It’s been said that winning isn’t everything — but at Pomeroy Inn and Suites Inc., a healthy dose of competition is a big part of its corporate culture. “I often say to people I interview for a job, ‘If you don’t like competing, it’s probably not a good fit,’” says Ryan Pomeroy, president of the Grande Prairie, Alta.-based company operating primarily in Northern Alberta and B.C. “We really celebrate the wins here, and maybe in some cases even shame the losses.”
As an example, “winning” is listed as one of the company’s official core values. To motivate staff, Pomeroy strongly encourages competition through various company-wide contests and awards. Christy Doucette, director of Culture and Brand Management, describes the Clean Team Award for Housekeeping, one of the company’s most high-profile honours. “It’s a contest to see who can have the cleanest rooms and the least amount of deductions on the clean team report. At the end of the year, the winning housekeeping team is given a cash reward. It’s fiercely competitive,” she stresses with a laugh. That intense competitive spirit is so ingrained in employees that when a Pomeroy property is full and the GM needs to send a regular guest to another Pomeroy property nearby, “the GMs will often ask the guests which hotel they like better,” says Doucette, chuckling again. She sees internal competition as an effective motivator, however. “What gets rewarded gets repeated,” she asserts.
If recent company performance is any indication, the strategy appears to be working. Between 2011 and 2012, “on a same-store basis, we’re up [in revenue] between five to 10 per cent,” says Pomeroy. For the Pomeroy-branded properties specifically, average hotel occupancy in 2012 was 65 per cent, with an average rate of $147. Employing approximately 850 people, Pomeroy is essentially comprised of two sister companies: Pomeroy Lodging LP, the ownership company and Pomeroy Inn and Suites Inc. which handles day-to-day management of the hotels. Total hotel sales are expected to see an increase of between 40 and 50 per cent in 2012, for approximate total sales of $48 million, although a big part of that is due to acquisitions. This past February, Pomeroy acquired three new properties — two Stonebridge Hotels and the Grande Prairie Inn, the latter being renovated and converted into a flagship Pomeroy Hotel, which is expected to open by the end of 2012. All told, it added 460 new rooms to its existing 1,150 rooms company wide.
The company’s growth during the past year is a culmination of what it’s been working toward since 2010, a period when the company underwent restructuring to better enable expansion. “We restructured the ownership and the debt structures within the portfolio of hotels, and paid down a bunch of debt at that time,” says Pomeroy, “and that really put us in a place to be able to grow in the future. We started to work on strengthening the capital foundation behind the company. Through that, we also strengthened our internal processes and our executive team, focusing on strategy so we’d be in a really good place as the economy started to improve,” he says. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we doubled the size of the company over the next two years.”
There are currently six Pomeroy Inn and Suites properties with a seventh under construction in Olds, Alta., expected to open next July. Ryan’s father, Bob Pomeroy, opened the first Pomeroy Inn and Suites in 2004 in Grande Prairie, Alta. In 2008, a second property opened in Fort John, B.C., under Ryan’s leadership, and the brand has grown from there.
Pomeroy Lodging also owns two Pomeroy Hotels, two Stonebridge Hotels, two Holiday Inn Express, one Ramada, a Motel 6, a Best Western, and several non-branded properties, but these days the Inn and Suites is the main vehicle for expansion. “There’s not a lot of extended-stay product in Canada, and there’s even less in Western Canada, so we see that as a good opportunity,” says Pomeroy. “A lot of the extended stays being built are at the economy or midscale end of things, and we’re trying to build mid-to-upscale extended stay.”
Operating in secondary and tertiary communities in Northern Alberta and B.C., Pomeroy properties cater mostly to the oil and gas industry. The president of the company notes his guests’ needs are unique. “What you learned out of a textbook or what you might have learned in downtown Toronto may not have the same success in Dawson Creek, B.C. or Grande Prairie, Alberta,” he says.
For example, says Doucette, “our GMs cook Thanksgiving dinner for the guests — you can stay at a hotel anywhere and have a nice clean room, great cable — but with us you get a smile; we know your name, and we genuinely care.”
The caring attitude at Pomeroy extends to its commitment to the community. A curling tour started by the company, regularly supports local hockey, soccer and baseball teams. It recently became the title sponsor for a sports arena in Fort St. John, B.C. called the Pomeroy Sports Centre, and it has implemented partnerships with various non-profit groups and events such as the United Way, Community Foundation, Relay for Life, Race Against Hunger, Big Brothers and Sisters, among others. In 2011 the brand contributed in excess of $250,000 into the communities in which it operates. “We want to succeed for the long term in the markets we operate, and the best way to do that is to gain community support by getting involved.”
In addition to “winning,” the company places equal importance on its other four core values: honesty, quality, industry (meaning industriousness and ingenuity), and family. “Pomeroy strongly believes in balancing family needs with work responsibilities. “It’s important to me that the organization I’m leading is one that supports good family and life balance,” says the father of two young sons. If employees don’t pay attention to their families, he says, “they might get a divorce or their kids hate them — they have all these personal stresses — and that impacts the way they perform at work. You have to support balance in people’s lives, because it’s the only thing that’s going to create real sustainability.”
As for the core value of “honesty,” Josh Heiney, a vice-president of HVS Capital Corp.’s Capital Markets Group in Denver, Colo., who has worked with Pomeroy over the last few years, attests to the company’s commitment to fairness and decency. “They’re straight shooters,” says Heiney. “These guys are honest. They don’t see each deal as the last deal; they’re in it to make long-term relationships.”
Another company strength is allowing its executives to immediately act on a good opportunity. Stefan Nasalski, Pomeroy’s vice-president of Operations, can attest to that. “There’s an entrepreneurial spirit here. When we gather our ‘technical giants’ together, or get the GMs together, and we start kicking around issues or opportunities, we come up with some pretty creative solutions — and there’s not a lot of hoops to jump through to get those solutions going,” he says.
The quick-action, entrepreneurial way of operating will undoubtedly help when it comes to future growth. The company has identified geographic areas where they’d like to do business, continuing in secondary and tertiary markets in Alberta, B.C., and even into Saskatchewan and Manitoba. But, “we’ll execute in an opportunistic fashion,” stresses Pomeroy. “I’m not going to marry myself to going into Red Deer, Alta., because that’s the market we want to be in the most. If there’s no good deal in Red Deer, then maybe we’ll wait until next year or the year after.”
With that philosophy, Pomeroy sees 2012’s new acquisitions and growth as only the tip of the iceberg in terms of brand expansion. “The company’s well capitalized. We’re in a place where we think it’s a good time to grow,” he says. “The team is in place, and the economic cycle is reasonable but not outrageous, so the timing couldn’t be better.”
photo courtesy of 3Ten/Eugene Uhuad