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Beauly hotel boss Kenneth Hutton and his team ‘all in it together’ amid rising costs

Kenneth Hutton.
Kenneth Hutton.

Every Monday, we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Kenneth Hutton, managing director of The Priory Hotel in Beauly.

How and why did you start in business?

My family began its long association with Beauly hotels when I was two, going on to build and open The Priory Hotel almost exactly 50 years ago this year, when I was eight.

I worked there with my parents until I was 23, and then left in 1987 to pursue a very different career.

How did you get to where you are today?

I had a long and enjoyable career in golf, both as a club pro, tour pro and coach, and as a retailer and business consultant. For most of the time I was based at Dundee’s Downfield Golf Club.

I sold my golf retail business around nine years ago and headed home, intending to help my parents plan their exit strategy from their lifetime’s work and give them an enjoyable retirement.

Over the years my parents had built an incredible business, with the help of hundreds of loyal locals, and they were understandably proud of the part the hotel played in Beauly life.

In a sense The Priory Hotel is the village’s beating heart. So, rather than selling on the open market to strangers with no understanding or feeling for Beauly, my father wanted the hotel to remain local, playing as large a role in the community as ever.

Mr Hutton and his father, Stuart.

An employee buyout was the obvious answer and we eventually managed to get the sale through in late 2018, becoming only the second hotel in Scotland to do so.

I don’t quite know how it happened, but while the objective of selling the hotel was achieved with comparative ease, I suddenly found myself to be playing a much bigger part in the new venture than I had planned, becoming managing director.

Thankfully, the management team and staff are all extremely good at their jobs and they carry me along.

Who helped you?

A variety of businesses have helped us enormously, and the Federation of Small Businesses’ legal, employment and financial advice was invaluable.

But the biggest help and source of inspiration throughout my life has been my father, Stuart.

What is your biggest mistake?

Having banked with the same bank for 45 years, we thought they would be helpful and supportive of our desire to sell the hotel to our employees, but they were anything but.

After around nine months of delays we left them and moved to Handelsbanken – chalk and cheese.

They took less than 48 hours to decide they liked our ideas, our management team and plans, and gave us their full support, even though they had never dealt with us before.

What is your greatest achievement?

Selling the hotel felt like a huge achievement, but the greatest of all was ensuring it remained in the hands of people of the village, where it contributes so positively to community life.

If you were in power in government, what would you change?

I’d tax energy suppliers more on their profits and treat consumers fairly by lowering prices. The current position is unsustainable.

What do you still hope to achieve?

To get back on track after Covid, delivering fantastic quality and value for money to customers and employment to our community.

Turnover in 2021 was around 40% down, while costs are up by 20%, so the challenge is obvious.

Our management team, comprising Kate Melens (general manager), Paula Dick (sales and marketing), Janet Munro (finance director), Barry Wright (head chef), Fiona Mackintosh (executive chef) and I are giving it all we’ve got.

Our wonderful staff appreciate the problems and are backing us to the hilt. We’re all in it together.

The managing director, centre, with some of the hotel team.
What do you do to relax?

Holidays long or short, ideally with family and friends, in the sun and playing some golf – heaven! I also love watching movies.

What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on TV?

My Kindle is always open and fully charged. I’ve have nearly finished Stan Collymore’s brilliant autobiography – brilliant stuff. I enjoy TV dramas that don’t go on forever, and Line of Duty was excellent.

What do you waste your money on?

Nothing, I’m tight as hell.

How would your friends describe you?

I’d rather not know

What would your enemies say about you?

No idea and I’m not bothered. Life’s too short to have enemies.

What do you drive and dream of driving?

I drive a BMW X3 but wouldn’t mind a Tesla Model X – a real wolf in sheep’s clothing.