Total transformation and a laser like focus on ‘their’ customers

Total transformation and a laser like focus on ‘their’ customers

Memories of summer holidays in Cornwall as a kid. Sun-drenched beach picnics with my teenage sister eying up the surfing lifeguards. Sitting in the back of our car – a mini – looking at the view from some remote headland whilst it pelted down with rain – what Mum used to call ‘clearing up showers’. If we were lucky we’d get taken to some run-down hotel overlooking the beach for a Cornish cream tea. That’s when I first came across the Watergate Bay Hotel.

The relatively recent re-emergence of this hotel is a superb lesson in business reinvention and laser-like customer targeting. Rather than appeal to the masses, they have made a very clear statement which is attracting their target sector in their droves. Every business can learn from what they do.

If you went there today – and MANY do – you’d hardly believe the transformation from back in the 70s. With Jamie’s Cornish ‘15’ restaurant in the car park and Newquay airport just up the road, Watergate Bay Hotel now nestles in the middle of Wimbledon-cum-Clapham on Sea.

The wealthy, up-and-coming city set and their young families flock there to enjoy traditional English beach holidays without slumming it in a B&B or caravan, as the masses are doing just a handful of miles away in the dreaded Newquay! Their customers have limited time and plenty of money to spend; the content of the car park tells a very clear story.

It’s not just for families – though there are a lot of them – and the hotel has created a sensational haven for people with a few bob in their pocket. However, families – multiple generations thereof – undoubtedly dominate.

And not just in the summer; you can be hard pressed to get a room at Watergate any time of the year. We spent a delightful anniversary weekend there in late October a few years back and the place was packed!

Standing out in a crowded marketplace

But it’s not the story across the South West with many in the tourist industry having struggled in recent years. There are still massive fluctuations in employment across the year and it can be tough for locally-run and rural businesses to survive. Large, ageing hotels can be found everywhere on the coast, yet few are enjoying the success of Watergate Bay.

The business properly understands that, in order to attract, you need also to be prepared to repel. By not mindlessly pursuing ‘everyone’ they have created the perfect haven for ‘someone’.

Sitting in the ‘living space’ and sharing it with gregarious Mums overseeing ‘high tea’ with their and their new-found friends’ kids, whilst the Dads talk business and rugby over a beer, won’t appeal to the ‘stag do set’ or the average businessman. But it does appeal to Watergate Bay’s most loyal customers

So, what has the hotel done to achieve its enviable positioning?

  • Proper investment – when they overhauled the design and refurbishment they had total clarity about the atmosphere they wanted to create and the people they wanted to attract. None of the rooms are ‘cheap’ that’s for sure. The massive ‘living space’ extension. The indoor infinity pool, the resturant and so on … 
  • Choice of staff – the team at Watergate are completely in-step with the hotel’s psyche and add enormously to the atmosphere. From their understated and casual ‘uniforms’ to their accommodating manner and ‘anything for the customer’ mentality, they understand that people make a real difference.
  • Facilities – too many to list but …
    • One great example is the ‘family kitchens’ available on each floor, making it easy t prepare food for kids at any time of day or night, for fussy kids, for babies, for tired Mums and Dads struggling to get little people back to sleep. Just like home and making Watergate Bay an easy place to return to.
    • Another example is their Extreme Academy water sports centre – a perfect way for ambitious and competitive young Dads to spend their bonus money, or to give the kids something to focus on for the holiday. Combined with the extraordinary surf, it also attracts a large number of the ‘extreme set’ who really do know how to kite surf, lending the beach a really cool ‘wannabe’ atmosphere.
    • Oh, and did I mention the beach polo?
    • And of course, Jamie Oliver’s restaurant in the car park helps too!
  • Building customer loyalty – much of its marketing is targeted on existing customers. It understands that once you’ve had the Watergate experience, the vast majority of people want to return. In the frequency of their communications, the ‘be part of our gang’ atmosphere they share and the offers they promote throughout the year –especially around school holidays – mean they have a continual demand for their rooms.

So, ask yourself the question, are you really attracting the most profitable customers into your business? Or are you committing the cardinal sin of failing to understand the ‘value’ that you offer and trying to appeal to everyone?


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