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Extended-stay Hotel Pioneer Jack DeBoer Succeeded by
 Listening to Customers, Not Experts

By Wayne Risher, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 19, 2010 - --Extended-stay hotel pioneer Jack DeBoer said he once sought Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson's advice, but he didn't necessarily follow it.

DeBoer told an industry group Wednesday that he explained the concept behind Residence Inn to entrepreneurial legend Wilson in a meeting more than three decades ago.

"He said to me, 'Young man, it won't work,' " and cited research showing most traveling businessmen wanted a bar in their hotel, DeBoer said.

DeBoer also credited Wilson with indirectly hatching the idea of complimentary breakfast by sharing that Holiday Inn restaurants weren't big money-makers.

"I figured out it was cheaper to give food away than sell it."

DeBoer related the anecdote during a keynote speech at the eighth Southern Lodging Summit at Memphis Cook Convention Center.

About 200 hotel executives gathered to hear economic and travel forecasts and industry trends, like the rising importance of social media and e-commerce.

The event was organized by the Metropolitan Memphis Hotel & Lodging Association and hotel consultants Pinkowski & Co.

DeBoer said he succeeded by listening to customers and taking advice from unlikely sources, like an 18-year-old intern who coined the description "extended stay."

The results are obvious, four hotel chains and hundreds of properties later.

"He created a brand, and not only did he create a brand, he created a market segment," said Craig Mance, a senior vice president in franchise development at Hilton Worldwide.

DeBoer also became a big-time philanthropist, working with World Vision to improve the lives of children in Myanmar.

"I love the fact that he's done all of this business work and is an icon in the industry," said Mance, "but to think of all the humanitarian work he's done..."

DeBoer said touring the Third World made him appreciate America's blessings and his duty to give back. "The transition from success to significance for others is the most satisfying thing I have ever done," he said.

DeBoer was a financially ruined apartment builder when he built a hotel simply called the Residence in Wichita in 1975. He went on to develop 100 before selling to Marriott. Next came Summerfield Suites (Hyatt) and Candlewood Suites (InterContinental Hotels Group) before his current interest, Value Place -- a budget chain. It opened 100 hotels between 2003 and 2008 and has more than 600 franchise commitments.

"They have done better every single year since this recession started," he said.

He chastised the industry for over-building and blaming lackluster profits on the recession.

"You guys built 900,000 new rooms, from 4 million to 4.9 million since 2000, and you thought (the recession) flattened the industry."

There was a time anyone could make money in hotels, but the immediate future looks tough, he said. "If you're not really good, in the next few years, you're going to get your head handed to you."

--Wayne Risher: 529-2874


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