Outdated offerings, tired amenities and a lack of concern for brand standards will sully any customer-service experience, especially when a guest has visited a newer or renovated location within the same brand family.
When Joe Komaric and Alnoor Nathoo took over the Days Inn Cranbrook this past spring, a host of issues plagued the British Columbia-based property, from a broken-down chiller to outdated tube TVs in guestrooms. An investment of $2-million helped gut and rebuild the lobby, remove the food-and-beverage operations and add new fitness and guest laundry facilities. In guestrooms, worn linens and furniture were swapped with new case goods, drapery, bedding and 48-inch flat-screen TVs. “I’m really proud of that hotel,” says Komaric, GM, who emphasized the importance of adhering to standards set by the brand. “If you’re going to enter into an agreement with a franchisor, be compliant. They have the experience, they know what they’re doing and it’s nice for your guest to go from one property to the next in the same brand and have familiarity,” he says.
Once a property is built, however, franchisees can have their say in how it is marketed to consumers and make use of a plethora of resources offered by the head-office team to maximize value and profitability. Many brands have formed franchise advisory committees, which oversee the marketing spend for the brand. “It gives owners the opportunity to have their say in the marketing initiative for the year,” says Komaric, who serves as a member of Realstar Hospitality’s Franchise Advisory Committee and oversees the Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan regions for the Days Inn brand.
The committee decides how the annual $70,000 budget for the region can be spent. “So whether it’s print ads or radio, [we’re] getting some direction from the brand and then going to these meetings and saying, ‘what’s going to work for our region?’ Members who attend have a vote,” he adds. Sessions also include an educational component or a special presentation, so franchisees can go back to their properties ready to share the knowledge with staff.
Tools of the Trade
“We often say to our franchisees that we have a buffet of tools and resources for them to use,” says Brian Leon, managing director, Franchise Growth & Administration at Choice Hotels Canada in Mississauga, Ont. “A big opportunity for each of our franchisees is to figure out what they can get from us that will be the most meaningful to their business,” he says, pointing to revenue-management as a popular request, so the team at Choice has created new tools and corporate resources. They’ve recently introduced a program called Choice RM, which provides a dedicated revenue manager to the hotel; it helps assess competitor activity, demand generators and other factors. Early this year, it will be adding another resource called Smart Rates, which provides daily competitive rate shopping for up to four competitors.
And whether a franchisee is a seasoned, multi-unit hotelier or a single-unit franchisee, Choice Hotels Canada offers access to Choice’s market prioritization summary, which consists of data on 400 markets nationwide, including the company’s share of rooms and occupancy rates. “We’ll also share that information with prospective franchisees, so if a franchisee is interested in a new-build hotel in Western Canada, we can show them 10 markets that could make sense for our Comfort brand. Or if they’re interested in a conversion property, we keep a list of every hotel across the country that we are aware of that’s for sale that might be a fit for one of our brands,” he adds. Franchisees can also work with a staff member who generates leads and provides support to the development team.
The Choice head-office team also helps the franchisee visualize property-improvements before making the leap. “If we have a franchisee that says they’re thinking of updating their breakfast room, we have 300 breakfast rooms across the country that we can show them pictures of. That’s one of the biggest things we can do to help them — being that conduit for sharing information and sharing the experiences of what other hotels have done,” Leon explains. The Choice team also provides various design renderings to help franchisees visualize an exterior façade enhancement or a guestroom renovation, for example. The strategy seems to be working — last year, franchisees invested more than $40-million towards renovations.
Strategies for Growth
Despite the weakened economic activity in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the economy hotel segment is experiencing a development boom since Superior Lodging Corp. and Boca Raton, Fla.-based Waramaug Hospitality Canada LLC purchased the master licence rights to Travelodge Canada from Holloway Lodging last year. This meant the formation of a new company, Superior Lodging Development TL Corporation, which will spearhead the growth of the Travelodge and Thriftlodge franchises in Canada.
“After buying Travelodge, we certainly see a lot of traction and pent-up demand for the Travelodge brand. We actually signed seven deals since we took over in April, which is fairly good growth for us,” says Marc Staniloff, president and CEO. “And it’s right across the country.”
Deals signed include two in Saskatchewan, two in Alberta, one in B.C. and two in the Maritimes. “Our strategy will be
to grow these franchises further through acquisition, development and conversion of existing hotels. We will also be able to offer financing to existing and prospective franchisees, which is a unique opportunity for them, and hopefully provides the impetus to further our footprint in the dynamic Canadian market,” adds Scott Silver, principal, Waramaug Hospitality Canada LLC. They’ve also hired a senior sales person with a track record of converting multiple units per year, plus an in-house salesperson to focus on the growth of both brands in Canada.
At Choice, franchise growth also means looking at new initiatives from a bottom-up approach. Franchisees have their say in the future of the brand development, including a new-build Quality prototype in the works. “We worked with a franchisee who was building a new Quality and [consulted] with them on floor plans,” says Leon. “We had input from five or six franchisees and different design firms, and along with that, input from the design department at Choice Hotels International in the U.S.” It resulted in a more cost-effective prototype that speaks to evolving customer needs. Construction costs and space concerns were also top of mind in the new design. One example is temperature-controlled storage lockers which, based on some of the feedback, are a great amenity for sports teams staying at the hotels.
Taking franchisee concerns into account will help hotel brands reach their development goals, says Leon. “We are a 100-per-cent franchised system and we often say this to our team — without happy, successful franchisees, we don’t have a business.”
View the 2016 Franchise Report on Page 18 of this issue.
Volume 48, Number 1