The human in me was inspired by the scenery; the marketer in me was inspired by how superbly hotel managers Chris and Shari-Lynn Williams have understood, learned from and cater to their target market.
Even if you aren’t in the hotel business, their customer-centric approach applies to every business.
From Hard Beds & Shared Bathrooms to Upscale Lodge
Here are a few key steps they took to turn this into one of the best inns in North America.
1. Identify Your Competitive Advantage
True, they do benefit from a gorgeous location, nestled in among glorious mountains that are home to some of the best hiking and cross-country ski trails in the world, with no neighbors because the provincial park laws no longer allow construction of new homes or hotels.
But what they inherited was hostel-style accommodations and a sign at the entrance warning non-guests that they weren’t welcome.
2. Don’t Make Changes Till You Understand The Current Situation
Chris and Shari-Lynn, who have managed several other inns and hotels over the years, took their normal approach of making no major changes for the first few months to see what was and wasn’t working.
A Surprising Customer Insight
When they saw the big group-seating only tables in the dining room their first thought was, “That’s got to go.” But, says Chris, when he watched the guests those first few weeks he realized that they enjoyed the interaction with the others.
The family-style dining is part of what makes the place special. Let’s face it, unless you are newlyweds (and sometimes even then) it can get a bit, um, how can I put this delicately, repetitive only talking to your spouse when you are on a holiday. (Sorry darling!) It is fun to be able to meet new people who share your appreciation for the mountains and come from all over the world. The shared tables give even introverts a comfortable way to join in.
3. Who’s Your Target Market?
Another early decision was to go after a higher-end clientele. If you were managing an inn, would you rather rent out 20 beds at $50 each a night or nine rooms at $400 a night?
4. What Will Target Customers Pay More For?
This is where understanding your target market becomes crucial. Some of the changes they made:
- Moving to more luxurious accomodation. Replacing small bedrooms and shared bathrooms with spacious rooms boasting comfortable beds, cozy duvets and private bathrooms.
- Bringing in an outstanding chef to prepare three hearty, delicious meals and an amazing afternoon treat buffet. (The room price includes all your meals.)
- Supporting local producers. Complementing the food with locally roasted coffee beans, organic teas, and beer made by Alberta craft breweries. Decorating the Lodge with art by local artisans and artists.
- Adapting to your customers’ schedules. Recognizing that most of the guests will be on day-long treks, so right after breakfast they set out an assortment of delicious packable foods (including home-baked breads and cookies). Everyone assembles their own lunch to eat whenever they want, wherever they happen to be.
- Encouraging, not discouraging, locals from stopping in for afternoon coffee and treats. Not only is it an additional revenue source, about 1 in 10 of the drop-in visitors ends up booking a stay at the lodge within the next six months.
- Hosting special events that appeal to your target demographic. As Retail Prophet, Doug Stevens, pointed out in our interview, people will pay for experiences. For the past five years they have run a summer music series, Music in the Meadow, featuring intimate concerts by some of Canada’s best-known and rising-star folk musicians. Even for people who can’t make it to one of these concerts, the association with this cultural event raises the tone of the place.
5. Most Important: Friendly, Welcoming, Consistent Customer Service
From the moment we walked in we felt like we were being greeted by friends. While Chris took our bags to the room, Shari-Lynn gave us a tour, including the cozy living room stocked with board games and a crackling fire in the fireplace. (It was raining when we arrived.)
They chatted with us about how they were going to deal with my allergies (amazingly well!) , discussed the conditions on the trails (some had been destroyed by the massive flooding earlier in the month), the weather forecast for the coming days, and Chris’ championship-level Scrabble playing expertise.
Every day they welcomed us home and asked how the hike had been. And it wasn’t just Chris and Shari-Lynn. All of the staff were every bit as friendly.
I can’t wait to go back. And look, it worked: I’m telling all my friends!
Have you had an outstanding hotel experience lately?
What made it special? Please comment below.