Talking Business: Jenny Dreiling, Urban Stay

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• Your background isn't in hospitality, so how did you find yourself starting a serviced apartment company in London?

"I started Urban Stay with my business partner, James Swift, who has a significant background in this industry and was the driving force behind starting a serviced apartment company in London. My most previous roles at Amazon and at a start-up in Berlin were unrelated to the serviced apartment sector. However, I've always had a keen interest in the hospitality industry which is why I've worked for a few large hotel chains during and after my high school years.  I also completed a professional degree as International Assistant in the Field of Tourism prior to my studies."

"Now I finally get the chance to put this experience back into practice along with my start-up background in Berlin and experience in finance at Amazon. It's perfect really as I get to utilise all my skills and experiences to the fullest and get to do all the things I love to do."
 
• How many units does Urban Stay have under management and what are your growth plans?

"Currently we operate 20 apartments at Liverpool Street Station and in Notting Hill with a new self-contained block opening soon (TBA, will bring our total number of managed apartments to 32). Those are also the areas around which we are going to expand this year with an anticipated 40 to 50 units in the City and West Central London by December 2016.
We are fortunate enough to not only have very good relationships with professionals in London residential property, but we are also now working with some developers directly who are actually in the process of renovating locations suitable for our requirements."
 
• Who has been your typical guest to date?

"Since we focus on the corporate market our typical guests are business travellers coming to London for extended stays or relocations. In the City we typically see higher demand for individuals while West London seems more attractive to families and relocations."
 
• What have been the most memorable highs and lows of the process so far?

"The starting months were definitely my most memorable lows. We started with only two apartments and very little capital which put us under a lot of financial pressure initially. This is why James and I worked from home the first year, counting every penny and pound and doing everything ourselves; from cleaning, linen, maintenance, reservations, check-ins, website, you name it. It was really a bit of an emotional rollercoaster."

"The most memorable high was certainly when we signed the lease for our first self-contained block of two-bed two-bath apartments on Artillery Lane in the City! We were so excited and couldn't quite believe how lucky we were to be able to grow the business so quickly (at that time, to 10 apartments in the City). This growth also allowed us to finally move our operation into a proper office space which we secured just around the corner from this block on Middlesex Street in April last year. Then we were also finally able to fully outsource cleaning and linen to a professional company. Since then we've expanded to Notting Hill, taken more apartments in the City, expanded our client base, and have employed two people (in operations and reservations)."
 
• You are an advocate of using Airbnb to fill your units - what do you find are the pros and cons of Airbnb compared with a traditional OTA?

"As we focus primarily on accommodating corporate travellers we've not yet exploited OTAs or on-request online channels to the fullest but only use them occasionally to fill gaps. The problem with OTAs in general is that you lose control over your booking system and the flexibility to serve your primary target group. Our experience so far with OTAs is that you generally only get short stays, often booked months in advance. With the few units we have this can be detrimental as we might have to turn down an extended stay because of a three-night leisure stay. Though we enjoy the bit of business Airbnb provides us in terms of filling gaps, it is not a core focus, nor will any OTA be an important part of our general growth strategy.  Rather, we will continue to use Airbnb and the like to minimise our gaps between longer-staying corporate guests. Our core focus will therefore always remain on the business traveller, booking direct or through a third party specialist in our sector."
 
• What do you know about the serviced apartment sector now that you wish you knew at the outset of Urban Stay?

"I wish I had known how collaborative and welcoming this sector is! I was very surprised that other providers in the industry were excited about Urban Stay entering the market and have helped us along the way rather than creating any significant barriers to entry. It's a good feeling to know that this sector has enough growth potential for all of us to work together collaboratively to make serviced apartments the status quo when it comes to corporate accommodation."
 
• Where do you see yourself and Urban Stay in five years' time?

"Within the next five years we will be continuing our focus on the corporate travel market by expanding our offering of quality accommodation in key London locations. We're working towards making Urban Stay a recognisable and trustworthy brand among our network partners and industry leaders, while creating a work environment in which our employees take pride in their jobs and feel like owners themselves. Creating jobs and seeing our employees love Urban Stay as much as my business partner and I both do would certainly be the most rewarding thing for us to achieve. In addition to this we will be branching out further into the development side of our sector, an area in which we've already begun to explore. Very exciting times ahead!"

www.urban-stay.co.uk

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