This Little Piggy Went to Market...

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In conversation

Robin Hutson

Chairman and CEO of Home Grown Hotels

Southampton Magazine shared a fireside chat with Robin Hutson, founder of the hugely popular Pig Hotel group, and found out more about his plans
for the future in a post-Brexit world.

“A lot has changed in Southampton over the last 20 years – there has been an explosion of prosperity.

“Two decades ago there were a quarter of the number of restaurants you see today – our sector has really gone mad in that time.

“There is an energy about Southampton and the new waterfront and phase 2 of Westquay is creating a new centre for Southampton – and that will be really good for us,”  said the man who was recently described by the Daily Telegraph as one of the nation’s most accomplished hoteliers.

Robin Hutson made his name with Hotel du Vin, the boutique hotel chain he founded with Gerard Basset in 1994. Having sold them in 2004, Hutson has struck gold once again with Home Grown Hotels, the company responsible for creating five Pig hotels (with two more planned in Sussex and Kent).

The Pig in Southampton is set in the city’s medieval walls. What it lacks in size it makes up for in style – the signature style that Robin and his wife Judy have carefully distilled.

“We have a dozen bedrooms, we are tiny by comparison to a lot of hotels. We have a lot of regular Southampton visitors and locals that have appreciated that we offer something different.

“All the large firms in Southampton stay with us including Southampton Football Club, the universities and hospital,” explained Robin.

The diminutive size of the listed property means there is no room for a proper kitchen but out of this adversity, Robin and his team managed to flip it to create a unique selling point for
the Pig in the Wall.

“We run guests back and forward to the Pig in the Forest at Brockenhurst in a Land Rover – and people seem to be amazed and intrigued by it.

“It was born out of necessity because we are so limited by size but it has worked out very well,” said Robin, cheerily.

Having worked for so long in the hospitality industry, Robin admitted he does pick up on details (so much so his wife insists he faces the wall when they have lunch or dine together) but
he is fiercely protective of his staff.

“I really hate guests being rude to staff and taking it out on them. We try to do a good job and we try really hard to employ good people but sometimes it goes“The chattering classes
would find it difficult to have the same feeling of pride if their son or daughter was an apprentice carpenter or chef. There is an inbuilt snobbery that means we are less encouraging of our kids when it comes to that kind of thing.

“We should have many more people encouraged to do apprenticeships and we should be feeding this industry,” he said.

Keen to ensure the most passionate and enthusiastic can rise within his organisation, Robin has created a management training programme called the Budding Entrepreneur scheme.

“I don’t care if you’ve got no degree or three degrees, we are looking for people who have a passion for the business.

“Kelly is my mentee. Every member of the senior team mentors someone and we try to include them in as many of our activities as is sensible.

“Last week I took Kelly with me to our hotel in Coombe, Devon. We had two hospitality industry journalists down and Kelly had a chance to see how to be with the press.

“It was a 20 hour day but she got to learn soft skills that most large company training schemes wouldn’t get close to – she has had unique access to that part of the business.

“Jamie, who is running the Pig in the Wall is one of our Budding Entrepreneurs and Kelly is No 2 here. We are always looking for people who want to join us, if they have started as a waiter or a barman and we see something in them, they can join the scheme,” he explained.

With staff such a key issue for any business, Robin is particularly vexed by Brexit and the effect it could have on the hospitality industry.

“I am worried sick about Brexit. We employ 750 in total (including the five star Limewood Hotel and another in the French Alps) including 250 non-UK citizens. If immigration gets
tightened up in the wrong way, it will really badly affect us.

“We are the fourth largest industry in the UK. We employ 10 per cent of the workforce as an industry and Brexit is very, very serious for us,” he warned.

Find out more about the deli bar and staying at the Pig in the Wall