With its massive brand conversion now firmly behind it, WoodSpring Hotels has set its sights on further establishing critical mass and accelerating growth in the years to come.
Originally founded in 2003 by Jack DeBoer as Value Place, the economy extended-stay chain is expected to open 21 hotels this year—14 of which are franchised and seven of which are corporate owned. This year’s openings will bring the company’s portfolio to approximately 240 properties.
In addition, the brand—which is made up of entirely all new-construction properties—is expected to open an additional 45 hotels, 35 of which are franchised, in 2018.
Ron Burgett, executive vp of franchise development and operations, WoodSpring Hotels, talked about how the company’s 2015 decision to rebrand has subsequently helped spur growth.
“The result is exactly what we needed. We needed to be able to get into some bigger markets, some markets that wouldn’t want a Value Place. So it’s worked out very well for us and we’ve been able to push rates now for the first time,” he said, adding, “we still want to be in the value segment.”
Burgett acknowledged that there are few hotel flags that have executed such a rebranding and talked about how smoothly the process went. “We did it very quickly. In one year we reflagged all those hotels that we wanted to reflag. That shows you two things; one, the value of our segment and, two, our franchisees’ commitment to us,” he said.
Burgett further explained why the company has gotten the buy-in from franchisees. “Our owners are so involved in everything we’re doing, so it wasn’t a surprise. They were right there with us,” he said.
In support of the brand conversion, the company introduced a refreshment program focused on virtually all aspects of each hotel, including new employee uniforms; brand-wide free wireless Internet access throughout the hotel; new interior and exterior signage; in-room collateral and marketing materials; as well as a fresh new bedding package.
According to Burgett, the entire portfolio has been fully converted to WoodSpring with the exception of some 16 hotels. He noted there are roughly a half dozen franchised properties that will remain Value Place properties for the foreseeable future because it doesn’t make sense for them to convert in their respective markets.
Wendy Hoekwater, chief marketing officer, WoodSpring Hotels, talked about the name change from a marketing perspective. “It’s been very well received by the public. Consumers are responding very well. They love the brand; they love the new look and feel. We’re monitoring Trip Advisor to see what people are saying and it’s aligning very closely with what our qualitative and quantitative research showed us before we ventured down this path,” she concluded.
Burgett touted the growth potential of the brand. “I think we can grow pretty easily to 700. There are other brands that are that big so we think there’s a lot of room for growth,” he said.
In terms of its recent expansion in major markets, the company this year has opened franchised properties in Tampa, Dallas, Seattle, Denver, Houston, Miami, and Nashville, as well as corporate owned properties in Minneapolis, Detroit, Providence, Boston, and Miami.
Nevertheless, Burgett noted there are a number of markets on the company’s radar for additional expansion such as Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Las Vegas, to name a few. “Those are the areas where we think we can add a lot of properties,” he said.
Burgett acknowledged the continued expansion would no doubt stretch the company’s resources. “There will be some growing pains, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.
However, he pointed out that in support of that growth, the company relocated its corporate offices from Wichita, KS, to Charlotte under president and CEO Gary DeLapp. “He’s been very focused on bringing in top talent to the organization,” added Burgett, who specifically cited Hoekwater who joined the company from Marriott earlier this year.
Hoekwater, meanwhile, acknowledged that the company is in the process of designing a new prototype. “We know that there’s a need. Our owners are telling us that so we’re here to make that happen,” she said.
Hoekwater pointed out that as a new construction brand, WoodSpring has an advantage over many competitors. She added that the average age of the company’s product is just over 8 years old as opposed to the 15-plus year average of its competition. “So we’ve got an edge there from a design perspective,” she said, adding the company has also implemented a lobby renovation program for some of its older properties.
She added from a marketing perspective that “now is the time to get the word out.” As such, Hoekwater noted the company unveiled its first official brand launch campaign over the summer, which was all digital and utilized outlets such as Yahoo, Facebook and Spotify. “All of those key niche markets to reach the long-term guest,” she said, adding the campaign made some 28 million impressions.
The brand also launched a new website, which includes new photography, as well as content updates across all sites, contact centers, social media guest review and consumer feedback portals. WoodSpring also updated its phone technology systems and scripts.