Tiina Carr is owner of Brocco on the Park, a neighbourhood kitchen and boutique bedrooms in Sheffield, which opened in November 2014. Tiina has over 25 years’ experience in marketing and communications, together with learning and development. Her skills have a retail and talent focus and she has previously worked with major retailers, including Morrisons, to implement training and development programmes.
“…bring together people you know and trust – the best people in their field, and share your vision with them throughout…”
Tiina, we visited Brocco on a sunny Saturday a couple of weeks ago and we literally didn’t want to leave, so you’re definitely doing something right! Please can you explain the concept and what gave you the idea?
After working for many years in marketing, communications and brand development, I wanted to have a go at developing a brand for myself. I thought: “I’ll put my money where my mouth is and see if I can create a high street brand that people want to experience.”
I’d always worked in B2B [business to business], but retail was my passion. And I loved the building – Brocco’s an Edwardian villa on Hunters Bar roundabout. I also felt that Sheffield hadn’t really got a boutique experience and we needed one.
It’s a perfect location because it’s on the park and Sheffield’s busiest social road. For people who know this building very well, it has an interesting local history – it might not have been the most salubrious history – but it had something about it!
The building has been a guesthouse for years. I’ve had lots of neighbours coming to tell me the history, which is fascinating. First of all, it was called The Brocco Bank Hotel in the 40s. A man who lived there then with his parents came to see me recently, which was lovely and he brought old photos of the property from that time. Other neighbours have brought their own stories and photos too.
Then it was named The Peace Guest House after Picasso, who’s rumoured to have stayed here on his trip to the Peace Congress in the 50s. The building changed hands, became a social security hostel, and then got quite run down and eventually derelict.
It was in extremely poor condition before I inherited it. We took it all back it brick. There were no walls, ceilings, floors or roof. We ripped everything out and went about reinstating it all. I think the only thing that stayed was the staircase.
The previous owners had removed most of the original features, so we put a lot of skirting back, sash sliding windows, doors, architraves and radiators that are in keeping with the building’s Edwardian origin. Keeping that authenticity was very important to me.
What made you want to transition into a career in hospitality after your extensive career in marketing, communications and training?
I knew a lot of people who were talented in different fields and I brought that talent together to create Brocco. That was the most enjoyable part.
I’ve done a lot on customer service and team development, and ran a company of around 50 people. That proven track record of running a successful business helped me to think: I can do this again.
There’s a lot of attention to detail at Brocco: The décor and the menu are high end, but the prices are still affordable. How would you describe your positioning?
It was positioning us at a level which I suppose is more European or American. In Britain, we have fine dining or top-end restaurants for special occasions, and then what I’d call industrial chic-type places that feel a bit rough and ready. There’s not that much in the middle that makes you think: “Actually I could go there quite often, I can dress up or go as I am and still feel I have had a nice experience.” That’s why we called it a neighbourhood kitchen. Ultimately, we encourage guests to use the space and the menu how they want to at a time that suits them.
It must be fun to get to develop your own menu. What gave you the inspiration and how did you test the dishes?!
A lot of our dishes are naturally healthy, but appeal to everyone. You’re not saying that if you’re gluten free or vegan or vegetarian that you’ve got to have something ‘special’. I wanted our food to be fresh and seasonal and to be able to change every day, and tap into the team’s creativity. I think that’s really important: not to be staid. Our head chef, Leslie Buddington is very inspirational and he took my direction but it was him that came up with a creative, seasonal menu we are really proud of.
During the credit crunch, the banks have been notoriously reluctant to lend to new businesses – would you say that the financial climate is improving as business confidence starts to return?
The business climate has definitely changed since 2008, when it was austere and tricky. I’d been through the credit crunch in my last company and it was tough, it really was. But I felt that things are starting to get more buoyant, I don’t think that this side of Sheffield has ever really been that bad. It always seems to have a bit of buoyancy about it.
I tried not to worry about how I’d fill eight rooms or a restaurant I hoped if I had got my plan right and created the right customer offer, it would work.
What is your advice to other female entrepreneurs who spot a gap in the market and want to get a capital intensive project off the ground?
I was lucky because I’d already had my own company, sold it and had capital investment behind me. It’s hard for me to give advice about how to get a capital investment. The other key thing is to bring together people you know and trust – the best people in their field, and share your vision with them throughout.
What have been your greatest challenges in terms of bringing the project together?
I completely dedicated sixteen months of my life to it. I didn’t have another job. Nor did I have any experience of developing a property: I’d only managed one interior design project before. Bringing all that together was scary and hard work, but if you do your research right, you find your target audience, and don’t waver from that vision then I believe you can do it.
I was scared stiff to open the doors, but the response has been amazing. I’d felt pretty confident about the bedrooms because I’d spent so long on choosing the schemes and thinking about all the little details but it was still nice to hear people loving the look . Whereas the restaurant came together at the end because of the order in which we refurbished the building, so I was a little more worried if this would work as I imagined! So far everyone seems to like it!
The week before we opened we had to recruit a team of 28, train them and open the doors to the public. We were still painting and finishing a never ending snagging list! Every single tradesman was still there and I had so many questions from every angle sorting everything from a bin contract to uniforms to the website to a new till system. The job list was so immense; I was only getting three or four hours sleep and getting back up again, there were not enough hours in the day to cover it all.
The week before we opened, I just wanted to hide under the duvet, but then we opened and it we had a launch and everyone was giving us great feedback and my team were so lovely and supportive, it all seemed worth it. From then it seems people actually do want to come here, so I am pleased with how it’s going so far (but far from complacent and there is still lots of work to do!)
What have been your biggest highlights?
Tom Bell from Sawdays came in to see us and said, “When I came, I imagined it was going to be some glitzy city centre hotel, and you just really are not like that at all.” He absolutely loved it and he said it was his favourite of the two or three hundred hotels he’s visited recently.
Sawdays recommend quirky boutique B&Bs and small hotels. He said, “I saw three places I loved in the last tranche of going round – yours, The Houndgate Townhouse in Darlington and Artist Residence in Pimlico.” He said they’re all run by women. “There’s a little group of you and you’ve just completely nailed it, all three of you.”
My other highlight has been working with a great team of professionals who have helped design, build, and market this wonderful building, the local talent is amazing and I have been so fortunate to work and continuing to work with some really great people.
What are your plans for the future?
I feel a bit like I’ve just given birth! It’s my baby and I can’t leave it. I don’t even want to go home usually, because I don’t want to leave. But bit by bit I would like to start to look at other creative projects again.
I would probably do it all again, with financial backing of course, the pain of the last two years doesn’t seem too bad when you look around! I am probably mad but I’d love to take on another project – an interiors project or helping to revitalise a high street business. Doing marketing and communications has taught me so much about revitalising brands and teams. Perhaps I could be the next Alex Polizzi – well maybe not quite yet but I’d give it a go!