10 Mins. With Mr. Anthony Shishler
By Pamela Echemunor
The hospitality industry in Nigeria is one of the biggest on a global scale with foreign investors trooping into the country to establish their brands on our home front. One of such brands is Le Maison Fahrenheit run by Mr. Anthony Shishler, managing director of the company. In this interview, he shares his vision and a brief history of the Fahrenheit brand plus what makes it stand out.
Tell us how the Fahrenheit concept came to life.
The Fahrenheit concept came to life from the passion of one man, Anselm Tabansi. A two-pronged passion actually: a love of architecture and design and a very keen interest in hospitality. Add the two and the evolution and revolution of the hospitality industry in Nigeria began. Hence, the existence of the Fahrenheit brand.
What difficulties did you face setting up the brand in Nigeria?
The typical Nigerian society, for the most part, is one where change is not easily accepted. A brand like ours, pivoted on concepts like difference and change, typically met the challenge of resistance. Forcing people and organizations to think outside the box of their comfort zones, making a very lax and seemingly comfortable hospitality sector realize that it needed to wake up, it took a lot of doing. The concept of boutique hotelling was not a common one; it is very expensive and, of course, investors got cold feet. However, we steadily overcame that hurdle. There was a huge thirst for impeccable customer service and, naturally, the people gravitated towards us and what we represent. Suddenly, art and design became popular and the go-to source for that was us.
What makes your brand stand out ?
At Fahrenheit, we understand that hospitality is a lifestyle business. We believe that the ultimate pleasurable experience is one that encapsulates all the facets of the human senses. Our brand’s unique type of product and the way that all of the human senses are engaged in making use of the product, sets it apart. Focused on extreme quality and luxury, we are not your regular ‘bed and breakfast’. Words like ‘weird’ and ‘wonderful’ come to mind with us. Very importantly, we have an established company culture. This controls the way that we operate such that wherever in the world you go, the Fahrenheit people and brands are all the same. We do not lay hold to any one particular way of doing things. We are a kaleidoscope of many different elements coming together as a beautiful whole.
What are the things you expect from the brand in the next few years?
We expect that the Fahrenheit brand will have become a household name representing all things fine and unique. Already, plans to expand to other African countries are underway; in Ghana and final negotiations are being held in Mali. In the next few years, concepts like Fahrenheit College, Fahrenheit Estates, Fahrenheit Short-lets and Fahrenheit Resorts will come into play.
The hospitality industry is growing fast in Nigeria. What would you say it needs, the most, to put us on the map globally?
First, Nigerians need to adopt the culture of tourism. So concentrated we are on other aspects, like oil, that we ignore the sectors that are potential gold mines. Tourism and hospitality are much entwined. We keep treating them as separate entities.
Encouraging a culture of travel and making sure that the hospitality set ups that are on ground are world-class will go a long way. We need to take the business serious and be very consistent in the type of services that are offered with particular attention to supreme customer service. More airtight marketing strategies should be adopted. Lot of businesses in Nigeria look down on e-marketing but how else can a person in, take for example, Mongolia know about a hotel in Nigeria if they are not marketing their products and services online? We need to put ourselves out there. Be bold. Focus on our specific targets and stay true to them. A culture of thinking outside the box should be encouraged and not dismissed.
Where would you say Nigeria is, right now, in the business and hospitality map service-wise?
I would say that Nigeria is rising slowly and steadily. There is still much to be done, however. Nigeria is booming because infrastructure is improving and there is a knowledgeable customer base that understands the value of what is on offer. Yet, from a hospitality perspective, room rates are high; almost on the level with London or New York, for standard rooms, but the quality of service that we are able to offer, at this point, does not warrant the room rates that we charge. This is a result of Nigerian businesses often being forced to pay for diesel-generated power, an unsustainable expense that we have to deal with at the moment.
Until the government starts working hand-in-glove with private enterprises, the price point is not going to drop so, it is up to the service providers to find ways to provide competitive service while maintaining cost efficiency. There is a general re-awakening in the hospitality world but that’s only the beginning. That is where we are, in the beginning.
What challenges do you face running your hotel daily?
There are different challenges for different days. However, the most prominent one would be lack of power. This automatically cuts across the other aspects of the business. Tons of money that could be channeled to other parts of managing the hotel gets spent on diesel purchase. Others include human capital, capital market interest rates, consistent supply of material goods, credit management and purchasing controls.
Would you say your hotel is affordable?
Well, ‘affordable’ is a very relative word, depending a lot on who is asking. And, you have to keep in mind that cheap and affordable are two different things. Comparing the type of services that we offer with the corresponding prices, you can say that we are steadily bridging the gap between luxury and affordability.
Tell us about the interior design?
Our designs are one of the most unique things about us. Call us quirky, if you like. All the furniture that we use are from Svengali, our furniture company. We focus on colour, abstract angles, in-your-face tone, gloss and pop art; very modern art odds and ends coming together to create something very beautiful. No part of any of our hotels are decorated the same. Each part is decorated to tell its own unique story. Basically, you can travel the whole world just by going from one part of the hotel to the other. No particular pattern but with luxury, beauty, and comfortability foremost in our minds.
Making profit in hospitality is tricky. Would you say you have recovered your capital and over since inception?
We are not there yet but we are making good progress. We operate at a cost model which accentuates our profitability. We aim to increase activities with detailed costing models attached to them which always makes the bottom line look very attractive and is.
Tell us about your facilities?
World class facilities, all of them. Our rooms are very modern – standards, executives, deluxe suites, wow suites; all tastefully furnished with a personal feel to them. We have one restaurant called La Spiga – local and continental dishes extraordinaire – and then, we have the roof top bar and lounge called Rue 80 for the let-your-hair-down type of hang outs.
We have a beautifully designed swimming pool, some private lounges tucked away in-between the rooms for the wandering guests, very flexible conferencing and event facilities that are of very high standards and up to date. There is a lobby that is exceptionally beautiful yet feels like your sitting room with books, mind boggling art and music at your disposal. We are the real deal; rivaling services gotten only in cities like New York and Paris.
Why should one visit and lodge at Le Maison Fahrenheit?
Being our flagship property and epitomizing our brand philosophy that is emulated at our sister hotel – Fahrenheit Loft; our sister brand – Morning Side Suites, to our baby property – Austasun and our upcoming properties – Fahrenheit Muse, Fahrenheit Artemis, Fahrenheit Rue 80 Abuja, one thing that is certain is the common thread of very fine and quality things. A lot of emphasis is placed on personalized and supreme customer service. With us, it is very important that our clients get more than what they see or bargain for.