Curbside Enthusiasm

An attractive exterior is perhaps the best advertisement for limited-service roadside properties. A well-lit, nicely landscaped and fresh, inviting exterior serves as a beacon for weary road warriors and leisure travelers.

LH talked with brand leaders and design and architecture experts for their advice on key areas of curb appeal including landscaping, lighting and exterior building design. Mike Bruce, senior director and corporate architect, design and development, Cendant's Hotel Group; Roger Bloss, CEO, Americas Best Value Inn by Vantage; and Murry Cathlina, vice president of design and construction, La Quinta Inns, offer valuable comments and tips to putting your property's best face forward. Read on.

THE FIRST IMPRESSION

Bloss: I think curb appeal in our market segment is the number-one factor in a property's success and failure because so many customers in limited service don't make reservations. We want that first impression to be a buying decision, not a ‘maybe’ decision. The first impression helps set the price point — what you're willing to pay for a room. We see good curb appeal as a positive factor in improving our average daily rate.

Also, a lot of operators don't think of curb appeal when considering the Internet. On the Internet good photos sell the property. It's a major factor in the buying decision and we have a huge initiative here to help members enhance their profiles through good photography. We also have our own in-house design department for websites.

You can really upgrade the image of your property for a relatively small amount of money. For example, we have a property in Las Vegas. It was 30 years old and didn't convey ‘come buy this product.’ We put up back-lit awnings and now the building is bright, light and has a fresh new look. New signage, lighting and awnings were had for just $25,000.

We have standards we portray, but don't dictate. We'd rather educate than dictate. It's about options. If your market or geographic area isn't conducive to certain landscaping or other design features, then we offer alternatives.

BRAND IDENTIFIERS

Bloss: Many companies put design features into their exteriors to identify the brand. We do it with the check mark logo that signifies a seal of approval. It has to be clear and memorable. Driving down the highway at 70 miles an hour, we hope people will see that bright blue check mark and think, ‘that's the brand I know.’ We want that instant recognition. Keep signage simple and uncluttered. Keep it updated; if you're old hat you can lose market share. We changed our checkmark — the tail is shorter; we tweak little things like that for the maximum exposure of our logo.

Bruce: The common element (among a hotel company's different brands) is that most of the brands want a nice clean look on the exterior. Some want a consistent design feature applied somewhere on the building to give recognition to the brand, whether it be on the porte cochere or the roofline, plus landscaping and lighting.

LIGHTING

Bloss: Lighting is important, not only from an aesthetic point of view, but a security point of view.

However, we have to be flexible with members. For example, we had a new Jacksonville property located at the end of a line of hotels off an exit. One of our standards was not what the operator wanted — the competition had neon signage and he wanted neon, too, so we worked with him to present our image in neon.

Bruce: There are seven key areas of lighting: signage, parking lot, building façade, roofline, accent lighting and landscape lighting. For the parking area, I like the metal halide light; it's a more true- color light. And with today's technology, you can change out the head of your existing pole with a new light head that uses less wattage and gives out more light.

If you're new to a system and spending a lot of money on a conversion with façade work, why not see it 24 hours a day? Put uplights on the building and have it lit 24/7.

Many jurisdictions don't allow much signage on buildings. To catch the eye off the freeway or road, light the rooftop and above the treelines.

LANDSCAPING

Cathlina: The landscaping around the building is key for curb appeal. Even in a new property it's important to buy mature landscape. If you try and go the economy route and buy smaller containers, the landscape will be less visible the first couple of years.

We prefer they (operators) buy something indigenous to the area so that it has a better survival rate. Mature plants have a better survival rate, too, so even though they may cost a bit more the replacement percentages will be lower. Irrigation is also important. If you're going to spend the money on landscaping, it makes sense to irrigate it and keep it alive.

Landscape planters and seasonal color make a property feel more residential. Annuals are a good source of a splash of color, beyond what you get with some small shrubs. We provide prototypical plans, without calling out a particular species. Look for more seasonal color. We think it's important and it's pretty economical for the benefit you get from it.

Bruce: Landscaping softens the building's edges, enhances the parking lot, increases privacy, blocks the sun, wind and noise and improves the look of the building. The entry is important and the side entrances. Make a three- to five-year plan, with time to grow and fill in. (To save money), consider reusing plants you already have; take cuttings and replant them in another area. Get more bang for your buck with bushes and shrubs because they grow to a good height and width. Trees can be expensive going in.

Pay attention to putting landscaping on street frontage, front areas and driveways and building perimeters. We have a landscaping concepts manual with various idea to match a building's style. Plan with visual continuity for the neighborhood and region.

Also, use plantings as a screening tool, for screening areas like the dumpster, mechanical equipment, electrical transformers and backflow prevention valves.

THE BUILDING

Cathlina: As for the presence of the building itself, we prefer three stories; it's more visible, and a bit more upscale- looking if it's a taller building.

Bruce: For older properties or conversions, we add a branded design feature. For example, we use some columns to break up the wall surface, and fresh paint or simulated stucco which is an IEFS (insulated exterior finish system, a synthetic product made of styrofoam with several layers of synthetic overcoat.) New buildings are made with it; it's a nice, easy way to get features and shadow lines and it can be sanded and shaped, plus it comes in many colors.

There's also the siding — most brands require something a bit more durable than aluminum siding. There are products made with cement and fiber cementous product, which achieves the overlap siding look but is more durable than metal siding.

Using the same IEFS system or metal roofing system, we can enhance the roofline; build up a parapet — a vertical feature that sits above the roofline and adds depth lines and improves the look of many of these older buildings that have a concrete slab roof. Also, using a metal roof system with a standing seam, you can get a mansard roof line which adds height to the roofline for a more modern, upscale look.

We have a software autocad program which lets us draw up a line drawing of an existing building and apply our brand design features to that rendering for potential franchisees.

OTHER DETAILS

Bloss: Clean entry mats and clear, directional signage are important. No handwritten or homemade signs.

Cathlina: Note the use of decorative paving in the porte cochere entrance area. It provides that initial sense of arrival — another part of that curb appeal. Keep the entryways neat and clean. We don't allow newspaper machines up front.

Bruce: Once a month, it's a good idea to have an employee (and not just the GM or maintenance employee) walk around your property with a clipboard to make observations and come up with some new ideas. It's a pair of fresh eyes.

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