Sleeping Tight

Hotel executives have made their beds — literally in some cases — and now they're hoping consumers are willing to sleep in them.

The bedding wars began in 1999 when Starwood launched Westin's Heavenly Bed. The war raged for the past decade at the upper end of the spectrum, but the battleground is now with select-service and economy brands, where the need to be cost-effective is a larger part of the equation.

A 2006 survey showed that 69 percent of all hotels upgraded their bedding in the year prior. The challenge for economy brands is to do it in a way that won't hurt the bottom line.

“We have to figure out ways to do it affordably,” Red Roof Inn CEO Joe Wheeling says. “We need to do things as well as the upscale or midscale brands, but we've got to figure out a way to do it properly. That requires some real innovation to thinking through the real issues. It's easy to throw out money, but it is a much different task when you have to do it on a budget.”

Before Red Roof Inn implemented its new bedding program, executives had a bed-making contest in a conference room. Randy Fox, a regional vice president of operations for Red Roof Inn, said it was fun, but the lessons to be learned were the challenges the housekeeping staff would face.

Some brands have kept the traditional bedding with double sheeting and a bedspread. Others have upgraded with improved mattresses, linens and duvets. More have done a little of both, trying to find a happy, and cost-effective, medium — for not only guests, but franchises, too.

“It has to meet consumer needs, meet hotel operational needs — to turn a room, to launder a room — it all becomes integral,” Vice President of Hampton Brand Marketing Judy Christa-Cathey says. “And it all has to be an economically viable solution for franchises.”

There's no way around the fact enhanced bedding costs more. Operationally, the price can be even higher. Changing out mattresses requires physical effort, not to mention the price tag. Learning a new way to make a bed with triple sheeting and a duvet cover takes training and potentially longer hours or more staff for housekeeping. Additional linens and comforters require extended time or larger equipment for laundering.

STICKING WITH TRADITION

Americas Best Value Inn CEO Roger Bloss points to a recent Los Angeles Times article that said heavier mattresses and more work for housekeepers were reasons a hotel was cited for violating workplace safety regulations.

The complications can be endless. And it all has to eventually add up to increased revenue opportunities for the company and the franchise.

Americas Best Value Inn put upgraded bedding to the membership last year and the topic was voted down overwhelmingly, by 94 percent. The standard is still the traditional double sheeting and bedspread.

“The reason being,” Bloss says, “is if you look at statistics and look at who we are in our segment, the dollars and cents don't equate to a financially feasible initiative.”

As a membership organization, owners have the opportunity to upgrade their bedding on their own.

Serby Zivka, who owns an ABVI in Vista, CA, did just that. She's trying to replace the traditional look with triple sheeting and a blanket. She started phasing out bedspreads one room at a time last year and says the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“If my bedding is not comfortable and the customer doesn't feel those sheets are crispy clean, he's not going to be rested and he's not going to be happy and that will affect if he'll stay one more night or if he'll be back,” she says.

Motel 6 and Super 8, like ABVI, have stuck with more traditional bedding. Super 8 still uses double sheeting and a bedspread, but recently upgraded its linen, pillow and mattress standards and will soon change its look with a bedspread that is turned down, leaving the pillows exposed to create a cleaner, more inviting look. Motel 6 is also sticking with the basics, but with premium mattresses thanks to the purchasing power that comes with 150,000 beds nationwide, says President and Chief Operating Officer Jim Amorosia.

“Our belief is the economy guest is not looking for a bed you'd find at a much higher segment brand,” Super 8 President John Valetta says.

For those three brands, the decision — for now, at least — has been cost and value over major bedding upgrades. All three admit they continue to keep an eye on the competition and will continue to look into further bedding initiatives.

“We're happy with the comfort level with the price level we have,” Amorosia says. “In terms of soft goods, we have not had significant negative comments, but at the same time, it's something we're looking at for the future.”

MAKING A NEW BED

Other brands have taken a different approach.

Hampton Inn was one of the first select-service brands to upgrade, when in 2004 it began introducing the Cloud Nine bedding.

Hampton started the process in 2002 with extensive surveys, research and testing. The Cloud Nine includes thicker comforters, high-quality sheets, new mattresses and more pillows on top of a raised bed.

By early 2006, the Make It Hampton rollout was complete. Christa-Cathey said it's been a huge success, with a four-point increase in customer satisfaction. Customers even asked where they could buy the bedding and Hampton made the Cloud Nine available for purchase online.

Baymont Inn & Suites wasn't far behind with similar upgrades. The select-service brand is in the midst of an initiative that includes upgraded mattresses, higher-quality linens, triple sheeting, a comforter instead of a blanket, and a bed scarf and skirt.

“This is a very competitive segment,” Baymont Brand Senior Vice President Patrick Breen says. “Consumers are smarter, they have the opportunity to shop online between brand websites and online travel agencies.”

Country Inn & Suites is also in the process of major upgrades. Carlson's select-service brand has already rolled out upgraded linens, pillows and mattresses and is now adding the duvets and bed skirts. Like with Baymont, competition and guest expectations were the main reasons for the changes.

“Customer expectations grow and change all the time,” says Jim Grimshaw, vice president, guest experience and brand standards at Carlson Hotels Worldwide. “Something that's new that would differentiate a brand becomes a basic expectation for all guests. It's important to be competitive and viable to keep guests coming back.”

Red Roof Inn is finishing up a renovation that includes an innovative — and cost-effective — solution instead of triple sheeting. With a 33-percent longer top sheet, Red Roof is giving guests a similar benefit to triple sheeting with just two sheets.

Using a turndown presentation, the longer top sheet folds over a new, softer blanket, meaning a guest can avoid touching anything but the sheets. A bedspread is still available at the bottom of the bed.

“When you walk in you know you have a clean, comfortable bed waiting for you,” Wheeling says.

Avoiding a third sheet was a significant saving in cost, but it added different challenges. The longer sheet meant housekeepers needed to use a different folding technique and the turndown presentation placed a higher premium on avoiding wrinkles.

Red Roof had extensive training for its housekeepers and Fox says after the initial startup, there was no additional time needed to make the bed. Laundering costs were slightly higher because of the longer sheet, but nothing significant.

“We really went with some targeted focus areas we felt could make the biggest bang for the buck,” Wheeling says. “In 2006, we scored the highest in bed comfort in the economy segment. We have seen some significant RevPAR premiums with our renovated properties.”

Showing that potential financial boost can be critical to selling an upgrade to a franchise owner. Change is never easy, especially such a costly one.

Renovations and bedding upgrades often help drive business, and in turn, revenue.

“Guests are willing to pay as long as they see actual change occurring and the value benefits of it,” Grimshaw says. “That's how we help working with franchises. We show how they translate that guest satisfaction into an increased rate and advantage over their competitors. Our hotels really understand the upside and return of investment of having a desirable product.”

Numerous studies have shown consumers are choosing hotels based on clean and comfortable beds. But price is always the driving factor with economy shoppers.

Measuring how much a good night's sleep is worth has been the challenge for select-service and economy brands. Everyone's had a different answer to the wakeup call that came nearly 10 years ago.

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