By Steve Lapekas, Chief Operations Officer and EVP, Business Development for APS (Above Property Services)
Our world runs on bold ideas – but bringing new ideas, especially those which aim to break the molds we’ve grown most accustomed to, is a feat that requires a great deal of heart. That is, perhaps, the best way to explain the evolution of The Shepherd Hotel – a one-of-a-kind luxury hotel located in downtown Clemson, which started as a big idea with an even bigger heart. Founded by Rich Davies, a third-generation real estate developer, and Rick Hayduk, a seasoned luxury hotel leader, the Shepherd Hotel not only fills a gap in the Clemson community by offering a home-away-from-home to visiting sports fans, Clemson University students, and their parents, it also exists to change the lives of an under-engaged portion of the population.
The Shepherd Hotel was inspired by Hayduk’s daughter, Jamison, who has Down syndrome. In an effort to positively impact the lives of people like Jamison, the hotel has partnered with the ClemsonLIFE program to provide hospitality training and gainful employment to students and alumni. Under this partnership, approximately 40% of the Shepherd Hotel team (between the hotel and restaurant operations) is represented by individuals with intellectual disabilities. With a clear and heartfelt mission, The Shepherd Hotel is far more than a luxury hotel; it’s an opportunity for a better life for a critical segment of the community that has been historically overlooked and underappreciated.
Since its grand opening in September, The Shepherd Hotel has been met with an incredible reception by the Clemson community. Moreover, the property represents a groundbreaking case study of the potential impact of cutting-edge, user-friendly hospitality technology. With the help of APS’s (Above Property Services) Hotel-In-A-Box solution®, The Shepherd Hotel has been able to streamline key operational tasks, such as guest check-in, to support the user experience and professional development of The Shepherd Hotel team.
We sat down with Stephanie Moya, the former Front Office Manager of Boca Raton Resort & Club, advisor for The Shepherd Hotel, and an integral part of the team tasked with bringing Hayduk’s vision to life. Moya shared with us a detailed snapshot of the partnership between Above Property Services and The Shepherd Hotel, which has paved the road for an incredible hotel opening and, more importantly, a bright and impactful future for the hotel within the Clemson community.
“The grand opening was such a beautiful night. After so many years of hard work and anticipation, it was so special to finally see the idea come to life, and it felt like the entire Clemson community showed up to support The Shepherd Hotel,” shared Moya. “We had such a great turnout, along with a wonderful line-up of speakers. Many local attendees arrived without knowing the story behind The Shepherd Hotel, so we had the opportunity to tell them about our amazing team run largely by adults with special needs and disabilities and see their heartwarming reactions.”
“The best part, if you ask me, was getting to hear stories from guests and attendees who have a family member with special needs and how they wished for a workplace where they would not feel like the minority,” Moya added. “We also had family members of our team join us, as well as educators from the ClemsonLIFE program at Clemson University, which was very special. As an added bonus, the catering for the grand opening was provided by our in-house restaurant, and our bar opened the same night, so it really felt like a ‘Grand’ opening indeed!”
The Role of Technology in The Shepherd Hotel Ecosystem
“Being a 67-room boutique hotel, technology plays an undeniably integral role in helping the team at The Shepherd Hotel provide their authentic hospitality to each guest,” explains Moya. “Before the guest arrives, the housekeeping team can quickly communicate with each other and the front desk regarding which rooms are booked and which rooms need to be attended to before guest arrival. This information is seamlessly relayed through the Hotel-In-A-Box system, which minimizes walkie-talkie chatter and reduces the likelihood of miscommunications in front of guests. Simply put, having all the departments use the same system allows for a cohesive service that would otherwise be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.”
“To simplify guest reception, the front desk team can text the guests the day before arrival to welcome them and ask for their ETA and car make/model. This allows the valet team to see which guests are arriving when and in what vehicle so that they are prepared to greet the arriving guest with their warmest hospitality. Once the guest arrives in the porte-cochere, the valet team can inform the front desk to begin the check-in process, providing a seamless transition for the guest.”
“During the guests’ stay, being able to use that same phone number to text the hotel for anything they need is a quick and convenient way to communicate with the front desk. In particular, having the ability to forward a text message directly into a housekeeping or maintenance work order ticket was a feature I was most impressed by,” shares Moya. “This way, the front desk can forward the request to the appropriate team quickly and smoothly, and the respective team can then see in the guests’ own words what the issue is.”
The APS Advantage
“Compared to other hospitality solutions I’ve used in the past, Hotel-In-A-Box is an exceptionally easy-to-use, intuitive, all-in-one system. In my previous hotel role, we relied on a complicated, legacy system to manage the front desk and housekeeping duties, but it required so much training,” Moya admits. “Alongside that platform, we had separate systems for maintenance requests and work orders, for texting guests, etc., and, suffice it to say, this resulted in convoluted workflows, steep learning curves, and, inevitably, mistakes. The more mistakes made, the more time and resources we lost working to remedy those mistakes.”
“It also meant that if someone didn’t know how to do something within any one of the applications, they had to request the expertise/assistance of someone who was properly trained to help them,” shares Moya. “Often, this was the front desk team, which should have instead been focused on prioritizing the guest experience.”
A Seamless Implementation
“So far, the implementation of APS technology has warranted nothing but positive reviews across the board.” When asked to detail the best piece of feedback she has heard thus far in the engagement, Moya shared the following:
“When we first began training for the front desk receptionists, we prepared for the first day to be a high-level overview of the system. After explaining the basics of APS, we allowed the team to play around with it to get comfortable on their own using the ‘Stage’ version, which was awesome to have. After about an hour, we found the team making reservations and checking them in all on their own! Without any prompting from us, they were able to intuitively figure out how APS works and how to perform different tasks. Many team members noted that the system looks very similar to the phone apps they are accustomed to using today, so people from all backgrounds find it familiar and user-friendly. The consistency in performing the sequence of tasks for each section is also integral to its easy adoption. We had team members of all ages, of all abilities, using APS – all within a couple of short weeks of training!”
“I have no doubt that APS technology will continue to support the mission of the Shepherd Hotel in many ways,” exclaims Moya. “First, and probably most importantly, by being a system that is straightforward and quick to learn. The way the buttons are color-coded consistently, and the ease and intuitiveness of performing the steps for the various tasks, are uniquely helpful features and capabilities for our team.”
“Since Hotel-In-A-Box® is an all-in-one platform, The Shepherd Hotel team is empowered to achieve cohesiveness across departments and their services. Having everything cloud-based also allows the leadership team to spend less time printing out reports and more time focusing their attention where it matters most: on the guests!”
“Rick’s vision for this hotel is one that is first of its kind, and as we all know, when we begin a new venture, we continue to learn and adjust even after it has started, ” says Moya. “Having the ability to reach out to the APS team directly to edit and customize the system as we grow and evolve keeps us flexible during our training and ultimately provides the hotel with a system that is truly inclusive to all members of the team, regardless of ability or disability.”