Larry Laite is a firm believer that anyone who works in the hotel industry needs to have service in their soul. It’s a mantra that guides him when hiring employees and a philosophy he inculcates in his team at every turn.
As the GM of the classic rock-inspired hotel, Jag, located in North America’s oldest city, Laite believes service, not amenities, sets the hotel apart. “It’s everything,” says the 47-year-old. “To step away from the pack, we have to provide exemplary service. We have to be aware of who our customers are, what their needs are and then ensure we deliver. In fact, we have to anticipate what the client needs before they ask.”
Ironically, the Newfoundland native just happened to land in the hotel industry after graduating with a college degree in Business Administration. “I went to work in retail where I learned valuable skills when dealing with the public,” he says. But when his job was eliminated due to restructuring, Laite accepted a position as a night auditor with the Radisson Plaza in downtown St. John’s. That was in 1990 and the affable hotelier hasn’t looked back since.
The married father of two daughters has been at the funky boutique hotel since its opening in December 2014; he also manages The Capital, another in the portfolio of seven properties owned by Steele Hotels.
Themed as a rock-and-roll experience, music envelops every aspect of the 84-room hotel. “It plays in the restaurant/lounge, lobby and the elevator landings leading to the guestrooms. You will not see any traditional artwork in the hotel. There are no Newfoundland sceneries or typical hotel art.” But there are “portraits of your favourite musicians and bands.”
Surprisingly, the hotel is the first in St. John’s to feature valet and bell service, and it includes all the bells and whistles, such as a fitness centre, rain shower heads and locally produced spa products made from natural ingredients. As part of its nightly turndown service, the hotel also offers chocolates made at the Newfoundland Chocolate Company and special creations from its pastry chef.
The hotel’s core customers are young professionals aged 30 to 55, mostly from Atlantic and central Canada but some are from as far away as Europe. “They are really comfortable with staying in boutique hotels and we have captured our market share from that market,” he adds.
Not surprisingly, his team of 55 associates is responsive and attentive. “If we take care of our clients, we will build a relationship and foster a mutually beneficial long-term relationship,” he says. But to ensure success with guests, hoteliers have to treat employees properly. “All too often the internal guests (our co-workers) are forgotten. If we treat each and every employee as an important part of the team and show them the respect we all deserve, they’ll take ownership of the hotel and take better care of the external guests.”