Cornerstone Hospitality Enters Management Business

Craddock Terry Hotel in Lynchburg Virginia

In April, industry veteran Kimberly Christner and former competitor Craig Larson opened Cornerstone Hospitality, a management company focused on select-service brands and lifestyle hotels, as well as boutique, small resort and historic properties.

Cornerstone is starting with a portfolio of 10 hotels, which includes the Hilton, Marriott, IHG and Choice brands. They currently have several contracts in negotiation for additional branded hotels as well as development agreements, which include a new lifestyle property and several historic hotel projects.

Lodging Hospitality recently caught up with Christner to talk about progress to date for the Williamsburg, VA, firm.

How’d you start in the hotel business?
I just kind of happened into the hotel business and fell in love with it. I started as a front office manager in my early 20s and worked my way up to CEO of Beck Company. Robert Beck has been such a great mentor. He’s allowed us to continue managing his hotels.

Kimberly Christner

What do you like best about the business?
One of the things I enjoy most is trying to create memories for guests.

Create memories?
Through service. In my former job, we had a panel of line-level employees who would meet with me quarterly and come up with ideas they could implement at their properties with regard for service. For example, one of our properties had long-term guests. They had an idea to create a movie theater within the facility. The staff came up with an idea of how we could do that in one of our unused spaces. It became a huge hit for the property.
At another property, staff scraped car windows on snowy days. At a hotel located on a military base we had a hostess known as “mama” by the soldiers. She took care of the guests to make them happy and at home. She’s won a number of awards in the city.

How do you make these things happen?
By getting the right people. We are pretty strategic in our hiring. We use a battery of tests to determine who will be a good fit. That has been a lifesaver in situations where we might have made a decision on instinct. We’ll do the testing and make sure we get the right personality, ethics and integrity.

Do you own the hotels you manage?
We’d like to have a dual role, with some equity. We have some properties under development that we have an ownership interest in. Other hotels we’re hoping to manage.

What markets will you work in?
We want to focus from the middle of the country to the east, from Indiana to the east.

How big do you want to grow?
We’re not looking to have 100 hotels. We want to be small and work with owners who want an active, involved management group. We’re looking at 25 for the lifetime of our business. That’s the only way we can personally be in the property. We want a good quality of life for us and for our people.
We’re going to keep it small and tight and make sure we get in and touch those properties on a weekly basis, not just on a telephone call, but actually going to physically see it.

How will you touch each hotel on a weekly basis?
Right now we have the capacity to do that because we only have 12 properties. We’ll add people to our team so we are able to do that as we grow.
Beyond that, every month we put a focus on something, like housekeeping. We go in to see how they’re serving the property and what we can do better. It’s our belief that, if all the organs work properly all the other parts of the body will function properly.

How do you keep them working properly?
Each property came up with its own incentive program that what would make their teams perform better, feel better about coming to work.
Take the housekeepers, at one property, for example. They’re usually the least paid and get the least recognition for their efforts. So a peer group created incentive programs for them. We found out what they enjoyed and would make them feel good about themselves.
If the hotel people are happy at the baseline, they’ll take care of the guests and the property … it’s when they’re not taken care of that the property suffers.

Why the name Cornerstone?
Faith is the “cornerstone” of our business, that’s why we’re named that. We are pretty ‘out there’ with our faith. We don’t push faith. We’re not out there praying with people everyday. But, we leave it out there. We gently encourage our people to practice whatever their faith is. If everyone followed the Golden Rule, the world would be a much better place.
Ten percent of everything we take in goes directly out to Christian associations, the Wounded Warrior Project, Ronald McDonald House and missionaries overseas. We committed to do that to give back, not just to the people who work for us, but for people in the world.

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