Coffee with... Stuart Duncan
I recently met with an entrepreneur of Aberdeen origin who has just launched an amazing new concept in accommodation in the local area.
Stuart Duncan has returned to his roots and, perhaps it’s fair to say, through accident rather than design, has launched Apartrooms, high-tech, easy access accommodation primarily for business and corporate lets.
Protected from the harsh outside elements, we chatted in a local coffee shop about the concept, how it came about and what makes it different from other accommodation.
“So, Stuart, can you explain to our readers what the Apartrooms concept is?”
“It’s a hybrid between an apartment and a hotel room offering comfortable, contemporary, compact self-catering accommodation. They are designed for short or long stays making them perfect for business, corporate, Airbnb or holiday lets.”
“Whose brainchild was this and how did it germinate?” I asked.
“The light-bulb moment that led to Apartrooms began several years ago. I employed some contractors to carry out some work on our modular house project. They were from Glasgow and stayed in a small hotel in Aberdeen.
“There were several problems... the first was parking! The hotel was in the city centre and they didn’t have a car park, which meant trawling the streets looking for a free parking space. The next problem was the check-in: they had to be there by 9 p.m. to collect the keys, which under the circumstances was not possible. Finally, there was no fridge or microwave, so the individuals had to eat in restaurants every night, which proved to be expensive.
“I figured that there had to be a better way to provide accommodation for people working in and around Aberdeen, who wanted a seamless, hassle-free experience.
“Having visited the USA many times, I really liked the motel style, where each room has its own front door. I came up with the concept of combining a motel with a serviced apartment, added some smart home technology, an Internet-connected keyless lock system and online check-in. In addition, the building design and construction would be energy efficient and use renewables to power and heat the building, thus reducing operating costs. Hence the
“And the site?” I asked.
“I already owned a perfect location – a brownfield site – located on the south side of the city near the Charleston AWPR junction.”
“They are very ‘high-tech’. Were you involved in their structure and content?”
“Very much. Having been involved with Internet businesses in the past, I knew that technology could solve most of the problems. Rather than employ an architect to design a building, I used my extensive experience using Sketchup 3D software and designed the building myself. Having built two other buildings off-site in a factory, I approached an established modular building company. After gaining planning consent, I contracted them to construct the building as a series of pre-fabricated modules. They would be built near Brighton and then transported the 550 miles to site on 14 low loader trucks.”
“They look amazing,” I responded. “Was it relatively plain sailing?”
“On the contrary! Work had commenced on the 14 modules in the West Sussex factory while the groundworks began in Aberdeen. Then four weeks into a sixteen-week build, disaster struck. The modular company had a cashflow crisis and had to temporarily close the factory whilst they sought new funding. Weeks turned into months and work on the modules ground to a halt.
“Eventually, after six months of waiting, the modular company went into administration. As a result, I was given seven days to remove my modules or ownership would fall to the landlord of the factory. Thankfully, I was able to convince the landlord to instead lease me the 20,000 square feet factory, so that I could continue with the build himself. However, the lease was limited to eight weeks, which was not enough time to finish the build. Regardless I managed to find a dozen sub-contractors to help get the building ready for transportation. The 14 modules, weighing 10 tonnes each, were craned onto low loader trucks and made the long journey to Aberdeen.
“Once on-site, work continued through spring/summer 2019, using local sub-contractors. Fast forward to September 2019 and, at long last, the Apartrooms building is finished and ready to welcome guests.”
“What makes Apartrooms stand out from other
accommodation businesses?” I enquired.
“The building has been designed around Passivhaus principles, which means it has a super-insulated structure. All the windows are triple glazed and the building is oriented to the south so that it benefits from solar gain. The building is airtight but uses mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR), allowing the building to constantly draw in fresh air from the outside but recovering heat from the expelled air. This means that the air is filtered and much purer. There are 9 kW of solar PV panels on the roof. These provide clean, renewable energy to the building. Any surplus energy is fed into a 9 kW electric immersion element, which heats a water cylinder, in effect a battery. This pre-heated water is then brought up to temperature by two energy-efficient gas boilers, which in turn are connected to the Internet and managed via a smartphone app.
“In addition, each Apartroom has a connected thermostat, which is also controlled via an app. This means that the temperature in every room can be controlled remotely, taking into account guest movements. A PIR sensor in each room detects whether there are guests in the room and adjusts the heating accordingly.
“Also, there is no reception at Apartrooms. When a guest makes a booking, they are automatically sent a unique PIN code for the Wi-Fi smart lock on the door. This code will only last for the duration of their stay and eliminates the possibility of losing keys.
“Each Apartroom is equipped with an Amazon Alexa speaker. Most Alexas play music and answer trivia questions. In addition, Alexa is used to control the lighting, heating, television and even the kettle! There are two 7.2 kW electric vehicle charging points for guests to use free of charge. There is also ample on-site parking and all our Apartrooms feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows, flooding them with natural light.”
Extremely impressed, both by the amazing Apartrooms and Stuart’s triumph over adversity with their construction, I wished him luck with his venture and mentally noted an overnight was necessary. For more information email email@example.com or call 0333 303 4193.