Hidden in a plush Georgian town house on Edinburgh’s Picardy Place lurks The Hallion. Not a lot of people know about it. Only the right people. However, word is spreading.
The Hallion (meaning ‘rascal’) is Edinburgh’s first serious attempt to set up a contemporary members’ club on the model of London’s Groucho Club and Soho House.
The club’s translucent bar shimmers as it floats above the wooden floor as a gaggle of Prada-clad ladies deconstruct last night’s Big Brother over a CafÃ© Latte. Next door, lounging on a plush leather couch, reclines a rugby-shirted gentleman taking deep drags of his cigarette as he reads the day’s Scotsman while sipping a glass of red.
Many people in the industry will already have heard a whisper of The Hallion – that is, if they have not already been there as a guest or, for that matter, are not already members – the club has been proactive in its recruitment, looking to harvest members from all fields of life. Particularly the creative, media and marketing furrows. But what many won’t know is that a founding partner of The Hallion was, until recently, global marketing director at Scottish Widows.
Having spent many years in the marketing arena, Fiach Maguire now has to utilise all his past wealth of experience to market his club to the outside world. And, despite first (impressive) impressions of the club, it is not always as easy as it looks. Edinburgh, despite its cosmopolitan charms, is a relatively guarded community. However, even with its typical restraint, the East Coast was quick to be seduced by the charms of the wee Rascal.
“People keep telling us that the Scots, and Edinburgh in particular, are hugely resistant to change,” muses Maguire. “But we have been welcomed with open arms. There’s been a generous reception to this idea, really positive,” he adds.
Maguire and his business partner, Glynn Partridge, moved to Edinburgh after meeting a number of years ago through a shared love of skiing, Maguire to take a job at Scottish Widows, from which he parted because of “a disagreement over the strategic direction of the firm”, and Partridge following the collapse of his marriage. Both wanted to join a club similar to previous memberships they had held in locations such as London, New York and Hong Kong. Nothing was available so the pair decided to start their own.
Maguire’s partner, Partridge, has enjoyed a dual career encompassing roles with international companies as well as entrepreneurial ventures. He first achieved millionaire status in his mid-twenties while living in the Middle East during the oil boom. A combination of the property and stock market crashes in the late 80s (as well as an untimely divorce) was an early setback, but not one that put an end to Partridge’s drive and ambition. His international marketing and management career was mainly in the food and beverage sector worldwide, working with companies such as Bass, Procter and Gamble, Cadbury’s and Asian breweries. Rebuilding his career through a series of ventures in the Middle East and Asia, Partridge then settled in Edinburgh and directed his energies into launching The Hallion with Maguire.
The concept for the club, says Maguire, comes from the fact that the big chains have taken over the high street. Pubs, clubs, restaurants are very corporate. And they tend to have gone for that young dollar, the teenage market, and it’s created gaps: “The advantage of targeting a tight niche market is that it is relatively identifiable and self-selecting. I’ve met people who have said, why would I pay to be a member of a dining club? Well, you probably wouldn’t, is the answer, if you have to think about it. If you don’t get it, then you don’t get it ...
“Reaching outwards is a laborious effort – a one-person-at-a-time process. It is not about advertising, it’s not about traditional marketing techniques. It is about networking at a very personal one-on-one level. A lot rests on the relationship with the member – customer relationship management, if you like. It’s not an occasional relationship; it’s a regular relationship. And that is the advantage we have; we get to see our members all the time. We get to repair our mistakes – it’s not often that you get that chance in business.
“Now that we are open it is a hell of a lot easier to entice membership because we have the physical product to show people. As a concept it was rather more difficult.”
“This is my third career,” continues Maguire. “My first career was as an international HR consultant. And then I moved into investment management and marketing. In that respect, I feel that I have spent a large part of my time selling people what they need, but what they don’t want. And now I’m enjoying selling people what they don’t necessarily need, but almost always want,” says Maguire, with a chuckle.
But how have his previous experiences in business helped in building a thriving community behind The Hallion’s doors?
“It is much more complicated a business than we realised. We both have a lot of international experience, we both have a lot of people knowledge and we both have a strong marketing background. Bring all that together and we seem to complement each other, albeit it in a rather odd way.
“I’ve always been suspicious of business strategies. Success in business is not about coming up with a unique strategy. To see something done well, and then better, is the best business formula you can have. It is unusual for the pioneer to be the one making a great deal of money. It is the others who adopt the idea and make it work better. You don’t want to have to invent a market from scratch.”
Maguire and Partridge have reinvented the style club concept to good effect. One lesson The Hallion pays testament to, is that word of mouth remains a strong marketing tool. But, perhaps the best way to sell a product is to ensure it is right. And that, I suppose, is the chief lesson to take away from a visit to the club. If you have been once, you will want to tell everyone. But bite your tongue - the first rule of The Hallion club, is only tell the right people.