Jason Caddy paid a visit to The Royal Hotel in Cumnock to catch up with Robert and Vivien Kyle, the husband and wife team behind the successful RAD Group
Robert and Vivien Kyle are the husband and wife team behind the Ayrshire-based RAD Hotel Group, which employs 500 people over six hotels, with a £15m turnover. Despite being one of the biggest employers in Ayrshire, they very much operate under the radar.
I first met Robert Kyle in 2012 at The Lochside where the former hairdresser filled me in on his plans for the hotel. Fast forward six years and his vision has become a reality with The Lochside now boasting a new Glen Caol Suite, 32 bedrooms, four lodges, a spa, the Afton restaurant and of course the Lochview Banqueting suite. At the time they also owned The Royal in Cumnock, The Carlton in Prestwick and they’d just bought The Shawlands Park (now The Radstone) near Larkhall on the M74. Since we met, they have also added the Dalmeny Park in Barrhead and Hetland Hall, just outside Dumfries, bringing the RAD portfolio to six.
This time around we met at The Royal Hotel in Cumnock and Vivien joined us. The couple is in the process of putting the finishing touches to a new lounge bar at the hotel called 1906.
The RAD Group bought the Mercat Hotel adjacent to the Royal Hotel a couple of years ago and now the company has joined the two buildings. Robert explained, “The alterations at The Royal Hotel, involved the incorporating of the two Hotels. The new 1906 bar is now front facing rather than tucked away at the back of the hotel. This has freed up space that the old sports bar occupied for a RAD Group HQ which will house our sales and marketing personnel as well as Finance, HR and Compliance – 30 people in total.”
He continued, “We are also increasing the size of the hotel from nine to sixteen rooms. It’s expected to be completed by summer 2019.”
This is one in a long line of investments the RAD Group is making, after investing £2m into a refurbishment of the 30-bedroom Hetland Hall Hotel in 2017/2018, and the couple has already got their next refurbishments planned. Said Robert, “We are in a good position with our Bank, Santander, Baryah, who has supported our plans because they are good plans. Next up is a total refurbishment of the Dalmeny Park Hotel, estimated cost £1.5m, and another function suite for Lochside.” He explained, “This will improve the circulation space so that the customer experience is enhanced. As part of the long-term plan for Lochside, we acquired the adjacent farm, which has 221 acres, and which we are hoping to use to build a resort facility, with lodges and activities such as kayaking, zip wires, mountain biking etc.”
However, there are business challenges. Said Robert, “There isn’t always a return on an investment. It is a challenging time for all of us with the increase in the minimum wage and Rates Revaluation.” He continued, “When you invest in one of your hotels the business rates increase in addition to the cost of the spend, but sometimes you have to refurbish a place simply to stand still, or to get it back to where it was. For example, we invested half a million in The Carlton over two-and-a-half years because it was looking a little tired but, despite this, there’s only been a slight increase in turnover.”
The two work well together, and do different roles, but said Vivien, “We never have less than one argument per day, and despite Robert being the builder and me being the finisher, there is the inevitable crossover when Robert wades in. We are both incredibly hands on. This has been made a lot easier by the infrastructure we have introduced. We now have two cluster General Managers, one per three hotels.”
She continued, “We do all our training in-house, even though we don’t have a training academy per se. We also work closely with Flow Training. We provide good staff development opportunities and our staff retention rates are above average for this industry, with most people leaving for a lifestyle change.”
Robert also chimed in at this point with, “When I worked as a hairdresser there were always new hairdressers opening and I was always of the mindset that you had to be better and step things up a gear and that’s what I do today. I want everything yesterday. I operate at 100 miles per hour. Vivien definitely has more patience than me.”
“We try to engender a positive forward-looking culture where customer service is never compromised despite the increased amount of compliance checks and admin that must be undertaken.”
The couple’s three grown-up kids, Jenna, Aaron, and Mhairi also work in the business, after forming their own events and social media business, JAM. Said Vivien, “It’s all about ‘the gram’ as they call it – Instagram to you and me – even though neither me nor Robert is on it personally, the hold and influence social media has over a business can’t be underestimated.”
Robert and Vivien have also noticed the impact social media has had on the events business. Said Vivien, “The events business has changed. Now, on top of weddings, people celebrate kids’ parties, baby showers and anniversaries on a grander scale. There’s just more emphasis on this type of thing. The Social media-influenced ‘need to impress’ is also on the up.”
Robert was also keen to mention what Prince Charles has done for the area at Dumfries House. “I’m a local boy (we built our house in Auchinleck) and therefore we have chosen to make The Royal in Cumnock our base. Dumfries House is competition to what we’re doing but our hotels do benefit from the Dumfries House effect and I jokingly call Prince Charles my ‘neighbour’. Our clientele is made up from workers, tourists, salespeople, plus one of the biggest schools in Europe is being built in Cumnock right now.”
He continued, “There are phenomenal people in Ayrshire, a lot of whom are unrecognised, but can we say we’re the best company in Ayrshire? We get recognised, yes, with two Ayrshire Best Business Awards in the last two years, one for Business and one for Growth, but there are a lot of bloody good people out there that don’t.”
September wasn’t a good month for the couple, who suffered a complete loss of power
at Hetland Hall because of Storm Ali and a felled tree. So they’re planning a few days away. Said Robert, “The kids got us a weekend at The Blythswood Hotel in Glasgow, my favourite hotel. We are also going away for three days to the Lake District.”
All too soon the interview was over as Vivien had to take her leave to focus again on Bar 1906, so I finished off by asking Robert where he saw himself in five years’ time. He said, “I’m 59 in five years’ time yet I ‘d bet I’d still be able to make a fortune if I could bottle my adrenalin and sell it, but I think that kids are going to eventually take over the business when they have gained as much experience as Vivien and I can give them.”