By Michael Northcott Friday, 01 February 2013

My Week: Derek Gallimore of Boutique London Lets

Spotting a gap in the market for serviced apartments instead of normal hotel rooms, Gallimore gave it a whirl with just one property. The rest is history.

We’re effectively a hotel, but the rooms are scattered across London and they are serviced by our company, instead of all the rooms being in a single building like a traditional hotel. 

I got into it because I was already in some minor property development, but as the market quietened down on that, I realised that there were some synergies between the operation I was running, and what you would need to run some serviced apartments. We’re going great guns at the moment: financially we’ve tripled turnover every year for the last three years and we’re set to do that again this year.

We have an office in London for all of the operational things, but we also have an office in Manila in the Philippines, and other members of staff in the US, allowing us to effectively run an international call centre that is open 24/7. This allows us to run a truly 24-hour operation, able to deal with new customers at any time of the day or night. We’re effectively catering not to British customers, but to customers from 140 countries around the world, and this allows us to take bookings from anywhere at any time.

To stay in one of our serviced apartments can cost as little as £70 for a night, but the costs varies massively depending on demand and season. 

In my daily work, a lot of the tasks are very operational and mundane. I’m heavily involved in the IT infrastructure, I’m involved in the finances, and I’m involved in helping to establish new systems that we use to cope with the logistics. We get around 50 to 100 enquiries a day, and I established the system we use to process each enquiry and handle growing volumes.

Outside of the usual jobs, we have bigger projects on the go. We’re on the cusp of signing deals with several large developers to bring on several blocks of a hundred apartments each in tranches. There is a fine balance between finding suitable apartments, but then also having the infrastructure in place to accommodate that when it does happen. We brought on three new staff last week, and three more this week.

The most challenging thing about this business is that it’s constant. I work 12-14 hour days, but it’s constant for very good reason. We’re pushing for growth and trying to innovate the whole time – we constantly re-analyse our systems, both backend and customer facing, to see what we can improve.

Being international, we’ve had to look very intricately at how our IT system is structured. This is the beauty of cloud computing. We use Google Apps so that everyone can collaborate at the same time on the same system. We haven’t bought any serious central IT hardware, and yet our business is 100% reliant on successful, reliable IT infrastructure. 

The best thing about the job is that it’s a fantastic industry. It’s very vibrant and it’s rewarding that you can really make someone’s holiday. There’s exponential growth involved in the business, and the scope to make the business much larger is virtually unbridled. Within the next five years, I would like us to be in a position where the company is running 1,000 properties (we've got 100 at the moment) and we’re looking at starting up in other cities.

If I had to offer some advice to other entrepreneurs, it would be: Try it. Do It. Start quickly. Start cheaply. Test something, see if it’s got legs and then evolve it organically. 

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