West Elm’s plan to enter the hotel business is the latest example of a retailer seeking revenue streams beyond the showroom. It also copies the practice of hoteliers that merchandise their own unique experiences. For retailers, any success may hinge on three requirements.
Checkout may be at noon, but thanks to the latest crossover between retail and hospitality, today’s memorable hotel experiences can live on in our homes for years.
Home furnishings chain West Elm’s recent announcement to enter the hospitality business, with five West Elm hotels, is the latest example of retailers and hotels crossing paths. While West Elm is using hotels as an avenue to extend its lifestyle brand, many hospitality chains have been using retail to introduce their experiences to the home.
I speak of products well beyond bathrobes and linens. Some hotels sell private-label food products and others offer original household decorative items. A few are exploring the toiletry business, apparently realizing how well Aveda and Bulgari fared with their “try before you buy” experience strategy.
However, for retailers the technique of literal product placement requires more than plopping a lounge chair in a lobby. Let’s look at what the hotels are doing right.
Pillows To Salad Dressings
Hospitality chains discovered the lucrative possibilities of retailing years ago, when soft economic conditions, along with heightened competition, pressured them to reduce room rates. Westin Hotels launched its Heavenly line of products, notably the Heavenly Bed, in 1999.
By retailing its comfortable sheets, robes and mattresses, Westin not only tapped into a new revenue stream, it reminded guests of their stay well after the fact. Its Heavenly line is available not only at Westin’s online store, but also at Nordstrom, Pottery Barn and Amazon.com.
More hotel chains launched their own in-house lines, and the catalog of products extended to include items that reflect a hotel’s brand experience. As described in a story in the New York Times, a high-end hotel might sell exclusive bath salts, while a hotel that supports healthy living could offer branded yoga mats.
Following are some notable examples:
• In Nevada, the Martin Hotel sells it original garlic oil and vinegar dressing, complete with a shaker of “prairie dust” on the side, for $5. But those who want to buy the 60-year-old recipe online may have to wait – at last check it was out of stock.
• The 21c Museum Hotels, known for contemporary art galleries and sleek modern décor, sell miniature ceramic versions of the chain’s mascot: a penguin ($38). One also can purchase framed photography by hotel founder Laura Lee Brown, at $350 a piece, among other items. The hotel operates gift shops as well as an online store.
• The aptly named Hilton to Home collection includes, among its bedding and robes, the Hilton LCD alarm clock, which maintains alarm settings during power outages ($54). Sheraton Hotels & Resorts also sells bedding and mattresses, as well as its Shine brand of hair and body products, on its online store.
• The Shop Marriott site includes the hotel’s exclusive Red Teardrop lamp ($245) and a device that will defuse its signature Attune scent in your home for $169.99 (includes scent). Marriott also offers its mattresses through Amazon.com.
• Westin’s Heavenly products, meanwhile, continue to sell regardless that its parent, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, is now owned is by Marriott (which also sells mattress toppers). As of 2012, Westin had sold more than 250,000 pillows and 100,000 Heavenly Bed mattresses, the New York Times reported. All are identical to the ones in its hotel rooms, a critical point.
Check-In At 3
West Elm’s hotel expansion, scheduled for late 2018, is a bid to build a lifestyle brand through experiences. But success will require understanding the mind frame of a hotel guest. Following are three requirements to succeed in the master suite (or king standard).
1: Check out all guests: Before even picking the curtains, a retailer should know who would be checking in. This means having sufficient data, such as that gathered through a loyalty program, to anticipate what its customers would want as guests. Likewise, it should gather enough information about its new hospitality guests to generate relevant experiences that will lure them to its stores. The Hilton’s HHonors program, for example, collects information that enables the chain to decipher the reasons guests visit its hotels, so it can personalize the details of their experiences.
2: Go double superior on experience: Hotels are generally intangible purchases. The guest arrives, experiences her stay, and then leaves. Westin figured out how to bring that experience full circle by marketing its mattresses. Those mattresses then sell the hotel – those who purchased a Heavenly Bed know that when they travel, the Westin bed will be just as comfy. Similarly, for retailers extending into the hospitality business, they have to create intangible experiences that leave lasting imprints, so guests are excited to shop the brands. This takes identifying the core elements that attract a retailer’s best customers (service, selection, mood), and building the hotel experience around them.
3: Make sure the experience is fitted: West Elm’s foray into hospitality makes sense in that the retailer specializes in creating aspirational environments, or lifestyles. Its customers want to surround themselves with its products. That being said, the hospitality business involves a lot of operations that differ from retailing, from valet parking to the lounge area. Not only must each of these services hit the mark; their delivery should be thoughtfully considered. The music played in the lounge should complement the total brand experience, for example. Is “Midnight at the Oasis” reflective of the company’s emotional mark?
What these three guidelines have in common is they tailor the “try before you buy” experience and make it a long-lasting memory. If retailers want to pursue the ultimate advertisement –physical product placement – they must be able to bounce a quarter off that experience.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com, where Bryan serves as a retail contributor. You can view the original story here.