Following the recent case study on what the Build to Rent sector can learn from transforming a landmark hotel into an Aparthotel, we spoke to Switch’s Managing Director John Angus about this project. We have dived deeper into the learnings the Build to Rent sector can take from it.
Your latest project, Aparthotel Birmingham, is set to open later this year. Can you tell us a bit about what this will bring to the market?
We began working on the project in 2021 when it was known as the Royal Angus hotel, and we were asked to review plans for its redevelopment. The original proposal was a 188-bedroom hotel model, but our recommendation was to draw up a new feasibility and change the overall direction to what is now Aparthotel Birmingham.
The revised design has 161 self-contained serviced apartments across nine floors, with a choice of nine different types of studios and suites. With space for up to six guests in a single apartment, it also offers the option for interconnecting rooms, private terraces and pet-friendly suites. This means that we can accommodate every type of stay – from long-term SHF and corporate bookings, to weekend leisure breaks with the family.
Whilst the original hotel proposal had an additional 27 rooms, it also had a restaurant, bar and lounge, external terrace, meeting space and hotel reception. However, from our experience, we knew that there wasn’t demand for an on-site F&B offering with such a diverse range of restaurants on the doorstep. By removing the third-floor facilities, we instead used the space to create 38 high quality, spacious apartments, ranging from 22 m2 – 60m2, 18 of which have external gardens.
We also challenged the standard of having a venue to serve breakfast from, which would sit empty at other key times in the day. The new design has a convenience store on-site, so tenants can not only have a ‘grab and go’ breakfast, but also purchase whatever they need from the store, whenever they need it.
How did Switch add value to the project?
In hospitality, success is fundamentally driven from customer loyalty and client retention, and that’s the attitude we bring to every project. By approaching a development as if we are the owners, we provide quality service, achieve the highest standards and maximise returns for the client.
As we were brought onto the Royal Angus project before it went to planning, we were able to conduct a massing drawing review and five-year feasibility, understand the viability of different designs against competitors and market trends, and ensure the final product would have the most profitable outcome.
Conducting a review and feasibility for Build to Rent projects before planning provides developers and investors with confidence that the Build to Rent model is financially viable and that the plans have been analysed against demand within the market, in turn minimising losses and potential delays to maximise the return on investment.
Our breadth of expertise across hospitality and asset management meant we could also oversee every element of the project, from planning to procurement, pre-opening marketing and post-launch sales. We collaborated with architects to advise on the design, ensuring that the features and amenities offered would be in tenant demand from the offset, and that every square metre was being utilised to its full potential to maximise success.
This same type of collaboration is vital for Build to Rent to ensure that all stakeholders are working towards the same goal throughout the project lifecycle, and the outcome determined from the initial feasibility is being met without any bumps along the way.
Working with trusted suppliers also allowed us to ensure cost certainty and mitigate potential delays, and our facilities manager has been involved in the site’s development all the way through construction, so there will be a seamless handover when it opens later this year.
Demonstrating our confidence in the success of Aparthotel Birmingham, we have agreed to sign the hotel on a 15-year lease with a further five year option – this also provided certainty for the developer to secure the final funding for the site.
How can Build to Rent developers benefit from early intervention to conduct a review and feasibility of their scheme?
An early feasibility review enables developers to make informed decisions, where they can align their project with moving market demands and navigate potential challenges more effectively.
By understanding how a development might perform across different locations and demographics will help in tailoring a Build to Rent scheme to meet specific tenant needs and expectations, whilst catching any potential hurdles from an early stage so that resources can be allocated more effectively.
In essence, Build to Rent developers can benefit from valuable insights that mitigate risk, save costs, boost investor confidence and – ultimately – increase overall project success.
What can Build to Rent developers learn from your work on Aparthotel Birmingham?
Our senior team has over 100 years of strategic expertise in a range of service sectors – from managing shared offices, rented apartments and hotels, to hosting international conferences, and working with local councils and business districts. This provides us with a high-quality knowledge bank that means we can challenge the norm and take an agile approach in our recommendations.
Having flexibility to look to other sectors and knowledge pools gave the Aparthotel Birmingham owners access to award-winning hotel-level services, with the resources to meet a variety of tenant demands. This broadened the target audience to attract a diverse range of business and increase its profit potential.
The result is not only multiple revenue streams through a mix of short-stay lettings and long-term rental options, but with an established yield platform and booking system in place, we ensured that there is a void management solution to fill vacant suites. This includes access to a request for pricing (RFP) system, which is used by hundreds of corporate companies, who are otherwise spending almost double the price of a monthly rental on hotel rooms with less flexibility.
What can the sector learn from any challenges over the last two years, in bringing Aparthotel Birmingham to completion?
All industries have been affected by an unpredictable economy over the last few years, with the hangover from the pandemic contributing to rising inflation and interest rates, which have directly impacted the bottom line. However, this project in particular should be seen as an example of how Build to Rent can buck the trend, with the flexibility to adapt through a diverse service offering.
By creating multiple room and stay options, we can accommodate a range of needs, whilst maintaining a competitive rate, and as a result, there is less reliance on filling long-term lettings. This strategy and our early intervention have meant that Aparthotel Birmingham’s feasibility is much stronger now than it was before we were brought onto the project.
Most importantly, establishing a strong reputation and customer loyalty comes from providing high-quality service on the front line; if your teams love where they work, they will be motivated to go the extra mile for their clients. There is still a shortage of talent across hospitality, but at Switch, we’re committed to nurturing and investing in our people. We’re proud to have a high retention rate and aim to fill 80% of all our positions internally, so that staff can grow with us.
As every employee is trained in-house at our Park Regis Birmingham site, clients always know that whenever they work with us, they can always expect the ‘Switch standard’ from a dedicated team. Our facilities manager has been part of the entire development process, and, crucially, our regional team will be supporting the launch period to ensure a seamless handover and that a gold tier of service is delivered from day one.