London’s most eagerly awaited opening is here. Standing opposite the Bank of England in London’s financial heartland is The Ned, an alliance between Nick Jones, owner of Soho House, the Sydell Group (NoMad, The Line and Freehand) and Ron Burkle, the billionaire investor who introduced the two. A genre-defying hybrid of businesses, The Ned is luxury’s latest high-concept hang out. If it didn’t pop-up in your Instagram feed during the soft-opening in April, where were you? The Ned opened for bookings this week and Managing Director, Gareth Banner, is excited. We asked him how he got to lead such a dream project and what he has learnt along the way.
My previous role to this was GM at St Pancras Renaissance, which is a very good example of a large hotel group, but I’ve found where I am most comfortable and that’s in the independent sector. I get a lot of opportunity and freedom to deploy my own creativity, and the success or the failure of what we do is down to the people in my team, rather than the big brand sitting behind us pushing us along. For me, The Ned will be the best example of that; if The Ned is a success or a failure, I will feel extremely proud or extremely disappointed in myself, and I know it will be down to the people I’ve been working with to deliver.
Arguably, what we are trying to achieve has never been done before, so this is a whole new ball game and it does put you in a whole new place, thinking about how you launch a hotel with 9 restaurants, or 3 floors of spa, beauty, grooming and fitness. It shouldn’t be viewed as a hotel, which is what I’m sometimes guilty of; it’s actually 4 or 5 really serious stand-alone businesses. Food and beverage revenue will be more than room revenue in this property, so it’s a completely different perspective.
The most valuable thing I’ve learnt on this project is to constantly challenge whether or not what you believe you are going to deliver is relevant, and whether or not you need to push the boundaries more. The only way The Ned is going to be successful is if it is truly relevant and appropriate for what is current today. So for example, 5 years ago when the project was conceived, one of the restaurants was essentially a sushi restaurant. Today sushi is everywhere. We made a decision in the last 6 months that, after 4.5 years of working towards opening a sushi restaurant, we needed to change our mind and re-concept that restaurant.
We understand that relationships are everything, we cannot rely purely on the likes of the OTAs to drive business through our front door, we want to have really solid relationships with both corporate and leisure agents that understand and can represent us with their clients and understand what we have created here, it’s really, really important that I can have advocates globally that have a relationship with us, that trust us, and that have an opportunity to experience us so they can go away and drive the business into the hotel that we need for it to be successful.
The biggest challenge in building our network is starting from zero. You know, 12 months ago no one had heard of The Ned, so we are establishing a brand and a business absolutely from scratch. Whilst we come from really good stock, The Ned is not a chain so the education process isn’t immediate. Story telling is a big thing that we’re doing a lot at The Ned, and it gives you identity, it gives you a reason to create loyalty, and it rewards customers for being loyal to you.
As far as what makes me happiest I’m hoping that the best is yet to come. I really am extremely excited about this project and I know that this is a once in a career opportunity. I don’t know if I’d have the energy, or the opportunity to do this again, but this is something that genuinely gets me out of bed in the morning with a big smile on my face – and a little bit of anxiety along the way, I won’t lie – but I’ve always left a business in better shape than I found it and I’ve always made a point of saying that that is the benchmark for me to feel confident to move onto something bigger or better or different, I’ve always set myself very clear goals and that is what I attribute my success to, and those are my principles that I think I will take with me for the rest of my career.
After its debut at ILTM in Cannes in 2016, more ILTM travel advisors will be able to book appointments with The Ned at this year’s event.