Just two years old when her father John Pette bought the business in 1984, she grew up around the hotel and it’s no surprise she found herself working there at the age of 14 .
“My first job was in the kitchen,” says Victoria, now 39.
“I was quite shy at the time, so I preferred to be hidden behind the scenes.”
Victoria cannot afford such reluctance today. Together with her brother John Pette Jr, she now takes center stage as the director of the family business.
The Fairlawns, in Little Aston Road, Aldridge, recently made headlines as one of Britain’s top 25 hotels, according to guest review website TripAdvisor.
The hotel finds itself among some of the most impressive in the country, such as the Shangri La Hotel in the Shard, London, which came in 18th place and also the famous Claridges in Mayfair, which came in 19th. It is one of six hotels outside the capital to be honored with the 20th annual Travellers’ Choice Best of the Best Awards.
And Victoria says the family values instilled by her father were crucial to her exalted status.
“We’ve always been on a mission to ‘get people to say good things about Fairlawns,'” she says.
“We never had a massive marketing budget, or huge sums of money to do big developments all at once. We had to do things the way we could afford.”
But while the Fairlawns may never have had the influence of large international chains, it also allows them to be more nimble in adapting to changing customer demands.
“We have no shareholders to answer to,” she said. “If we want to do something, we can just go out there and do it, we don’t have to wait for a board to give approval.”
It also helps, of course, to have a loyal clientele for many years and, unusually in the hospitality industry, a large number of long-time employees. Indeed, two of them were already working at the hotel when the Pette family bought it 38 years ago.
For many customers, Annabel Halifax is the first port of call. The guest reservations manager, who joined the hotel in 1993 at the age of 22, has held various positions over the years.
“It’s like my second family,” says Annabel, who is 51. “I grew up here.”
While an increasing number of rooms are now being booked online, many customers still prefer to speak to someone.
“The important thing is to listen to what the customer wants,” says Annabel, adding that by talking directly to the customer, she is sometimes able to advise them on the different options available.
Receptionist Katherine Mercer wasn’t even born when Annabel joined the hotel staff 29 years ago. But with eight and a half years now under her belt, Katherine is a full member of the Fairlawns family.
“I love working here because of the people, the family that owns the hotel, and the work-life balance,” she says.
Katherine, who is 26, says she has come to know many clients over the years.
“You have business clients who come here every once in a while, and you may also have families who have been coming here for years,” she says.
“It’s important to give them a good first impression. It makes people excited to come to the hotel.”
Victoria, who admits she never seriously considered running the hotel when she left for college, says the hotel has changed significantly over the years to reflect the changing market.
“It used to be very Monday-Thursday focused, people staying during the week for work, but in recent years it’s become much more of a leisure experience,” she says.
“We’ve always had pretty good corporate deals, but spa weekends have become really big in recent years.”
Fairlawns Country Club opened in 1998, with just 50 members; nearly a quarter of a century later, it’s a crucial part of the business with over 1,100 users. Despite this, manager Sara Allen says maintaining a personal touch is still essential.
“It’s the staff that does it,” she says. “Most of my staff will know 90% of all members’ names.”
Among them is Steph Chapman, 65, who joined the Fairlawns squad the week before the country club opened.
“I love everything, I appreciate the client relationships, the rapport you get,” she says.
Fitness instructor Meg Parry, 18, is one of the new staff members, who joined the team last year. She works with Aaron Wye, 25, who started seven years ago as an apprentice and is now a qualified personal trainer.
“I first came here when I went to a wedding, when I was about 12 or 13,” Aaron says.
“The important thing is that people leave thinking ‘I’ve been to Fairlawns and I really want to go back’. I really appreciate the wide range of customers we have – we have young 16, and we have a 90. It’s very rewarding when a 90-year-old leaves here feeling good about himself.”
Spa treatments are also growing in popularity, as spa therapist Brody Gilbert explains as she demonstrates a Swedish massage.
“By applying light to medium pressure, we can soothe aches and pains,” she says.
“In addition to the muscle relaxation massage, we also do a de-stress, with lavender and chamomile oils to relax you.”
Another big change in recent years has been the growth of afternoon tea.
“We only started doing it about six years ago,” says Victoria.
“Now it’s such a big part of our business, we’ll do around 90 on Saturdays, but it can go up to 150-160 if there’s a big event, like a baby shower. It’s a cost-effective way to make you happy.”
He certainly meets with the approval of regular customer Bryan McIntosh, who has been coming to the Fairlawns for 15 years.
Taking a break from a business meeting in the lounge, the DJ says he meets his clients at the hotel, performs at weddings and comes in regularly for Sunday lunch.
“I love it here,” he says.
“It’s easy to get to, the staff are always friendly, I think they take pride in the fact that it’s a family business.”