossible; extension upon extension had made sense at the time – but it had led to a confusing and bloated wannabe hotel. We had redesigned the map we handed out at check-in 8 times, but we still found guests trapped in the laundry room. One guy had been in there for 4 days; luckily, he had fashioned a bed out of some old towels (that in itself was better than room 87).
It was time to be a hotel for real. And not a hotel like the Hilton either, a hotel like the original Pleo. Building on the principles that helped us win to begin with. So we started from the ground up - planning our facilities, our room layouts, and the infrastructure that could power it all (the kitchen alone would make the world’s best chefs jealous). And planning the type of experience our customers needed, not only wanted.
We couldn’t flatten everything and start again, so we had to meticulously dismantle and plan our changes. But there was a key difference now: we knew we wanted to house 300+ guests. That their requirements were different from when we started years ago. We knew the new swimming pool was significant. We knew our breakfast used to be the best word-of-mouth tool we had and could be again.
We took down old structures and built anew - we built them logically, neatly, and systematically. We added the new facilities that were desperately needed and removed those that weren’t. We built with quality, with craftsmanship. All whilst working closely with our customers to ensure we offered what they were looking for and, perhaps more importantly – that they could actually find.
For the first time, our customers could find room 110 without a map, or being guided by hand. It was between rooms 109 and 111. We worked with our boutique and corporate customers to find a way to make the Pleo hotel work for both of them (upon booking, you can now specify which type of milk you prefer).
The number of smiles steadily increased with every extensive optimisation we made. We were still Pleo, we still had beds, and we still served breakfast. But everything was different.