|By Jennifer Alsever, The Denver Post|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 23, 2004 - Ever wish you could sleep as if you were on vacation? For $4,000, you can buy a hotel bed.
High-end hotels, coming off three years of record-low occupancies, have turned guest rooms into virtual retail showrooms, offering for sale nearly everything in the room.
"It's catchy, it's new, it's different," said Robert Mandelbaum, an Atlanta director at PKF Consulting, a hospitality research firm. "But I don't think most people think, 'Oh, wow, let's go buy hotel furniture.'"
Still, high-end hotel chains say sales of pricey furniture and amenities provide an additional revenue stream that has seen them through hard economic times -- and has perhaps helped prevent theft.
The Westin Tabor Center hotel in downtown Denver now slips brochures in guest rooms touting $130 dual shower heads, $2,990 king-size down feather beds and $165 bed trays like those used in rooms.
By comparison, a standard shower head from Home Depot costs about $15 to $20. A king-size bed from Sears with Pottery Barn sheets and a comforter can together cost less than $900. A breakfast tray from Target costs $10.
The Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs sells $42 bone-shaped dog dishes and $142 pet beds with the Broadmoor logo -- the same kind provided to guests who bring along their furry friends. Guests can even buy the dinner plates used in room service for $22 or the coffee cup set for $16.
The Ritz Carlton Hotel in Beaver Creek touts imported sheets, duvet covers, feather pillows and king-size beds. Some guests have laid out $4,000 for the complete package, said Vivian Deuschl, a vice president of the 57-hotel Ritz chain.
"We sell hundreds of thousands of dollars" worth of bedding, she said, not to mention end tables and armoires seen in rooms.
"It's like bringing a souvenir to a new level," Deuschl said.
When occupancy rates dipped in 2000, Ritz executives began scouring properties looking for a supply of items customers might see and want to buy, especially those that were handcrafted or imported.
"Now we're trying to figure out what is the next thing we can do," Deuschl said. "One of the messages is anything that is in your guest room, we will try to get it for you." Restaurants, too, are getting into the retail game with merchandise that has moved beyond the traditional logo baseball caps and beer mugs.
Tamayo restaurant in downtown Denver plans to hawk handcrafted water pitchers seen on dinner tables for $400 and silver-plated creamer and sugar bowls for $100.
The Flagstaff House restaurant in Boulder offers customers some 60 items on its website -- from $38 champagne flutes to $32 platters seen on dining tables. (The eatery also ships food orders such as roasted lamb loin packed in ice.)
The Flagstaff House started its retail website after more patrons asked to take home items from the table, said Scott Monette, Flagstaff's co-owner.
He also admits that offering items for sale is a polite way to get around the problem of sticky-fingered guests. For years, restaurants have lost money as customers lift everything from toilet-paper holders to salt-and-pepper shakers.
Eateries have been known to nail down wall decorations or put sharp edges on the bottoms of bud vases to deter thieves.
"They're trying to turn the loss of an asset into a profit center," said Pete Meersman, president of the Colorado Restaurant Association.
Hotels first ventured into retail room sales by leaving notes on hangers offering the robes and towels for sale to discourage people from swiping them.
Selling room amenities at The Broadmoor generates an extra $500,000 a year, said Rhonda Kenny, the hotel director of retail sales. "It really does help our business."
Such sales so far tend to be isolated to pricier hotels and only make up a tiny piece -- 1 percent to 2 percent -- of overall revenues at each resort, said Mandelbaum, the hospitality researcher.
But when guests buy the items, it can be a powerful marketing tool, he said. They will be reminded of the hotel when using a hotel shower head or eating off a restaurant's plate.
But do people really want at home what they see at a hotel? Ask Dani Stern, Westin Tabor Center manager, and you will hear an emphatic "yes."
"I personally have had a guest come up to me, and they said, 'Whatever I can buy in the room, I want. I want the pillow; I like what the coffee is on; I want the tray. I want the robe. I want the slippers. I want the shower rods, the hooks, everything,'" Stern said.
Money is not an issue for many guests, added Deuschl of the Ritz.
At least one Westin guest interviewed by The Denver Post, however, wasn't so keen on buying items from a hotel room.
"Why would I?" said Norma Gyle, Connecticut's commissioner of public health who stayed at the Westin in downtown Denver recently. "Let's be honest ... If I wanted something like that, I would pay a lot lower prices in retail stores."
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