The land of hospitality
Cinde Ingram -- Casual Living, May 1, 2009
Any specialty retailer or manufacturer who is not looking to the world of hospitality as a land of expanded business opportunities may be missing a large boat — possibly a cruise ship or two.
Although the hospitality arena is being affected by current economic conditions, it also continues to abound with opportunities. Taking advantage of these opportunities makes very smart business sense.
“Outdoor spaces are the new jewelry of the property,” said Jeff Akseizer, principal in Akseizer Design Group, a Washington, DC-based contract and hospitality designer. “In many cases, the outdoor spaces are saving the industry as hotels, resorts and condo residences are marketing these spaces as the dessert of their amenities.”
Outdoor furnishings, lighting, shelters and accessories selected for commercial properties and projects are creating sweet retreats for not only the facility, but for the casual industry as well.
While the outdoor living concept has been a part of the casual vernacular for decades, the awareness and full potential within the hospitality and contract arenas is yet to be completely realized.
“In 2007, IHG’s (InterContinental Hotels Group) Staybridge Suites, introduced yet another way the brand is encouraging guest interaction and fostering a sense of residential community among long-stay guests with the new Staybridge Suites Outdoor Living Room concept,” said Robert Radomski, vice president, Global Brand Management, Extended –Stay Brands, IHG.
The outdoors is key to the resort and hospitality world, yet the exterior spaces have not always received attention from designers as have the interiors. “Overall, going outdoors is not just about enjoying an amenity; it is about showing people how to live amongst some of the most beautiful settings,” Akseizer said. “We are often handed great sunsets, amazing ocean views, historic locations, and the key is to complement with the right fabrics and furniture.”
Listen and edit
Capturing this choice piece of business landscape requires specialized attention and skills that are available throughout the casual world. Whether contract sales come via a manufacturer’s contract representative or a specialty retailer’s sales floor, both are realizing results.
“Our contract sales team consists of independent sales representatives who specialize in servicing needs of the designer and the hospitality customer,” said Randy Meek, president Oxford Garden, Kentucky-based manufacturer of wood outdoor furniture. “We also have a few specialty retailers that have an outside sales focus and are successful in securing contract business.”
Although the majority of hospitality business is acquired on the manufacturer level, there is business for individual specialty retailers. “We purchase directly from manufacturers and from specialty retailers,” Christopher L. Mercier said. He and partner, Douglas V. Pierson, are contract designers currently working on the Roosevelt Hotel and Thompson Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. “It really depends on the project,” Mercier said. “Sometimes we’re responsible for purchasing, other times we select the products that the client purchases. It’s different every time.”
In either case, the proficiency of the sales personnel is a determining factor in realizing hospitality business. “Listening to what is specified, and understanding the needs of timely project competition and budget constraints,” Radomski said as he ranked what was most important in Staybridge Suites’ selection of manufacturers. For Staybridge Suites’ Outdoor Living Room, O.W. Lee Co. is one of three manufacturer partners.
Contract buyers appreciate flexibility with special program needs surrounding the overall volume and availability of current trend design information.
“The key is listening to what is planned and the functionally required,” said Laurie Jenkins, contract designer and founder of Laurie Bell, Inc. “Asking what the contractor is thinking and then editing the responses to present only what items and materials are in keeping with that plan.”
Such editing avoids overwhelming the customer with products not in keeping with the facility’s overall proposed decor.
Design and customization
To zero in on what will fit a facility’s exterior design plan, the latest product innovations as well as the ability to customize become important factors. For umbrella manufacturer TUUCI, custom products are designed to not only fit the dimensions of a project but also the overall feel.
“TUUCI’s strong suit is our ability to create shade structures which convey a unique sense of open air living,” said Dougan Clarke, founder and CEO, TUUCI. “Customization is certainly an understatement when you consider the depth of TUUCI’s product lines and the multitude of options which can enhance the shade experience.” With the addition of Shadow Works, a new research and development division, TUUCI further exhibits its emphasis in this area.
Uwharrie Chair Company’s ability to create customized looks coupled with its domestic production has resulted in hospitality contracts.
“Customization, along with our 30-year guarantee and the fact that our products are made in the USA are the biggest factors contributing to Uwharrie Chair Company’s success in the contract/designer sales area,” said Rebecca Price, manager, sales and marketing for Uhwarrie. The High Point, N.C.-based manufacturer is able to custom build dining tables or rockers to a facility’s size and design specifications.
For the hospitality/contract industry, the elements of customization of design are a reoccurring priority. “When making purchasing decisions, customization is vital and that includes making green options available,” Mercier said.
Trends in contract
Innovation in design, accommodation for all body styles as well as environmental considerations are trends being addressed in contract today.
“Comfort zones are key,” Akseizer said. “There must be furnishings and fixtures that can relate to all body types and styles. With the green movement moving fast, we also aim to show developers how green can be chic, how sustainable can still be the ultimate in luxury, and how going green will not sacrifice style.”
In his design business, Akseizer works closely with Janus et Cie. “Janus’ use of solvent and PVC-free resin rattan not only creates longevity in terms of maintenance for a piece at the property level, but also allows the same woven styles to stay alive in a green economy.”
Outdoor Lifestyle, casual furniture manufacturer and founding member of the Sustainable Furniture Council, reported an increase in requests from contract entities for sustainable products.
“Our company is committed to environmentally friendly manufacturing and packaging practices,” said Kathy Haney, vice president of Outdoor Lifestyle. “Green is important to hospitality. That is evident with the HD Boutique Show that is completely green products.”
Hospitality designers ultimately take their cues from the facility, the requirements of the environment surrounding the facility and the activities planned. “We no longer design only for the bathing suit set,” Akseizer said. “It is for living and enjoying the locale at the property.”
Oxford Garden’s furnishings often adorn open spaces of country clubs and institutions of higher learning. “There are many different kinds of contract customers and they all have their own special interests,” Meek said.
A prominent feature in contract design is the use of structures to create the true room outdoors. At the Crowne Plaza Hotels, this has become a focus.
“As an upscale hotel brand, we specify the new woven vinyl products that simulate rattan and encourage our hotels with large pool decks to install furnished Tent Cabanas,” said Gina LaBarre, vice president, Brand Management, Crowne Plaza Hotels and Resorts – the Americas, IHG. “The Tent Cabana is the first generation of the now popular hotel Outdoor Living Space and they can make a fine decorative and functional amenity for our larger pool installations.”
This design sentiment is reiterated by Mercier and Pierson for a 5,000-sq.-ft. event space planned to be located around the Thompson Hotel’s rooftop pool. “Prominent furnishing and services usually reserved for the indoor spaces further reinforce the idea of outdoor interiors,” Mercier said. “The pool cabanas are fully equipped as conference rooms.”
CedarStore a manufacturer of gazebos and outdoor structures in western Pennsylvania, has seen a surge in business from contractors looking for structure companies offering design and logistics capabilities including delivery and installation.
“Right now, cabanas and pavilions are popular as an added amenity for guests,” said Tim McTighe, owner of CedarStore. “We recently delivered and installed 60 gazebos to be used as massage rooms for a resort in Caneel Bay in the Virgin Islands.”
In the world of hospitality and contract design, no longer does outdoor decor end with chaise lounges lined up around a pool. Outdoor spaces are a center of attention, style, comfort and connection. When lush locales and state of the art facilities are the backdrop, casual entities have an opportunity to position their products and services as the topping on this very sweet retreat.