Assisted Living Management Experience Gives Hoteliers An Edge
By Mark Hamister
In the early 1980's I realized that my assisted living residences would gain a huge competitive advantage if I started operating them like luxury resort hotels. After a careful study of the Ritz-Carlton and Disney models, we implemented a hospitality-oriented customer service culture and saw an immediate increase in the quality of service and experience delivered by our residences.
Our company formally entered the hospitality industry in 2004 and today we own and operate nine hotels in four states (with more to come). As we continue to increase our number of owned and managed hotels, we realize that in the past nine years, many of our assisted living management talents have been used with great success in the hospitality arena.
Here are few suggestions for hotel management companies:
- Show that you care at every opportunity. Assisted living management must be particularly focused on developing relationships with customers because our residents may stay with us for years, if not for the rest of their lives. Developing a relationship with a hotel guest, who might only stay the night, is more challenging. In assisted living we find that if we show our residents how much we care about them every day, they will forgive us for an occasional mistake. However, if you have not developed a solid relationship with residents, even rare and minor mistakes will become large obstacles to overcome. So we train our hotel general managers to make our guests feel cared for and welcomed at absolutely every opportunity, during every minute spent with them. Hotel guests may not stay for years, but they will return if they have a positive experience with us and if they feel that we truly care about them.
- You made your bed, so lie in it. Over the years we have developed a deep appreciation for the importance of quality sleeping experience and bed comfort. Many years ago I tried sleeping on a staff-check mattress in one of our assisted living residences. It was one of the worst night's sleep I ever had. Since then I have banned purchasing such mattresses. We have increased our mattress costs (because regular mattresses have a substantially shorter life span) but we won't have any of our residents sleeping on mattresses that we're not comfortable on. During the first year of our management of the Smyrna Nashville Fairfield Inn & Suites we replaced all of its foam mattresses for the same reason: I wasn't comfortable sleeping on them, so I didn't want my guests tossing and turning on them either.
- Use your nose. Since we are committed to running our assisted living residences like luxury hotels, we don't want them smelling like hospitals. Harsh chemicals can remove dirt and odors from carpets and upholstered furniture, but they smell terrible. We spent a lot of time exploring effective alternatives to such chemicals and developed our own stain and odor removal techniques. These same techniques now enable us to keep our hotels smelling fresh and pleasant, not antiseptic or perfumed.
- Recognize when spending more now will help you save later. Our assisted living experience has helped us to drill down to the most effective methods for enhancing the appearance and durability of our properties. For example, we are much more willing than other hospitality companies to spend money up front for granite counter tops in bathrooms and at the front desk because we understand that this material will look new for ten years and give the hotel a fresher look. We are also more willing to spend money on high-powered vacuum cleaners that remove more debris, therefore increasing carpet life-span.
- Make it fun. Our assisted living residents love events like cook-outs on warm evenings or parties for special occasions. We have started hosting similar events at our Extended Stay Hotels in order to add a fun and social aspect to the guest experience. Since our extended-stay guests are with us longer than most, these evening and weekend events have created a strong sense of community at the property.
In the words of John Ruskin, "Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort." At Hamister Group, LLC we are committed to continuous quality innovation. One of the ways in which we achieve this is by the intelligent application of the skills acquired in one business sector to other industries. The result is both a high level of quality and a fresh approach to common issues.