This week Vivid Minds Vivid Futures interviews Naomi Davidson, the publican at the Royal Hotel in Guyra. Naomi and her family took advantage of COVID-19 lockdown and transformed the hotel over the past 12 months.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Naomi Davidson and I’m a born and bred Guyra girl. Before buying the pub, I’d spent 30 years in the banking industry, in both lending and retail, and that experience in customer service has been really important in making sure this venture has been a success.
What does the Royal Hotel do?
We’re a country pub servicing a great little community in Guyra. We focus on making sure this space is a clean, comfortable place to relax with great food and excellent service. The accommodation side of the business is growing, with more travellers back on the road and contractors in the area. We’re also starting to attract visitors from across the region who come to town with a group of mates to have a look around and have a great time.
When did you start your business?
My husband Shane and I, along with his cousin Jason and his wife Tania Marriot bought the hotel in 2019. Shane and Jason thought it would be a great idea to buy the hotel. It had been on the market for quite a while and we saw the opportunity and thought we’d see if we could make it a nicer place for locals, visitors and tourists to come and relax.
What have been some of your challenges in starting a business?
I guess there’s been a couple of huge challenges. The first was the steep learning curve! Shane had worked in hospitality previously but the rest of us are new to it, so that’s been a huge challenge. We’ve also had to put in plenty of hard work and learn a few new skills along the way in renovating the space.
The second challenge was COVID. We had done some of our renovations before lockdown and as a business, we needed to keep things going. So, we stayed open for takeaway sales of both food and drinks which, in hindsight, was important for this town because there’s not a huge range of options at night for food. The support from the local community was amazing.
But, because the space was physically closed, it also allowed us to renovate the front bar, which badly needed work. We knew we’d have to close the space to be able to do it so we all got stuck in. With the help of some local tradespeople, we were able to get that done sooner than we thought we might be able to.
What do you like most about running your own business?
There are two things I like about this business. The first is making this amazing space live again. It’s got a rich history and we’re glad to be part of the next era. The second is working with people. I love spending time with our customers, having a conversation and making them feel welcome.
What advice would you give a business just starting out?
The most important thing is listening to what people want and spending the time to make sure you understand what that is when you start. The other key bit is your customer service – you have to make sure that you have the right staff with the right attitude. So, staff who enjoy working with all our customers to create a great experience.
And you can’t be scared of hard work, there’s time when you just need to get stuck in.
What inspires you?
I like working with people, so I’m well suited to the hospitality industry. The pub plays an important role in a town like this. We sponsor lots of local sporting teams, which means those teams can get out on the field each week, come back here for the social side of things after the game and there’s also a space to hold their committee meetings as well.
The other thing is the space itself. This pub was originally built in 1885 opposite the railway station and in 1936 it was demolished and then moved to the current location in the centre of town and rebuilt brick by brick. According to the records, the pub cost £7000 to rebuild. We’ve done a huge amount of work to strip back the years of various renovations to make the place pleasant to come and experience.
What is your secret to success?
Our success has been down to two key things. The first is making sure what we’re offering is what people want. We make sure our regular visitors feel completely at home but at the same time, we need to grow our clientele and that means attracting a diverse group of customers. So, being able to provide a clean, comfortable space that people want to spend their time in has been critical.
Word of mouth has been really important to us too, particularly for the day visitors we attract. People are coming to Guyra to have a look around, bring a few friends and have lunch. They enjoy the experience so they tell their friends and it’s escalated from there.
What’s next for the Royal Hotel?
We’ve still got a bit of work to do to finish the building and we’ve been working on our website and making sure we’ve got the SEO right so we climb up the search rankings. That’s been important, particularly for the accommodation side, which is growing pretty fast. And we’re going to keep offering great service, great food and drink, and a great experience so people keep coming back.