archivelogo
 Do Not Disturb

michael WHEN DID HOTELIERS
BECOME A NATION OF SHOPKEEPERS?


BY MICHAEL MATTHEWS

April 7, 2005 -- In a fit of pique, Napoleon Bonaparte once called the English "a nation of shopkeepers." Sadly, that maxim can now be applied to hoteliers.

Wherever you stay now it seems that everything in the hotel is for sale. You can buy the mattresses, the sheets and the towels. The desk and bedside lights are for sale. And at the St. Regis Monarch Beach in Southern California, even the guest chairs, china and stemware are on offer.

This stuff rarely has price tags attached, of course, but there's usually a little note asking you to contact management if there is something you would like to buy. Some chains even provide catalogs, similar to Pottery Barn, listing items in their hotels for sale along with prices and shipping details.

At W and Westin hotels, it's a "highly profitable business," according to Mark Ricci of Starwood Hotels, which is also the parent company of St. Regis. Mattresses are the top sellers. Westin sold more than 3,500 last year and more than 7,000 since the chain started hawking them two years ago. Makes you wonder whether Starwood conceived Westin's so-called Heavenly Bed for their guest's comfort or to sell.

And you'll love this: Holiday Inn Express is now selling showerheads. The chain worked with Kohler to create the so-called Stay Smart showerhead and has built a television advertising campaign around it. The mid-priced chain says it sold 300 showerheads the first month they put them on sale. You can buy the showerhead ($75) and the hotel's shower curtains ($40) on the Web, too.

And some hotel companies have gone into the cosmetics business. The esteemed Mandarin Oriental group has produced its own line of soaps, shampoos, body lotions and massage goo, all available at exorbitant prices. Maybe it's to stop people, like me, from stealing the soap.

Of course, hotels have always sold a little more than just room and board. There's always been a "gift" shop selling overpriced toothpaste, cigarettes, condoms and outrageously priced T-shirts emblazoned with the hotel or resort's name.

Logo apparel is something that I have always thought hotels should pay you to wear. After all, every time you wear it, you are advertising the hotel. Personally, I think a guy playing polo on your shirt is enough. Do people really care that you've spent a fortune staying at a resort and are stupid enough to buy a logo T-shirt that would have cost you half the price at your local department store?

In Las Vegas and other gambling centers, hotels now have entire shopping malls and they command some of the highest rental prices. Higher rents, in fact, than on Madison Avenue on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Why? Because the malls are profitable, probably because you can only spend so much time at the tables and it is so bloody hot outside that all that's left to do is shop.

The Vegas shopping phenomenon is being taken to new heights by Steve Wynn's new resort, the Wynn Las Vegas, which opens later this month. There is going to be a Ferrari and Maseratti dealership off the lobby. Give me a break! If I want a car I will go to a dealership, not a hotel.

Why am I obsessing about shopping? Because I am consulting on the renovation of two great resorts and we have hired a "consultant" whose specialty is designing "gift" shops and other hotel retail outlets. This person "consults" right down to what should go into the shops.

I admit that shops are revenue generators and profit centers, but surely a hotelier's job is to run hotels and ensure that a guest's expectations are exceeded. If a general manager spends 50 percent of his or her time checking on retail outlets and sending forms to head office on retail sales rather than attending to what they were hired to run, it is you, the guest, who will suffer in the long run. Running stores is not a hotelier's business.

Or look at it another way: Imagine if Macy's turned their top two floors into bedrooms. What if Neiman Marcus tried it? How good a hotelier would a department-store general manager make? And do you think he could do a good job running the store if he spent half his time fretting about guestrooms?

I wish Mandarin luck with its high-priced toiletries. I wish Steve Wynn well with his car dealership. But, for me, I prefer hotels that restrict their retail forays to the little store off the lobby where I can get my condoms and toothpaste. I don't want rows of shops where my bride can twist my arm into buying her something that she really doesn't need. And I don't want the complete bedroom suite and a place setting for 12 added to my bill when I check out.

So, hoteliers, let's stick with what we do best--and it ain't selling toiletries or beds. It's looking after our guest's needs. After all, no matter what the shopping consultant says, guests do not come to stay with you so they can go shopping or buy your furniture.

Next time that you are in the "gift" shop in your hotel buying something for the Missus, tell them "Michael sent me!" And, remember, Napoleon eventually met his Waterloo at the hands of the nation of shopkeepers.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

Copyright 1993-2005 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.