Five-Star Extended Stay

There’s always been a thin line separating traditional lodging and extended stay. AKA, a four-year-old company with 100 years of history, has added a new dimension: five-star extended-stay residences. While the hospitality unit of Philadelphia-based apartment developers Korman Communities has eight properties, it’s focusing on Manhattan to cement its reputation and fuel growth.

The concept is proving to be recession-resistant, as the brand posted a 30-percent hike in revenues in January over the previous year. Buoyed by this success, management is looking to expand both the roster of properties and the services and facilities it offers its customers.

“One of the reasons we’re up this year is because we’ve become a value alternative for people who want the cachet and spaciousness of accommodations at a Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons but not the over-the-top opulence or price tags of those brands,” says Larry Korman, AKA partner. “Rate-wise, we’re half what those hotels charge, but we provide a lifestyle alternative for somebody staying longer than a week and who wants a full kitchen and living room as well as a bedroom. We give guests what they need but in a way that doesn’t have the perceived opulence or exorbitant price tag.”

Like many extended-stay products, AKA attracts a diverse clientele, albeit an upscale one. In addition to corporate executives and “tweeners”—people between marriages, jobs or homes—the brand has a strong following among Hollywood and political celebrities and film and TV production companies.

“A lot of the marketing is word of mouth, particularly among the movie and TV production companies,” says Korman. “One of our customers told us when she goes to a boutique hotel there is an instant wow factor. But when she stays at one of our properties the wow factor grows each week as it becomes more and more like her home.”

Korman believes three primary elements contribute to the chain’s success. First is location. AKA’s New York properties are near Central Park, Times Square, Sutton Place and the United Nations. “Whereas most corporate apartments in Manhattan are in peripheral locations,” he says, “ours are in the same locations where you’ll find four- and five-star hotels.”

Another plus is the level of furnishings and fixtures. The AKA units are all in fairly new condominium buildings and have high-end appliances, granite and marble countertops and fixtures and hardwood floors. A final advantage, believes Korman, is in the amenities and services AKA offers. One unique program is AKA Live It, a series of lifestyle programs guests can participate in over the length of the their stays. Programming options include photography, ballroom dancing, culinary arts, circus training, language classes and more.

Korman explains: “Say you live in Oklahoma, but must be in New York for three months. Rather than sit in your suite and mope for that time, we give you the opportunity to do things in-depth that you’ve always wanted to do. We tailor the program to what interests the guest and we do all the legwork.

“For instance, we offer a photography course in which the guest goes twice a week to one of the best schools in the city, and at the end of the course, he or she spends a half-day in the studio of one of the top photographers in the world.”

Like all extended-stay products, AKA is geared for long-term stays. Several of its properties are in buildings zoned for stays of a month or longer. At others, minimum stays are five days, while a few offer daily rates. At its Central Park location, however, about half of the 134 suites are studios that AKA only rents on a daily basis. “These units are about 500 square feet each,” says Korman, “so we only rent them to transients because we don’t want to violate the integrity of the brand standards.”

To hear Korman tell it, his father may have been the inventor of extended stay, or corporate housing, as the segment was known for decades (and still is by some operators and users, especially outside the U.S.). The company was founded in 1909 as a home builder and later a developer of multi-family housing. In 1956, it built a circular apartment building in center-city Philadelphia, but when it had trouble renting the pie-shaped units, Korman’s father came up with the idea of renting them to people who needed accommodations between a hotel and an apartment.

“He evolved the concept out of what really was a mistake,” says Korman. “We get credit for inventing the furnished apartment, and since then we’ve been trying to take it to the next level.”

After many years perfecting the model in Philadelphia and suburban New Jersey, the family decided to brand the product as AKA (“A Korman Accommodation” or as some guests say, “AKA, My Home”) and enter the New York market. It also has properties in Philadelphia; Arlington, VA; Washington, DC; and White Plains, NY.

Growth plans call for adding eight to 10 more properties in New York and one or two each in London, Los Angeles and San Francisco. And more immediately, the company is added AKA Cafes and fitness centers and spas at its existing properties. The first café opens next month in the Central Park AKA.

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