Quick Q&A: Hardy Sohal, Native

Eloise Hanson Eloise Hanson Uploaded

Fresh from the launch of Native Manchester, SAN caught up with Hardy Sohal, marketing and digital director at Native, who outlined the company’s development and growth strategy.

• Why did you choose Manchester for your latest project?
“There are a few reasons, but the really compelling reason was where Manchester is today and how it’s a world city. There’s a huge demand versus supply issue in Manchester, whereby they receive about 119 million visitors a year, and of those numbers roughly 10 to 20 per cent will stay overnight. So there’s a real need for hotel rooms, and for us it was quite an easy one. The tourism sector itself is worth nearly £8 billion and for us to be here was really important.”

“The 166 apartments - where you can co-work and relax, like a real home-from-home stay – meant that we can cater for more than business travellers. We offer stays from one night to several months, and that’s quite compelling for people who are in the city for long-term business and also for the day-trippers”.

“These are commercial reasons for us to move to Manchester. The other reason is brand-motivated. Native has been around for 23 years, and has been very London-centric up to date. We’ve evolved from the serviced apartment sector and now we’re pushing ahead into the aparthotel sector, which is about experiential stays. We’re a hybrid, inbetween Airbnb and hotels – we give you that cool, independent and neighbourhood feel, but also the benefit of staying within a hotel. For Native Manchester, that was our big foray into the experiential stay.”

“We’ve had the ability to create this amazing space on the ground floor, which is obviously for residents, but also for the community as well. It’s for people to come and have a drink, to grab a bite to eat, or to take part in a fitness class or go to the cinema. It’s great for having us (Native) above this space, as it’s almost like you wouldn’t want to leave the hotel. It plays into what we are as a brand: for the curious and culturally-savvy traveller who want to get more than a hotel experience”.

• Why does the property stand out as Native's flagship?
“This is our biggest property to date. Of its 166 apartments, eight are penthouses. It’s a flagship from that perspective, but also because it’s our first building which truly embodies the Native brand - one that allows visitors to follow their own path. Effectively, you don’t need to go anywhere else, and that’s what the property stands for.”

• Looking to your development and expansion plans, what do you require in a property?
“We have a specialist team that looks after our pipeline and what’s coming, and they’re constantly looking ahead and thinking about cities and places where we need to be. They delve into huge amounts of data and analyse this for development and expansion. It’s about being in places where (a) there are amazing assets to transform, and (b) where we can bring on board experiential stays through third-party operators on our ground floor.”

“Properties that have history are great, and properties which are large enough to accommodate 120-plus rooms (I don’t think we’d go for smaller properties now), and properties which have a good ground-floor space. That’s what we look for.”

• What's the story behind the building? What's special about it?
“The Northern Quarter has been quite dilapidated in the last 10 to 15 years. Recently, there’s been a lot of artisan and quirky businesses go in which have regenerated the area into being a bohemian-kind-of place, which lends itself to creating a new culture.”

“We found a building there, called Ducie Street Warehouse. It’s a huge Victorian warehouse that has a really interesting history. It used to store cotton balls, whereby trains from London would travel to collect and drop off merchandise. It was one of five warehouses which were placed close to Manchester Piccadilly station, and all the other four have since been demolished. When we visited the Ducie Street building three or four years ago, we fell in love with it: the iron work inside and its huge thundering pillars, with barrelled brick ceilings and a vast atrium in the middle. This was very in-keeping with Native – we like buildings that showcase locations.”

“Before we came in and renovated the building, it was operating as a three-star hotel called The Place. Part of our DNA is to bring in world-class leading architects and designers. We brought in David Archer Humphryes, the owner of an architecture firm based in London, and they were tasked with bringing forward the vision of the building. And we worked with Conran on the furniture, so as to bring this property back to its former glory”.

“Lauren Day is the architect who designed the ground-floor space with Bistrotheque (the parent company of Culture Plex, who head our F&B space). She worked very closely with its founders, Pablo Flack and David Waddington, who instantly fell in love with the building’s charm.”

• What was the reason behind collaboration with external operators on the ground floor? Why is this important for the modern traveller/guest?
“Our operators are independent of us. We didn’t want to curate and programme our own Native ground-floor. With Bistrotheque, we asked if they could come to the hotel. Likewise, with fitness, we reached out to Blok – a boutique gym that specialises in classes – to offer their brand as well as their visitors on-site. We look for operators who can bring their own pizzazz, vision and inspiration to the ground floor space.”

“Furthermore, we want our guests to be fully immersed in different locations. This means we partner up with local businesses, which we call Neighbourhood Heroes. They’re the true originals who bring the area to life. We’ve selected these businesses because they’re independent and because they know the area well, and that’s part of what Native is about – to facilitate authentic experiences.”

• How might the aparthotel market evolve in the next five years?
“Aparthotels, as a category of the hospitality sector, are the fastest growing component within this. More people are wanting to build aparthotels because they realise that offering cooking facilities will attract a wider demographic of guest, especially longer stays. They’re trying to cater for as many guests as possible. Our evolution of growth is to have these aparthotels in all regions and cities of the UK.”

“Our competitors (albeit some don’t all have kitchen facilities), but they’re similar to us in that they’re design-led and wanting to create a cultural stay. Brands like the Hoxton, ACE Hotel, Soho House, SACO – they’re all seeing the benefit and the opportunity to create something unique and special for cities. The building becomes a destination within its own right, but also a funky place to stay for visitors.”

Looking forward, Native have secured a site in Bristol, with the ambition to also launch in Edinburgh, Cambridge, Leeds and York within the next 18 to 36 months.

Recently, Native Manchester was bought by Deka Immobilien for around £80 million.


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