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 Each property had a substantial retail space of at least 2,000 square feet and followed a standard-and outdated-business formula, where the space was leased by a local company for a minimal rent, thereby allowing the hotel to provide its guests with the amenity and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 March 2019...

Human Resources: An Era of Transition

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is “resilience”, the ability to “go with the flow” and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition—new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.