A Hotelier's Guide to Stocking and Selling Basic Essentials
By Justin Laxton Chief Operating Officer, Weiner's Ltd. | January 27, 2019
To provide your guests with the hospitality experience they want and will come back for, you must make hundreds of decisions. Everything from the products in your gift shop to the sheets on your beds will make a difference during your guests' stay. An inexperienced hotelier might see these details as distracting and unnecessary, but hospitality veterans know better.
In fact, it's rarely one big item or experience that makes your guests' stay memorable enough that they decide to come back. Christopher Elliot of USA Today interviewed several regular travelers about what supplies they wanted from their hotels, and their answers may come as a surprise.
The vast majority simply wanted practical items such as hair dryers, coffee, tea, microwaves, or small refrigerators. Yet, so often, hoteliers focus on high-end products like fancy electronics. Even with the best gadgets, if you don't provide the essentials, your guests will only remember how they had to leave your hotel to find a decent cup of coffee.
Fortunately, you can solve this problem. While it will take some time and resources to get your strategy established, you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Keep reading to establish a strategy for stocking your shelves with the basic essentials as quickly as possible.
Don't Make Assumptions; Find Out What Your Guests Want
To effectively stock the shelves of your hotel, you need to know what your guests need and want. Depending on your customers, these needs and desires can vary quite a bit.
As Gallup points out, "Market segment -- whether it's luxury, economy, or something in between -- largely determines what customers want most in a hotel stay."
So by gaining a strong understanding of who your guests are, you'll gain invaluable insight into what types and quantities of product you should stock.
For example, let's say many of your guests will be staying with their families. In this case, you must consider the specific needs of your guests' children, as well. Something as simple as stocking your shelves with tear-free shampoo could solve their need right in the hotel, allowing them to spend more time with their family on vacation rather than searching for the nearest store.
In Gallup's Hospitality Industry study, they found that "When employees help guests solve problems, those customers can become more engaged than guests who didn't experience a problem during their stay." Essentially, an engaged guest is far more likely to become a return visitor.
How to Find Out What Your Customers Want
You could make educated guesses about what your guests want, and if you know your market well, you may get it right. However, even if you're confident in your ability to anticipate your guests' needs, it is worthwhile to do some active outreach. Even the most seasoned hotelier doesn't know what he or she doesn't know, and a little bit of outreach may reveal interesting (and valuable) surprises.
The best part is, you can do this research for a very affordable price, and you'll get great information. To start getting feedback, provide comment cards throughout the hotel. You can also provide feedback forms or surveys with your guests' checkout forms. Finally, there are tons of online survey or form providers you can use to solicit feedback via email or other online channels.
Remember, the point of the survey is not just to find out exactly what you need to buy, but also how much of it you should buy. You could know precisely what your customers need, but if you run out of inventory, you're back where you started. So, when you get your feedback, keep track of how often certain items pop up and plan on buying plenty of those.
Consider the Weather and Your Guests' Activities
It wouldn't make much sense to place a large order of sunscreen one month before winter starts if you run a hotel in Chicago, would it? While this is an oversimplified example, it gets to an important point. When stocking and selling essential products, you have to consider both the weather and what your hotel guests will be doing.
For a hotel in Hawaii, for example, sunscreen and aloe vera are absolute must-haves. For other hotels, allergy medicine might be key due to the amount of pollen in the area. Either way, when you start to look at activities and the environment outside the hotel, you can easily figure out what products your guests will be requesting the most.
Building an Essential Brand
Besides more logistical considerations such as weather, guest activities, and market segments, it's important to consider the extent to which the products you buy and sell are consistent with your overall brand. As mentioned earlier, to create a positive guest experience, you must make hundreds of small decisions that, taken together, make a huge impact.
Whether they know it, your guests have certain preconceived notions about different brands. Some products may feel cheap to certain guests, which can either positively or negatively affect their perception of your hotel. In fact, the guests in favor of low cost options may appreciate your efforts to provide affordable products.
Even if purchasing from more affordable brands means that you don't make as much profit with high markups, think of it as an investment in customer loyalty. By sacrificing that markup and making your customers happy, you're increasing the chance they come back. And customer retention is almost never a bad investment.
In fact, research from Bain and Company has shown that increasing customer retention by as little as 5 percent can increase revenue as much as 25 to 92 percent. Moreover, as VRM Intel reports, "When it comes to profitability, there is no reservation more valuable than that of a repeat guest."
Consider Sustainability and Local Trends
Another thing for hoteliers to consider when stocking and selling basic essentials is the benefit of going green and local, as these trends have become increasingly popular.
According to a Nielsen global online survey of over 30,000 respondents, 66 percent of respondents said that they'd be willing to pay more for products that were sustainable. They may prefer more sustainable personal care products like natural soaps and shampoos while not thinking twice about the sustainability of certain products, like medicine.
Either way, the key takeaway here is more about how your customer perceives your brand when you carry certain products. For example, some soaps contain plastic or other elements that are harmful to the environment. This is a small detail that's easy to overlook, but it can speak volumes about your brand when you are intentionally mindful of being environmentally friendly in your purchasing and selling decisions.
As for buying local, you may find it to be cost-prohibitive, but some niche hoteliers may find that it's another effective brand-building tactic. Studies have shown that most consumers are willing to pay more for local products, as well.
The Logistics of Stocking and Selling Basic Essentials
As you can see, there's quite a bit of thought that you can and should put into your choices as they relate to stocking and selling basic essentials for hotel guests. But even after you've finished with the previous steps, you still have to find the supplier (or suppliers) that can fit your needs.
In many ways, this will be the reality check that sets the process in motion to actually get your shelves stocked and your products selling. For example, perhaps you decided that you weren't going to carry a selection of brands because they don't position your brand favorably. When you're shopping for a supplier, you might find that excluding that selection of brands is very expensive.
While that doesn't mean you should renege on your values, it does mean that you may need to reevaluate your strategy.
Ideally, you can go to just one reliable supplier of the essential products you need, but you may want to consider extending your search for a backup supplier. Moreover, you should do a careful background check on your suppliers. That includes asking for references and doing some online research.
Once you've identified a supplier and placed your first order, don't assume this process is over. Keep talking to your guests to find out if you're providing the essentials they need. Also, pay close attention to your purchasing and inventory costs, and make adjustments to your purchasing decisions when it's necessary.
While it's great to do your due diligence upfront and get as close to perfect in terms of supplying the right essential products in the right quantities, you'll undoubtedly find ways to improve. So keep your ears and eyes open and start enjoying the benefits of providing your guests with the essentials they need.
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