|By Dan Voorhis, The Wichita Eagle,
Kan.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sep. 22, 2007 --The people behind Wichita's LodgeWorks hotel company are remaking the company, yet again. The company is launching a new chain of upscale boutique hotels and upgrading its old Sierra Suites.
It's the latest innovation for the tight-knit group, which began two decades ago as Summerfield Suites and has remade the company several times since then.
The company employs 60 people at its headquarters, 8100 E. 22nd St. North. Its hotels are spread across the country, but none are in Wichita.
The headquarters staff has grown by 16 people as the company has expanded its construction, accounting and purchasing staff.
The most dramatic innovation is the company's new Avia boutique hotels.
These are small, expensive, high-style hotels in Napa and Long Beach, Calif., Savannah, Ga., and north Houston.
These are no cookie-cutter hotels. The company -- and its designers and architects -- tried to create a sense of localness, but with a consistency of execution.
"They're personality-driven, each one local," said LodgeWorks president Tony Isaac.
The company came up with the boutique concept after it acquired the real estate. They figured the land was in such good locations that they needed to do something different.
"We really backed into the answer," said Cheryl Doll, vice president of marketing. "We said if we are going to be in this business, we needed to know everything about who is boutique, what is boutique."
And it doesn't come cheap. The rooms will likely run in the range of $300 to $500 per night.
The second piece of the new strategy is refreshing the existing Sierra Suites with what Doll calls "moments of luxury." It owns eight Sierra Suites hotels and plans to open four in 2008 and four more in 2009. The new name will be Hotel Sierra.
Some of those touches include: flat-screen televisions, iPod docking stations, outdoor fire pits, premium wine and beer at the evening social hour, an upscale coffee bar and cooked-to-order omelets at the breakfast.
"It's a little more personal," Isaac said.
The design changes the feel of the rooms, said Roger Brown, senior vice president, director of design for Wichita architecture firm Law Kingdon, which worked on the redesign.
"The old look was homey, like an apartment," Brown said. "This has a fresh, more contemporary look, very natural."
Jeff Krehbiel Associates of Wichita is designing three of the Avia hotels.
Going upscale has big benefits, said Jonathan Barsky, chairman of Market Metrix, a San Francisco hotel consultant.
Upscale hotels have developed strong customer loyalty because of their service. And service is what differentiates hotels in customers' minds
"Yeah, you might have a nicer bed, but it's how your people act that they remember," Barsky said.
A long history
It has been a long journey for the 10 or so senior executives at LodgeWorks.
Isaac came to Wichita in 1985 to work at extended-stay hotel chain Residence Inn.
He and the other LodgeWorks executives worked together under Residence Inn, then Summerfield Suites, which it sold to Wyndham International in 1998.
They formed LodgeWorks after Wyndham got into financial trouble, and they bought back some of the original Summerfield hotels.
In 2005, they sold 16 of their mid-price Sierra Suites and began moving toward the upscale market. That move has sharply accelerated with the launch of Hotel Sierra and Avia.
Through it all the team has hung on.
"It's that experience that has really fueled our recent growth activity," Doll said. "We've got a pretty senior team around the table."
Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com].
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