Launching a hospitality company is challenging under any circumstances, but throw a pandemic and subsequent industry downturn into the mix and it’s a far more daunting task. However, nearly two years since its inception Five Senses Hospitality has managed to not only survive, but to thrive in its efforts to grow and carve out a niche within the lodging industry.
The Denver-based company was launched in the summer of 2020 by President Chris Manley and founder Jeff Blackman—who is also president of Bedford Lodging, which actively partners with Five Senses. The company has grown to 13 properties through the addition of both third-party management contracts, as well as a handful of acquisitions.
Manley maintained the unique timing of the launch has actually worked well for the company.
“Prior to COVID we thought there was an opportunity and then COVID accelerated those plans. We thought there was a chance to build a vertically integrated hotel ownership/ management/development company and so we decided to embark on this venture,” he said.
Manley later added, “Starting a management company from scratch is an interesting concept because you really get a chance to challenge all of the norms.”
Meanwhile, Manley noted that as the company expands its portfolio it has also increased its investment in personnel accordingly, most notable with the recent addition of industry veteran Jeff Dougan as COO.
“We needed to invest heavily in our [human] infrastructure and so we brought on an individual like Jeff. He will help us get to where we need to be and that’s critical,” he said, adding the two worked together a number of years ago at Stonebridge Companies.
Dougan—who was most recently President of Buffalo Lodging Associates and has also held executive positions with Condor Hospitality Trust and Sage Hospitality—explained why the opportunity appealed to him.
“I really liked the story, I really liked where they were going. There’s a lot of appeal in growing a company that’s about taking care of the owners, but really about hospitality,” he said.
Manley pointed out the company’s smaller size and personal approach to managing hotels has considerable appeal for a number of owners who may have grown frustrated with how their hotels were being operated during the past couple of years.
“Frankly they wanted a change from some of the larger management companies where they didn’t think they were going to get an intimate experience, where the owners and the management company are truly focused on their properties. That’s really where our niche falls. Some management companies, in my opinion, are too big and can’t give owners the attention that they deserve,” he said.
Manley further elaborated on what he sees as a key point of differentiation for operators.
“So much of this business, especially with ownership groups, is about communicating clearly and timely both good news and bad news. I find if you do that consistently you can really develop more of a partnership with different owners and investors,” he said.
The Five Senses portfolio includes primarily major branded select-service and extended-stay hotels in Colorado, in addition to The Waters Hotel, part of the Tapestry Collection by Hilton, in Hot Springs, AR, as well as the Aloft Wichita in Kansas. Meanwhile, The Hoffman Hotel in Basalt, CO—which will also be part of the Tapestry Collection by Hilton— is scheduled to open in 2023. The company further noted there is a Tempo By Hilton in Salt Lake City-South, UT, in the planning stages.
Geographically speaking, Manley noted the company is going to remain focused on the mountain states as well as Texas going forward.
“Right now, we’ve got a quite a bit of concentration along what’s called the ‘front range’ of Colorado from Boulder down to Colorado Springs. What’s good about that is it gives us lots of opportunity for career advancement for our team members,” he said.
When asked just how large the company can ultimately get, both Manley and Dougan emphasized that’s not the main focus of Five Senses, which carries a tagline of “We Ignite the 5 Senses Through Genuine Acts of Hospitality.”
“One of the things that drew me to the opportunity is there isn’t this desire to get to a large number of hotels and then see who our buyer is. It’s ‘let’s keep it what hospitality is all about,’” said Dougan.
Manley reinforced the point.
“In a perfect world I’d love to be between 30 and 40 properties, that’s a good size. That’s a size that allows Jeff and myself and the other senior leaders to know every general manager and their spouse; to know every DOS [director of sales] and their spouse; and to know most of the executives at the hotel. You get much bigger than that and you lose that intimacy…you lose the ability to really breed loyalty and promote a culture within Five Senses. So that is ideally where we’d like to get to,” he concluded.