Revamping the Hotel Shop to Benefit Retailers and Hoteliers

By David Ashen Principal and Founder, dash design | June 17, 2018

A short while ago I received panicky emails from the general manager of two hotels I am working on in Scottsdale, Arizona. The retail shops on each resort property were closing. These relatively large properties were owned and operated by one company, although under two different brands. Each property had a substantial retail space of at least 2,000 square feet and followed a standard-and outdated-business formula, where the space was leased by a local company for a minimal rent, thereby allowing the hotel to provide its guests with the amenity and convenience of having an on-site store.

In both stores, the goods for sale were like those of hotel retailers at other similar properties, including all the things a guest might have unintentionally left at home, like hair and body products and over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin (to help cure, no doubt, headaches from one-too-many pool-side cocktail indulgences of the previous evening), plus novelty T-shirts and sweatshirts with "Scottsdale" emblazoned across the front, along with an assortment of bathing suits and hats, and a refrigerated display containing a variety of Coke and Pepsi products, among other chilled beverages and snacks.

In visiting these properties during the past several years, I've noticed fewer folks inside them, a likely indication of a decline in the store's paying customers and, perhaps, the stores' relevance. I suppose that reality has set in and the retailers are cutting their losses and moving out, leaving property owners with the question of what to do with their newly emptied spaces and whether a reimagined retail operation would better serve its guests.

Perhaps more now than in the past, for hotel retail, the poser is how to complement and enhance the hotel experience by creating sales venues that connect to the property's brand and the local culture, while being meaningful to the guest. That means rethinking not only the merchandise for sale and how it's presented, but also the standard model of the retail food experience-including that refrigerator with soft drinks and potato chip display-for a market that services the guest's tastes.

In the 4- to 5-star category, hoteliers are ahead of the game. Their properties feature elevated retail enterprises, where the venues are treated in the same way as the rest of their resorts' offerings are. Here, the brands have moved from a sea of sameness and expected experiences to an ever-evolving landscape of lifestyle and boutique properties that deliver curated and local experiences, including at the property's on-site retail operations. By keying into the property's brand, along with personal sensibilities and the region's cultural offerings, these hotels' retail shops go beyond needs-based merchandise, which people buy, anyway, to connecting with guests and visitors on emotional levels. And once that happens, wallets open.

Another point is with the advent of Amazon and other online shopping venues, hotel guests that forget to pack essential items can order the goods online and have them delivered to the hotel they've checked into, with the merchandise arriving that day or the following one, in some cases. Why then, would a resort guest spend his or her time searching out a suitable shampoo in an uninspired hotel gift shop when the blue-green waters and silky sands of the beach beckon? More often than not, guests willing to take the time to shop in a hotel's retail store need more of reason to do so than to pick up toiletries or tired novelties. Better, is to intrigue guests with distinctive pieces artfully presented in inspired settings. By giving the guest an opportunity to veer from the exit door and back into the property for a better look at that intriguing artisan vase sitting on a beautifully lit display pedestal, hoteliers can key into the guest's imagination. Providing guests with a reason to slow down and imagine that locally crafted vase in their living room; an incentive to bring a bit of their vacation back home with them, hands them a way to connect their vacation with their home, including the hotel's role in that memorable trip. From there, who knows? Perhaps the visitor will come back for another stay. Or talk about where the vase came from among his or her friends back home.

Made Market at Doubletree Paradise Valley presents a fresh look to an open grab-and-go market - think of it as a mix between Pret a Porter and Starbucks. Photo credit - VRX Studios
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Coming up in June 2019...

Sales & Marketing: Selling Experiences

There are innumerable strategies that Hotel Sales and Marketing Directors employ to find, engage and entice guests to their property, and those strategies are constantly evolving. A breakthrough technology, pioneering platform, or even a simple algorithm update can cause new trends to emerge and upend the best laid plans. Sales and marketing departments must remain agile so they can adapt to the ever changing digital landscape. As an example, the popularity of virtual reality is on the rise, as 360 interactive technologies become more mainstream. Chatbots and artificial intelligence are also poised to become the next big things, as they take guest personalization to a whole new level. But one sales and marketing trend that is currently resulting in major benefits for hotels is experiential marketing - the effort to deliver an experience to potential guests. Mainly this is accomplished through the creative use of video and images, and by utilizing what has become known as User Generated Content. By sharing actual personal content (videos and pictures) from satisfied guests who have experienced the delights of a property, prospective guests can more easily imagine themselves having the same experience. Similarly, Hotel Generated Content is equally important. Hotels are more than beds and effective video presentations can tell a compelling story - a story about what makes the hotel appealing and unique. A video walk-through of rooms is essential, as are video tours in different areas of a hotel. The goal is to highlight what makes the property exceptional, but also to show real people having real fun - an experience that prospective guests can have too. The June Hotel Business Review will report on some of these issues and strategies, and examine how some sales and marketing professionals are integrating them into their operations.