Boutique opportunities

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 March, 2008, 12:00am

Specialist is seeking exceptional customer-focused individuals

With the addition of a Beijing property last month, boutique serviced apartment specialist Shama is on track to achieve an ambitious three-year growth target for the region.

The new Chang An Avenue location adds to the two established in Shanghai, and another mainland property in Dalian will open in October this year, the 12th in the company's portfolio, bringing the total number of apartment units under management to 1,165.

Shama expects to secure contracts that will boost this figure to 10,000 apartments in 50 locations by 2011, an eight-fold growth that would make it the region's market leader.

Chief operating officer Bhupesh Yadav, a veteran of the hospitality industry, said it had been rapid progress since Morgan Stanley Real Estate and Gateway Capital became majority shareholders in 2006.

'We've achieved six-fold growth in the last year alone, and to reach 10,000 units is a challenging target, but it is a realistic one,' said Mr Yadav.

With the financial might of Morgan Stanley Real Estate, and with an economy of scale to compete with the big players, the intention is to develop fast internationally. Indicators of potential locations would be wherever there is heavy foreign direct investment, new flights into a city, or where hotels are offering extended stay services.

'Guangzhou is a good example,' said Mr Yadav. 'It is well prepared for new growth having developed its airport capacity and general infrastructure. This will be replicated in many other cities - build the infrastructure and the investment will follow. There is a constant influx of expats to the region, and it hosts multinational companies whose staff and families form the demand for our serviced apartments,' said Mr Yadav.

Properties are also being sought in Qingdao, Chengdu, Xian, Wuhan, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Shenzhen.

Chief executive and co-founder Elaine Young established the Shama concept in Hong Kong in 1996. The philosophy is to provide courteous service and stylish accommodation in prime locations for the extended-stay market.

The business has since grown to corporate level and is now seeking staff in management, guest relations, sales and marketing, and housekeeping roles for its four properties on the mainland and eight in Hong Kong, the latest of which, Fortress Hill, is due to open in May.

'We're looking for the right attitude and personality,' said Mr Yadav, who joined the company two months ago from global giant Frasers Hospitality. 'We're looking for graciousness and the relevant hospitality experience, perhaps in airlines or in customer service with luxury brands, or another related field. It's the attitude to service that we are looking for. Skills in language would also be an advantage and bi-cultural people who understand China, can adapt easily to westerners, and who have an international perspective. We're in the business of integrating people to a new country.

'We'll take our time hiring the right people, and we wouldn't hire until we are satisfied they could gel. They have to have a passion for hospitality. Some people will gravitate towards the hotel industry. It's a niche specific profession where you understand people have different needs. We are offering a holistic stay in a new country. The best service is provided through understanding a universal language, an intuition of people's needs.'

Director of operations, China Peter Tangl, who had been working in the hospitality industry in Asia for 16 years, said he was looking to build a multicultural team, and was seeking staff who would be willing to relocate as the company expanded its portfolio to second-tier cities over the next three years.

'Most of our recruitment is done through networking and we are looking for exceptional people,' Mr Tangl said. 'We might get recommendations from guests who have stayed somewhere and remember a certain individual. We are looking for the best people, and would certainly hire from Hong Kong.

'But the pool of talent is very tight. For key positions we might use a professional recruitment agency. There are many projects in the hospitality industry now. Standards are important and this is the challenge regarding recruitment. It's a very competitive labour market. For the management and sales staff, high mobility is important. If you are willing to relocate, this is a big plus.'

For management positions the company offers an international salary with perks and benefits such as medical insurance, accommodation and education for children. For sales and marketing staff there is a competitive salary plus a multitiered incentive programme, directly related to performance and the performance of the property.

'If we find good people, we would hire them in anticipation of our expansion and relocate them,' said Mr Yadav.

'Our philosophy is to pay above the market wage, but recruit less. This way our staff learn more, advance faster and we improve the performance yield from each staff member. We pay exceptional salaries for exceptional people.'