How the Veriu takeover of Punthill Apartment Group was 16 years in the making

Veriu hotel owners Rhys Williams (left) and Alex Thorpe. Photo: supplied

Veriu hotel owners Rhys Williams (left) and Alex Thorpe. Photo: supplied

It seemed a minnow had swallowed a whale. Sydney’s Veriu Hotels was only eight months old when it beat off much heftier hospitality competition in its February acquisition of Melbourne’s Punthill Apartment Hotel Group. Punthill’s 13-property portfolio quadrupled the size of its upstart buyer.

But for Veriu owners Alex Thorpe and Rhys Williams, the deal was the culmination of 16 years of slog.

Back in 2002, before Airbnb was even an idea, the two childhood friends spotted a demand for cheap furnished accommodation. They sub-leased two rooms in a rental apartment to students and expanded into entire buildings. Their company, Furnished Property, now has 500 rooms across Sydney.

Their Veriu brand, launched last June, identified another niche: the unpopulated territory between Airbnb and conventional small hotel chains. “We saw no reason why a hotel brand can’t provide that authentic local experience backed up by traditional hospitality,” says Thorpe.

To that end, Veriu’s four 20-150 room properties in hip inner Sydney suburbs deliver local immersion via Veriu hosts trained as local insiders; complimentary explorer bicycles, and Veriu Connect, a keycard to access these facilities at any of the properties. Conventional hotel features include 24-hour reception, security, housekeeping, bars and restaurants.

“Veriu always gives people a coffee and a croissant,” says Thorpe. “I think that little extra hospitality means a lot to people.” That’s the vibe in a nutshell: Airbnb for those who want to have their cake  – and a concierge.

The Punthill acquisition coincides with the next phase in Veriu’s rapid trajectory: a partnership with Michelin-trained former Becasse group executive chef James Metcalfe, and a co-working space called +U.

The Veriu in Broadway, Sydney. Photo: supplied

The Veriu in Broadway, Sydney. Photo: supplied

Metcalfe is establishing Veriu’s in-house food and beverage operation and presides over the menu at lobby bar The Drawing Room in the company’s newly opened Veriu Central. The 1920s vibe and keenly priced cocktails and jaffles bring another level to the Veriu experience, says Thorpe.

“We think we have one of the best lobbies in Sydney.” The building also houses a dining hub of tenants: chef Nelly Robinson’s critically lauded Nel, Basket Brothers, Harry’s Singapore Mud Crab, and Harry’s Dumpling House.

Meanwhile, +U has filled a six-level heritage property near Central station with 50 office suites and 104 co-working spaces. Metcalfe will open a restaurant in the ground-floor front space, as well as catering for workers via an app. Each level will be devoted to likeminded professionals; The Retreat floor for wellness types, The Collective for marketing and creatives, The Hive for start-ups, and so forth.

And then there’s Punthill. Despite Veriu’s full-throttle growth, Thorpe has no desire to rebrand their new Melbourne properties.

“The two brands stand for such different, complementary things. Punthill is an incredibly strong corporate brand, while Veriu is more neighbourhood hotel in a cool CBD fringe suburb – a Fitzroy kind of brand. The two are strong together; the perfect marriage.”

Veriu Central Sydney. Photo: supplied

Veriu Central Sydney. Photo: supplied

The first Veriu in Melbourne, says Thorpe, “will likely come from another opportunity”, while he’s keen to export the Punthill brand to Sydney.

Meanwhile, Punthill customers can expect some Veriu signatures: the welcome snack, Connect, and – in selected properties – James Metcalfe’s food and beverage. Plans are also afoot to inject the +U concept into both brands.

“We’ll potentially bring some co-working into Punthill’s South Yarra Grand, and others where there’s space,” says Thorpe. “The days of the big, empty conference room are gone.”

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