Case study: Mollie’s scalable tech stack

Mollie’s, the UK-based motel and diner concept created by Soho House, has attracted praise and publicity since launching back in 2019.Neon signs, burgers, shakes, and breakfast waffles hark back to a golden age of American comfort food and design. But there is nothing retro about the smartphone-first guest journey, cashless operation, and EV charging bays.

With two motels in Bristol and Oxfordshire, Mollie’s will open its biggest site (100,000 sq. ft.) in Manchester’s former Granada TV studios this year, and there are ten more motels in the pipeline. But wind back to when it began, and neither Mollie’s business success nor the glowing reviews were guaranteed. Simon Kaye was VP of services & client delivery for Alliants at the time. He said: “We were involved very early on when the pilot site was still an old Little Chef on the A420.”Kaye raised concerns that Mollie’s had inherited tech systems from Soho House that were configured for members, not a roadside motel open to the public: “We got them up and running but said: ‘This is what you have to do to make it work properly.’”

Poor Wi-Fi connectivity was a common customer complaint, so there were infrastructure issues to sort out first. The broadband supplier was changed, and a detailed site survey identified areas where access points (APs) were jammed between pipes, were causing interference with other APs, or had cabling faults. A new Wi-Fi structure was created, utilising APs in each room attached to the back of the TVs and in external areas.

Mollie’s moved from offline to online access control and locks which allowed the motel staff to instantly know if a lock had been tampered with or a door left open. It also allowed remote control and access to activity data and battery status information.

Blueprint for future growth

In the case of a power outage, the infrastructure was configured to support payment and secure access. After several months, Soho House sold Mollie’s to Nema Capital and new goals were set for the brand’s operating system in order to create a blueprint for future motels.

To establish the new tech stack, a series of workshops and a great many post-it notes identified the various guest journey flows.

Referring to the process, Mollie’s managing director Darren Sweetland said: “What is going to improve the guest experience? How do we integrate that into the rest of the business? And how do we bring the tech platforms together? So often, systems are notoriously difficult at talking to each other and if you really want to understand your guests and follow the guest experience through, you’ve got to piece those things together.”

“When I think of a simple walk-in, someone arriving at a certain time and wanting to make a reservation, you want your staffing to be right, your housekeeping to be right, marketing, finance … all the knock-on events, all the various flows that happen from that.”

The people and the systems required for each step of the guest journeys were identified. PMS vendors, POS vendors, housekeeping solution vendors and IT system support companies were invited make their proposals.

Kaye managed the successful vendors and made sure deployment took place without impacting guests staying in the motel. For instance, the old POS system was changed overnight, between the last guest leaving on a Sunday evening, with the new system being ready to take breakfast payments on Monday morning.

The new tech stack includes several notable components. The guest app has resulted in improved customer engagement and a five-fold increase in downloads.  Guests are recognised as soon as they arrive at the motel, automatically connected to the Wi-Fi and can check-in with a single click, have their digital key assigned and go straight to their room.

Guests can book EV charging bays, early check-in or late check-out and chat with the Mollie’s team via their preferred messaging channel (WhatsApp, SMS, FB Messenger, etc).

The app has contributed to more than five hours saved per week for Mollie’s team to devote to in-person customer service, reduced queues and waiting times and increased customer satisfaction ratings.

PMS selection

An Apaleo PMS was selected for its suitability to Mollie’s size and business model, making it easy for the team to maintain rates, channels, rooms, and services. Mollie’s made a saving of 30% off the previous PMS service charges.

A HotelAppz CRM was chosen for its advanced techniques to gain a single view of the guest. It includes brandable pre-stay and post-stay communications and the ability to easily upsell and re-engage with guests.

SevenRooms and Tevalis were selected for POS and supply chain management. Stock control and POS are fully integrated and connected via Electronic Data Interchange to all suppliers for a fully trackable order-to-pay solution.

Mollie’s is an entirely cashless business, and the POS systems allows guests to pay with digital vouchers/ Apple wallet etc. The system provides day-to-day visibility on sales and trends and has enabled Mollie’s to maintain margins despite general increases in food and drink costs. Ease of payment has contributed to a 33% increase in average F&B spend per head and faster table turnarounds.

An easy-to-use housekeeping app is directly linked to the PMS. It allows staff to immediately report when a room is ready, which also triggers a notification to the guest.

Housekeepers can make a photo submission when additional assistance is needed. Rotas and staff efficiency have increased, leading to improved maintenance and a reduction in the incidence of out-of-service rooms.

Real-time interactive dashboards provide full reporting of the Mollie’s operation, from EBITDA to finding out which side of the diner delivers higher margins. Data from the POS and PMS is automatically downloaded from the cloud systems into the dashboards and aligned with forecasts and P&L data.

Complex undertaking

Building a new hotel tech stack is an extremely complex undertaking with multiple technology vendors involved, staff to train and it usually happens while business continues as normal. Ongoing tech oversight and support at Mollie’s is outsourced to Alliants, but the heavy lifting has already been done.

The project was successful, Kaye said, because several principles were agreed on right from the start: to always put the guest experience first; to favour cloud-based systems and solutions with centralised remote support; to prioritise mobile over desktop; and to work with forward-looking partners with the same brand values as Mollie’s.

As a driver of top-line revenue and operational efficiencies, Mollie’s tech stack is viewed as a key asset by its owners and management team as the brand gears up for expansion.  

Technology never stands still, but with the right cloud-based infrastructure in place, hotel companies can scale more rapidly and embrace new innovations, said Sweetland.

“The system will hopefully be the largest dividend for our business,” he said. “In terms of investing in the future, there’s a lot to be said about customer loyalty and retention and there’s a world of clever tech out there that’s evolving and that we can embrace in the future.”