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Issue 84 - Best Independent Hoteliers of the Year

Scotland Magazine Issue 84
December 2015

 

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Best Independent Hoteliers of the Year

Robert & Vivien Kyle

The key to success in the hospitality industry is to be hospitable,” says Robert Kyle firmly. “That's the business we're in. Our guests shouldn't have to ask for anything. ”

And from the moment you step into the 4 Star Lochside Hotel and Spa at New Cumnock, you know exactly what he means. It's a friendly, welcoming place with attentive non-intrusive staff on hand whenever you have need of them.

“That's the lesson you have to learn,” adds Vivien Kyle. “When we were young we were both brought up to look after people. That's what we do.”

The fact that this remarkable husband and wife team now run four hotels and a hairdressing salon and employ a staff approaching 350 in Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire, speaks volumes. “We love the areas we're in,” explains Vivien. “We live near our hotels and the local people have always been very supportive of us.”

With the Prince of Wales purchasing the adjoining Dumfries House estate in 2007, and nearby visitor attractions such as the Boswell's Coach House coffee house and gift shop at nearby Auchinleck Estate, and the Scottish Dark Sky Observatory at Dalmellington, the regeneration of Ayrshire, much talked about in recent years, is well underway.

For example, the Lochside House Hotel, and Spa off the A76, with its magical setting on the shore of the freshwater Loch o' the Lowes, a haven for swans, has become one of Scotland's top award winning wedding venues. “When the law changed in 2004 to allow couples to be married in hotels we built a ceremony room and weddings became our core business,” says Robert.

A former shooting lodge owned by the Marquis of Bute before becoming a six bedroom hotel, Robert Kyle first came to Lochside to deliver milk when he was a boy growing up in Auchinleck. Seeing it now with its luxurious extension, function suite, lodges and spa must surely justify all the hard work and determination that he and Vivien have put into it.

Robert and Vivien met when they were 19 years old and both starting off their careers as hairdressers, very quickly became an impressive double act. “Hairdressing is very customer orientated,” explains Vivien. “It's all about getting to know what people want and making them feel good.”

New Image, the salon they created in Cumnock, and now co-managed by their daughter Jena, proved a winner. However, it did not take long before the success of the Kyles' interaction with the local community encouraged them to look around for other commercial opportunities and, in 1992, they bought The Sun Inn in Cumnock, followed three years later by The Black Bull in Mauchline.

“Times were changing and it was a good time to do it,” reflects Vivien.

Very much based on the square in Cumnock, the couple set about transforming The Sun Inn, adding a few feminine touches to make it more attractive to women at a time when pubs were undergoing a social revolution.

The couple bought the Lochside Hotel in 1999 and having sold the pubs went on to buy three more hotels. “We bought the Royal Hotel in Cumnock on the same day that we sold the Sun Inn and Black Bull,” says Vivien. “What a day that was!”

Having spent a substantial amount turning the Royal Hotel into a nine bedroom hotel and popular restaurant, including a sports bar which is run by Robert's brother David, the next purchase was The Carlton Hotel in 2008. It was a former M&B carvery in Prestwick, which again, after a major refurbishment, is now a modern contemporary 39 bedroom hotel. Three years later they bought the Shawlands Park Hotel just off the M74 in south Lanarkshire which they re-named The Radstone as customers were looking for it to be in Shawlands, Glasgow. Set with views of the Clyde Valley, it also has a good core wedding and corporate business, with exciting and ongoing refurbishments . “Only Robert would buy a hotel two weeks before Christmas!” quips Vivien.

Well, it obviously all made sense. They have now acquired the hotel next door to the Royal Hotel and are in the process of merging it into one to extend this well liked hotel and provide them with head office accommodation. Working with architects Denham Benn of Ayr, and interior designers 10 Design, the future plan is to make the Lochside Hotel even grander. “Numbers pay the bills, but in the end it's all about quality,” reflects Robert.

And quality is certainly something that you can be certain of when you visit one of the RAD Group's hotels. “It's the personal touch that matters,” insists Robert. “Vivien and I work on the principle that if we don't like something, others won't either.”

As mentioned before, daughter Jena manages the New Image salon, while their son Aaron, an accountant, looks after marketing and social media. In partnership with their youngest daughter Mhairi, who has a degree in Business Management, Aaron also runs JAM Events (Scotland), which dresses up bridal rooms for weddings.

All of the Kyle children are involved in the family business but Robert adds, “Vivien and I have been successful because we have always worked hard and it's important to us that they understand the work ethic,” says a proud father who often brings his small grandson into the hotels with him.