By Larry Mogelonsky, MBA, P. Eng. (www.hotelmogel.com)
With the kids gone, it was time to follow the footsteps of many other boomers and downsize to a condominium. What started as a mere paint job, however, morphed into a $150-per-square-foot renovation of the entire apartment comprising appliances, lighting, flooring, soft goods, mirrors, kitchen and plumbing fixtures. What we ended up having on our hands was a genuine case of ‘scope creep’ – something not uncommon in any property refurbishment.
Hotel renovations are a necessary dread of our industry in order to keep apace with the constantly changing décor trends, star rating requirements, technological advancements and guest expectations – this last point being especially important in this current era of disruption. They are also highly stressful and extremely frustrating. Having gone through dozens of this large-scale projects over the past four decades, here’s a general guideline of these twelve handy tips to keep in mind for your property.
1. Define your objectives. Be as specific as possible, and make sure that these are written and approved by your ownership group. My mistake this time around was that my vision was very different than that of my spouse which resulted in serious cost overruns and time delays.
2. Timetables are split in thirds. Whatever you are proposing, figure one third of your time will be spent planning, another third in the actual work and the final third in quality control. Do not underestimate any one of these segments.
3. Budgets never last for more than the time they were created. There are more ways for costs to overrun than you can count. I thought our planning was generous but we ended up about 25% over budget, and that includes several areas of great cost savings. It’s natural to use a renovation to augment deep cleaning, upholstery renewal, upgraded security systems, LED conversions and any other new technologies. It all adds up!
4. What’s behind the walls? Our condo is only 15 years old, so there were no crazy surprises like what you would find in a century building. Nevertheless, we discovered significant shortfalls in wiring, plumbing and HVAC that all needed to be corrected before we could begin. Of course, these resulted in more cost increases and time delays, but the lesson here is to thoroughly inspect the state of affairs ‘under the hood’ before finalizing the scope and budget.
5. Hire a great general contractor. Simply put, you have a hotel to run, not a construction site. Don’t even think of doing both simultaneously. You need someone who will manage the project on your behalf. The GC became my single point of contact for the project, helping streamline communication and saving me time. He collected all my notes and disseminated them to the multitude of tradesmen onsite. He also fed back issues and prevented potential solutions.
6. Let everyone know your deadline. In a residential move, this is straightforward; the closing date of your home’s sale dictates the project’s drop-dead completion date. While this gave us six months of overlap, the GC understood the final month was set aside for moving. With no secrets, the work was accomplished in the set timeframe. As a senior manager, you put decide what the maximum tolerable length of agony is that your property can endure before irreparable damage is done to its occupancy and reputation.
7. You cannot walk away. In order to keep everything on track, I visited the jobsite at least twice a week, in addition to a weekly GC meeting. Apart from the obvious status reports, there were always new items and unexpected issues. The devil is in the details, and you won’t discover those details unless you are periodically on the ground with the troops. To note one example, we did not specify the location of the thermostat. Without any direction, the HVAC folks placed it in what they thought was the optimal position, which did not take into consideration the high headboard which would have covered it. Good thing I was there to catch this before it was too late.
8. Document all change orders. We kept a running tally sheet of over-change that we requested. While this did not lead to any real cost savings, at least we understood the detailed reasons for the overages. This approach will come in very handy when ownership needs to understand your budget predicament or to reconcile excesses.
9. Create a positive work environment. I’m fussy about coffee. So too is my Italian, Portuguese, Lebanese and Turkish workforce. I knew that if I did not provide great coffee, one junior team member would be tasked on a continual Starbucks run. A hundred-dollar Nespresso machine plus lots of capsules turned out to be a wise investment. (As additional learning, the decaf capsules were never touched.)
10. What ifs are expensive. Want to move a door, reposition a switch or add a dimmer? Most GCs will never say no. Just about anything can be built or modified; it is merely a matter of time and materials. So, be careful as to what you ask for, as your whimsical idea may be converted into reality but at a price too hefty to properly bear.
11. Take lots of before photos. Try to image the best angles and where you stood so that you can replicate them exactly with the new look. The before-and-after comparisons may help you explain your cost overruns to your owners.
12. Say thank you to your team. I didn’t hire painters, carpenters, electricians, plumbers or HVAC specialists. I hired craftsmen who take great pride in their work. It’s probably a small job to them, but clearly very important to me. Such professionals will feel similar pride in their work done to refurbish your hotel. No matter what the project is or the size of your property, it costs nothing to say thank you in person or by email, and it will always be appreciated.
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Editor’s note: To discuss business challenges or speaking engagements please contact Larry directly.