Brought up in foster care. Joined the Army. Lost his sight. Opened a successful hotel that he’s never seen with his sight. This is a story of courage and a life reinvented. Of a man with untameable vision of what he wants to achieve in business.
Meet Paul Jacobs, Britain’s youngest and lowest ranked ex-serviceman to receive the George Medal for bravery . And, since February 2017, the proud owner of a nine-bedroom guesthouse in The Wirral, North West England.
Paul’s back story is important, not because he’s had it tough but because his sight loss means becoming a small business owner posed some logistical challenges. And they could only be overcome by, in his words, ‘working with the right people’.
"I don’t think you can just rely on yourself to overcome challenges. You look at any business man or woman and they might look great in the papers, but they’re only one person. They can’t do it without a fantastic team behind them.
"The fact that I am blind, I have to pick the right people. And if it doesn’t work out then you say, ‘thank you very much for your time and effort’ and you go your separate ways. Where I want to go in the future, I need the best people, I’ve got a fantastic team around me and I’m very lucky" - Paul Jacobs, Owner, Peel Hey Hotel
What attracted Paul to the hotel business?
So when he decided to buy a hotel, Paul knew he couldn't do it alone. But first, why did he buy a hotel? After all, that's a big decision for anyone, let alone someone with no business or hotelier experience. He explains:
“I’ve always been on my own, in a sense. Regarding being in foster care and everything. So I’m quite happy in my own company.
“When I was in the Army and on leave from my post in Northern Ireland, I used to pick a B&B and go and stay in Liverpool, or Birmingham or wherever. It was a way of getting away from the blokes because it’s one thing being in a brotherhood but you don’t want to spend your whole life with them.
“I used to love just wandering around, just getting to know different cultures.”But when he lost his sight on active duty in Afghanistan, Paul had to reinvent himself. To go from a man who didn’t need anyone, to a man who relies on other people to realise his business ambitions. So when he decided to buy Peel Hey, he got in touch with several banks to see if they could help. And it was Barclays Business bank that Paul connected best with.
Why picking the right partners was critical to Peel Hey’s success
Paul Jones is the Barclays Business Relationship Manager in the Merseyside area and he became Paul Jacobs’ one point of contact. Sitting down together to discuss ambitions, business plans and commercials, the Pauls realised a commercial mortgage was the only real option. These can be very difficult to secure – especially if, like Paul Jacobs, the applicant has no prior business experience – and they can take up to three months to go through the approvals process.
By working through the plans together, Paul Jacobs (Peel Hey) was able to use the commercial mortgage to take over the hotel in February 2017. And because he was so impressed by the support he got from Paul Jones (Barclays), he was happy to be introduced to Nicola Colligan from Barclaycard Payment Solutions. And when her message and approach were consistent with Paul Jones’, he trusted her too.
Paul Jacobs wanted to bring Peel Hey up to date, to make it a real destination for guests and diners. He knew he needed to upgrade the technology, as well as the décor. One part of this was card acceptance.
Nicola (Barclaycard Payment Solutions) spoke to Paul Jacobs about the most cost-effective, customer-friendly ways to take card payments . She explained that portable card machines – one for reception and one for the restaurant – could give customers a quicker, more personal experience. That training the staff to take contactless payments for all transactions under £30 would save the business money in authorisation fees. And that making the switch would help the hotel restaurant feel more like a destination in its own right, rather than an add-on for guests only.
“Nicola sold it to me. She’s a wonderful person and she put her best foot forward. And Mr Jones has been an outstanding manager. He sat me down and he looked at all the different security aspects, looked at all the money coming in and going out and said we can put this in place and that in place. So if money does go missing, you’ll know it can only be that person or that person.”
Being blind means that such security measures are crucial for Paul to be able keep a track of his incomings and outgoings. After all, he can’t sit in front of his screen going through a set of accounts.
But when it came to switching to Barclaycard , Paul realised he had a lot of issues with legacy contracts and was told that he had to stay with the existing provider. And because he couldn’t read all the necessary policies, he didn’t know his rights. He didn’t know that he could switch until he was taken through the relevant policy documents line by line so he understood his rights and responsibilities.
Without this help and the support he got from Nicola (Barclaycard) he wouldn’t have switched. But his decision to switch to Barclaycard was also based on price, tech upgrades, education and cash flow.
Why switch payment providers?
During negotiations, Nicola realised she could save Paul and Peel Hey around £1500 in Merchant Services Charges (MSC) over 12 months. But much more than that, because the old card machines Peel Hey had were not contactless-enabled and therefore the staff didn't know how to accept contactless payments, the business was paying more than necessary in authorisation fees
Did you know that there’s no authorisation fee on a contactless payment, but there is on a chip and PIN payment?
To put that into context, afternoon tea for two at Peel Hey costs less than £30, as do cups of coffee, some lunches, drinks etc., so by taking contactless payments, the hotel saves a lot of money in charges. As Paul nicely put it:
“You can’t spend too much in the first year; then there’s nothing left for the second and third years!”
Tech upgrades for a better customer experience and diversification opportunity
By switching from desktop card machines to portable ones, Peel Hey created a personalised restaurant experience for customers. It allows guests and diners to pay at the table instead of having to pay at the reception desk on their way out. By doing this, Paul says he has diversified and increased his clientele from his regulars, to dog walkers, hikers and large parties.
Nicola spent time showing Paul and the staff at Peel Hey exactly how to use the new portable terminals, including the contactless function. It’s something that meant a lot to Paul in particular.
“I just clicked with Nicola. I wasn’t aware of anything missing from what I was already getting. But Nicola explained everything to me. I didn’t feel belittled like I do with some companies who talk to my guide or escort just because I’m blind. Nicola engaged with me on a one-to-one basis and I was really pleased with her professionalism. I think there’ll be a friendship there into the future.”
Because Peel Hey is a
Barclays Business bank
customer, when the hotel takes card payments through Barclaycard, the funds usually clear fast. This means faster cash flow – critical for all small businesses – and, according to our research, 63% of small business bosses say cash flow is what keeps them awake at night 1.
For Paul and Peel Hey, fast cash flow means being able to buy seasonal ingredients to expand or refresh the restaurant menu, to market new ventures to attract new customers, and more.
The future of Peel Hey
In Paul’s own words, ‘you don’t need sight to have vision’ and boy does he embody that motto. Despite never having seen Peel Hey with his sight, Paul’s vision for the hotel is very clear. In 2018 he has plans (and planning permission) to build an extension, which will be home to a bigger bar and restaurant. He’s also got plans for a rooftop bar and a spa. And the longer term goal?
"Now I’ve had Peel Hey for a year I’d like to do a chain of boutique hotels across the nation in the next five years, which support disabled people. Disabled people have a right to come and work and stay here, let’s make room for it; we’re in the 21st century" - Paul Jacobs, Owner, Peel Hey Hotel
Paul Jacobs (Peel Hey) has regular catch ups with Paul Jones (Barclays) and Nicola Colligan (Barclaycard Payment Services) to talk about how to support his vision for the future.What started with a commercial mortgage and switching payment providers to Barclaycard, is now a successful guesthouse that’s set to pave the way for a chain of luxury boutique hotels. What could switching to Barclaycard mean for you?