JORDAN CHARLES is the dynamic Managing Director at Meldrum House Hotel. SUSAN YOUNG caught up with him to find out more.
Jordan Charles is a man that is going places. At 32, he is already Managing Director of Meldrum House Hotel in Aberdeenshire, and, after joining the hotel in October 2018, he has helped the business have a record few years.
This is primarily due to the vision of the owners of Meldrum House, who decided to go with a proposal to put in an outside dining dome when hospitality was allowed to re-open. It was so successful, and generated so much publicity, that the hotel invested around £200,000 and added four more larger dining domes and the 10m2 Titan Sky Bar.
Says Jordan, “We were one of the businesses that exited the pandemic stronger than we went in. The capital we invested in the domes was recouped within a year, and that was just from the rental fees.”
He explains, “As the pandemic came to an end there were real fears that there was going to be a lot of ‘no shows’. We decided to re-open with a room hire scenario which we hoped would prevent people cancelling at the last minute, if perhaps the weather was inclement. ”The fee certainly wasn’t a deterrent to bookings. The domes are mainly booked out and it is difficult to get a weekend between now and the end of the year.“
Jordan, who hails from Cumbernauld, did a law degree at Stirling University, completing his diploma at Strathclyde, before entering the world of hospitality… actually, that’s not quite true. He completed his degree while working full-time in hospitality!
Says Jordan, “I worked at Westerwood Hotel, part of QHotels and a wellmanaged hotel, when I was at High School. When I went to Stirling University, I continued to work there to earn cash to help me through Uni. During my last year at Stirling, I managed to work full-time, and during my diploma year at Strathclyde, I took on the role of Banqueting Manager. It worked quite well because I went to Uni full-time Monday to Thursday and then worked the weekends.”
When I graduated, the GM at the time, Paul Bray, presented me with a unique opportunity to progress more in the hospitality industry in the role of Conference Manager where things were booming and busy. After all the years at law school and my spare time in hospitality, it made me weigh things up and I realised my passion lay with hotels, and I’d make a much better hotelier than a lawyer.
By 2016, I’d really enjoyed the role and the hotel was riding high on its success when Joanne Barratt the Operations Manager for the QHotel group, who is now MD of The Venues Collection, created a role of Food & Beverage Manager at the Cambridge Belfry and persuaded me to take it.
The hotel needed structure, focus and stability and I really enjoyed the challenge. That then led to my first deputy role at the Telford Hotel and Golf Resort just 12 months later and that’s when my fiancé Claire moved down too. It was a 114 bedroomed hotel, with a large leisure facility and golf course in the heart of Shropshire.
It was a busy venue and a great learning experience for me. The GM there, Stephen Essex, was old-school and taught me a lot, but also left me to get stuck in and learn on the job.” Following a record-breaking 2017 for the hotel, his fiancé Claire was missing elements of home and the couple were keen to return to Scotland, and, in the Autumn of 2018, he went for his first interview at Meldrum House.
He explains, “I was looking for a new role and the recruiter mentioned Meldrum House in Aberdeenshire. I wasn’t familiar with the hotel but Andy Burgess, the CEO at the time, and the directors had fantastic vision which was a really exciting proposition. They wanted it to be a miniGleneagles with regards to the quality of the venue. I could see the opportunity and potential and was delighted to accept the role of GM when I was offered it.”
Jordan quickly settled into his role working closely with Andy Burgess. Says Jordan, “Andy really helped me settle in and get my feet under the table. I really valued his mentorship and I worked with him for a couple of years until there was a change in direction and he moved on. That allowed me to progress into the more of the nitty gritty of the business and I was appointed Managing Director.”
Jordan’s objective was to ensure the next round of investment went smoothly. But, before that came to pass, there was, of course, the pandemic. Jordan smiles, “That was an incredible challenge for the whole of the hospitality industry and I think no-one ever realised what the impact would be but it was a true learning curve in all aspects.”
Jordan moved into the hotel with Claire which created its own tests. “Looking back, that was a bit surreal. Living in the 800-year-old manor house, some people would see that as an incredible opportunity. But for insurance purposes I had to stay in the hotel and try and manage the 240-acre estate whilst it was shut to guests, it was exhausting.”
However, behind the scenes, the hotel was gearing up for a major relaunch and re-opened for business on 15th July 2020. Jordan explains, “We were probably the most premium hotel in the north-east that opened for business and we were more than ready – it was a time of opportunities. We could have just opened our doors and said we are open for business, or we could roll up our sleeves and shout about it – and that’s when we launched the luxury dining domes.
“The three directors of Meldrum House have pride and passion in everything they do and whilst they are not hoteliers, they are successful business people, and are always keen to drive the business forward.
“When the idea of the domes was pitched to us by a friend of Bob Edwards, one of the directors, it was exciting. There wasn’t a manual to say what you could or couldn’t do. We didn’t anticipate the ROI (return on investment) – which was incredible! The domes have been the most successful project the business has ever done.”
“We initially ordered one 3.6m dome with a tent like door that rolled up and a jigsaw deck. We put in foundations for it and a stepped stone path. It could take six guests. It was so popular we quickly realised we were on to something.
“It’s funny because who would have thought a hotel in the Shire would become THE dining place to be seen. It changed our demographic of guest and became hugely popular in a very short space of time. By the second lockdown we had four domes, including the 5m size, these domes sat 12.
“We did two dining slots, and the weekends were sold out. We had to invest in a new telephone system because the one we had simply couldn’t cope with the level of calls we were receiving.
“Through marketing, PR and our social channels, it got everyone talking and guests were desperate to experience the domes. The demand blew our minds and kept us enthused.
“The deposits alone covered the cost of the capital outlay. However, we also learnt a lot and continued to invest in them to maintain as high a standard as we could.
“Our original paths wore away due to use and have now been replaced with a double slab path and we’ve had to experiment with heating systems before we got the right one as well as investing in interior bespoke furniture and soft furnishings – we used local suppliers when possible.”
“Now we have two dining slots with a new capacity outside for 72 covers, on top of the two restaurants within the hotel.
“However, once we put in the extra domes, we realised that the two hour slots meant that when our restaurants were full inside, we had nowhere to put people pre-dinner and after dinner.
“We were struggling for capacity. So, we decided to invest a further £100K in a 10sq metre dome, which became the Titan Sky Bar. We have our own bar team in there, specially to look after our guests. Between Friday and Sunday, we operate it as a bar from noon till 10pm for drinks including cocktails. People just love the whole experience.”
“There is no doubt about it, our dome experience has totally revamped our business. The Times Editor came for a weekend and dined in the domes with his family – his review in the paper was transformative.
“It also gave us a second opportunity, when they included us in their ‘Top 100 UK Hotels’, and when that happened, the publicity was like gold dust. The marketing of the domes also gave us the most incredible award – a Catey – for ‘Best Marketing Campaign’.
“Just going down to Grosvenor House in London in their amazing ballroom was a pinch me moment. But to pick up the award with my Sales Manager and PR Manager in front of such industry greats, will stay in my memory for a long time to come.”
The domes have also made a huge difference to the gift voucher sales at Meldrum House. Jordan adds; “We sold around £22K when I joined the business in 2018 and that was climbing year-on-year. But the domes just created an explosion of sales and last year we sold £240k of gift vouchers with SK Chase. That alone has been epic.”
Many guests and celebrities have experienced the domes, but one such high profile client was then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who stayed at the hotel on a visit to the area in August 2021, with various members of his cabinet.
Jordan says, “That stayed top secret as we weren’t told exactly who was coming until the last minute – but a real feather in our cap that he chose to stay with us.”
As well as its outside domes, Meldrum House also has 51 hotel bedrooms, a Gatehouse lodge (which was refurbished during Covid) with five ensuite bedrooms, The Stables, a state-of-the-art conference centre and wedding venue, and a Golf business which includes an 18-hole parkland course, a Clubhouse and driving range hailed as one of the best parkland courses in Scotland and is only available to members or residents.
Says Jordan, “Our golf course celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and we were very excited to welcome the Scottish Men’s Amateur Championship earlier in the season. That was a huge credit to the Greenkeeping team as it shows how far the course has come.”
The hotel is a well-known wedding venue in Aberdeenshire, in fact Jordan married his wife Claire there.
He smiles, “We fell in love with Crossbasket Castle near Glasgow but due to the pandemic, the dates continually moved. After 4 attempts to rebook, it became evident that we weren’t going to get the wedding we had planned, at a venue so close to where we both grew up.
“Eventually I thought, this is crazy, why not have it at Meldrum. So that’s what we did. I got married here on 6 June 2020 and we had the most special day. I saw first-hand why it is such a popular venue.”
When he was appointed Managing Director, I asked him how his role had changed. He says, “As an independent business, we don’t have a Head Office so everything we do is done directly. I have the autonomy to work on the strategy, how we trade and all aspects of the business, as well as dealing with the bank, accountants and the future investment of this iconic estate.”
Jordan also sits on the board of Visit Aberdeenshire; he was formerly vice-chair of Aberdeenshire Hotel Association and is Chair of HIT Scotland for the Grampian HIT Dinner.
He says, “I love HIT Scotland. I’m a huge advocate of what they do. I like it because you see can see the benefits it brings your team. Last year I was thrilled that 9 of our team members benefitted from scholarships and that continues to grow year on year.”
One of the highlights of Jordan’s personal career was picking up an Acorn Award. Says he, “I’ve always had a desire to be successful. When I got the job at Meldrum House, the turnover was £3.5m in sales and the golf club turned over £800K. In the last year, we turned over £5.2m in sales and golf turnover grew to £1.2m. I would like to see the business continue to flourish.
“Fortunately, I love what I do. I love networking with new people, converting business, developing teams, and seeing the business grow. I love seeing any offering being enjoyed by people. It gives you a sense of pride when you know you have played your part.
“Hotels are about people and our biggest asset is the team. I am very proud of the team we have here and we could not have achieved the record sales without them.”
As to the next chapter in the journey. “Well obviously it would be great to have a luxury Spa here…” Watch this space