True Success Stories
Charlestowne Brands Its Independent Hotels By Tapping Into Unique Elements
Monday, November 18, 2019
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While many owners acknowledge the power of a brand for their hotel assets, Charlestowne Hotels continues to prove that branding can be present on a number of levels even with traditional independent or so called ‘unbranded’ hotels.
Having steadily carved its niche within the boutique and lifestyle space in recent years, the Charleston, SC-based management company--which was founded in 1980--has continued to expand its independent portfolio. The company has added more than a dozen hotels this year, seven of which are under development, and now operates 44 properties.
Michael Cady, vp, marketing, Charlestowne Hotels, talked about the company’s unique approach to both developing and operating independent hotels.
“A lot of people can tell you who they are and what they are, but very few can tell why they are what they are. What we try and discover in our branding process is the why. The who’s and what’s that’s all table stakes, we do all that in our sleep. It’s the real hoteliers who can figure out the why and that ultimately is the question we ask ourselves almost every day,” he said.
In fact, Cady further noted that telling the story of a particular hotel is the first decision the company makes even prior to beginning the development process. “It all stems from words that we write down on paper in a very methodical way. Our branding drives every decision and we do this for every hotel that we build from the ground up,” he said.
Cady, meanwhile, refuted the notion that development of a hotel could potentially take longer based on the company’s methodical approach and instead touted its efficiency.
“We actually see it saving a tremendous amount of time, because once we build this then there’s a road map to follow and we aren’t going back and forth. It becomes less subjective and more objective. Instead of someone’s opinion, we say ‘well what does the brand book say?’ We’ve gotten so good at it. We’ve done over 50 of these in the last three years so we have a process down and it covers everything from what’s the programming and experiential side to a very analytical assessment of our audiences,” he said.
Cady acknowledged the increased competition that now exists, particularly as some of the large brand companies introduce their own boutique or lifestyle brands to the market, but stressed that when it comes to what the company refers to as “experiential hotels” Charlestowne has a number of points of differentiation.
“It’s getting a little more complicated, because some of the bigger brands are trying to replicate that authenticity of an independent hotel. It’s who can do it better. We like to think we’re pretty adaptable and agile. Every hotel has a different method to us; there’s no one SOP. That’s our advantage over Hilton and those [bigger] hotel companies, we treat each hotel differently from A to Z,” he said.
One such example of that is the importance of bringing in local elements to a hotel, which Cady said is always a primary consideration for the company, particularly since its properties are often located in secondary and tertiary markets.
“No independent hotel works if you’re not locally infused. We build our hotels, especially the restaurants and food & beverage, for locals and then the guests can use them too. We always build our brand and our product focused on what the local needs are. We aren’t going to build a coffee shop if there are eight coffee shops there. Everything is researched from a local perspective and then we try and fill that gap,” he said.
Cady highlighted two relatively recent additions to the Charlestowne portfolio, both of which strongly reflect their local environments as adaptive reuse projects and have garnered positive industry feedback.
The company opened the 65-room Bristol Hotel in Bristol, VA, last fall. The property--which was a historic preservation of Bristol’s 1925 Executive Plaza building—is located on the border of Tennessee near the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Bristol Motor Speedway.
Cady referred to the property as a “landmark of the town.” The hotel has received numerous awards from publications such as Conde Nast, USA Today, and U.S. News and World Reports. “Who would’ve thought a tertiary city in the middle of Tennessee would get those kind of awards,” he noted.
In addition, Charlestowne opened The Foundry Hotel in Asheville, NC, last November. The property-- which is part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, the company’s soft brand offering--was created from the original factory which housed much of the steel that was used to construct well known local buildings, such as the Biltmore.
Cady noted the company specialized in these types of adaptive reuse projects.
“There’s always a history so our goal was to take the history and drive it. The Foundry couldn’t be more unique and it’s been quite successful in Asheville,” he said.
Meanwhile, last month Charlestowne added The Atlantic Hotel & Spa to its portfolio. The Fort Lauderdale Beach, FL, luxury property features 109 guestrooms and is a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts.
Finally, Cady acknowledged that while there may be a portion of guests that may seek out properties managed by Charlestowne Hotels, the company remains intentionally focused on branding its hotels first and foremost.
“We never brand ourselves, we’re a business-to-business brand and we will always stay that way. What that does is it gives an owner the opportunity to own their own brand. We manage it, we make it happen but the brand or hotel is the star. We want each hotel to own their own brand and we think that’s super important when you’re speaking about independent boutique hotels and lifestyle hotels,” he concluded.