Prioritize story before the sale, My Place Hotels CEO says

Ryan Rivett, president and CEO of My Place Hotels.

All creators fear the sophomore curse. As the saying goes, you can spend your entire career writing your breakthrough album, and then someone asks you to create another one. Entrepreneur Ron Rivett created the enormously successful Super 8 brand in 1973, and in 2011 he followed it up with a new project: My Place Hotels. Now with Ryan Rivett, the company's former COO, stepping into the president and CEO role as of May of this year, one would be forgiven for thinking My Place is sandwiched between internal pressures to succeed under the shadow of Super 8 as well as external pressures from an increasingly competitive hospitality industry. But at this week's My Place Hotels brand conference in San Antonio, Ryan Rivett said this assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“We refer to the success of Super 8 daily, whether under franchise sales, distribution or any other parameter, but there is no pressure,” Rivett said. “If anything, Super 8 is a guide for us. I look at every benchmark we have and milestone we reach, and I consider how it can compare to Super 8 in what I use as prior reference.”

In speaking with attendees at the event, the confidence in My Place’s model and the Rivetts' historical standing in hospitality is a clear draw. Many attendees are currently in the process of building two or more My Place properties at a time without having any previous hotels under their belt. Ryan Rivett said that if there is any pressure, it is to prove to these developers that they are making the right move.

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“The confidence that developers gain in My Place quickly puts a large obligation on us,” Rivett said. “We have to maintain and perform to build on those standards that we lay out."

Looking back at My Place's first hotel opening in 2012 to where it is today, Rivett said he is confident the company is on the right track. Here are five takeaways from My Place’s journey from concept to today, and what Rivett and his team believe will be important to succeed in the days to come.

1. Culture Trumps All

One of hospitality’s prevailing clichés is the concept of “hiring the attitude, training for the position.” The hospitality spirit is important to look for when seeking out new employees, but that’s just one aspect of finding success in hotels. My Place Hotels is still small enough, with roughly 33 hotels open, that the company’s executive leadership can still afford to be present at nearly every hotel opening—and even groundbreakings—but even that is scratching the surface of what a successful “culture “ can be in hospitality.

“People talk a lot about the sharing economy and how it has an overwhelming presence in the world today, which shows how effective it is at touching travelers,” Rivet said. “We’re doing something similar within My Place. Because we are a new brand, a new concept in the industry, there is an element of teaching and learning at work within the company. The most successful people here are teaching others what My Place is, and the other most successful people here are in tune with learning.”

Rivett does his best to walk the walk when it comes to culture. His introduction at the beginning of My Place’s conference on Monday night was short, and came off as something more akin to a speech at a family gathering than one at a business convention. Even during his opening remarks he made it a point to bring up culture, and he said it is culture that is so attractive to franchisees.

“We want to make sure prospective franchisees are the ones making the decision when it comes time to work with us, and I don’t provide too much of my own opinion,” Rivett said. “I’m a property developer, so I can talk to them about my successes and failures but it’s not about what we say, it’s about what we do.”

My Place's executives make it a point to try to be on site for every groundbreaking and hotel opening.

2. Prioritize Story Before the Sale

After bringing up culture, Rivett’s opening remarks also touched on the investments My Place has made into technology over the past 16 months. The company launched an updated website with an improved layout, tweaked the franchise sales story and added a stronger mobile booking engine. My Place recently partnered with technology company Yext to monitor its listings across online website listings such as Google, Facebook, Yelp and more, with the goal of providing consistency in location information across more than 100 channels.

“Our prior platform was good, but we wanted to maintain the level of quality we had and were seeing throughout the industry,” Rivett said.

The company has been taking a second glance at social media platforms such as Facebook, and has noted a rise in bookings across these services. Rivett is amused by the level of interest the company has garnered onFacebook, but said the platform is not superseding direct booking efforts or attention being paid to other channels

“We refuse to emphasize one channel over any others, but one thing I’ve recognized as a result of our success on Facebook is that we also don’t want to overlook any of those channels,” Rivett said.

Ngoc Thach, director of public relations at My Place, helms the organization’s social media efforts and said that offering the ability to tell a story first is what is so compelling to guests about social media distribution. Hotels are natural storytellers, and Thatch said this is something that should be drawn upon.

“Consumers on Facebook are able to see more than what our amenities are,” she said. “They see face, people and interactions… I teach people to shake hands digitally with potential guests, and behaveing like a digital front desk can get that story across.”

3. OTAs Don't Have To Be A Crutch

For the initial two years following the launch of My Place, the company had zero interaction with any online travel agencies. Though Rivett said there was no clear timeline behind the company’s original decision not to work with OTAs and its eventual adoption of their services in 2014, the strategy was very much a deliberate one.  

“We wanted to manage distribution internally, simple as that,” he said. “It wasn’t because we couldn’t afford to work with [OTAs] or because we thought they were unnecessary, but as a small company we felt that we would have lost a direct link to the customer and that we felt was unaffordable.”

After two years of what Rivett describes as “solid operations” sans OTA support (during that period, My Place recorded roughly 70 percent occupancy, consistent with the rest of the industry), the company made the decision to launch OTA integration as a tool, but did not mandate or require its use by franchisees.

“Here is an area where OTAs can be a tool and can help us when we miss our targets for direct bookings, and I think that’s what hoteliers should be doing,” Rivett said. “I’ve encountered a lot of [operators] who don’t market their hotels outside of OTAs and other electronic distribution… [OTAs] were designed as a booking tool, and we want our franchisees to use them as such instead of sitting on them and then complaining they use them too much and they cost too much.”

My Place operated for its first two years without any OTA interaction.

4. Forget Chain Scales

The economy segment is a small and complicated grouping of hotels, where a $50 difference in rate can be what separates midscale economy and upscale economy properties. Because of the effect of small changes in an economy hotel's rate, amenities on offer or level of service can also affect the types of guests drawn to the property, meaning these details are amplified to extremes, and chain scales often lose their meaning.

“From our perspective and our history in the space, we are in a position to understand economy,” said Terry Kline, EVP of franchise development at My Place Hotels. “We’ve seen some upperscale competitive brands talk about producing a product that will be in the economy space. How successful they will be, time will tell, but these brands need to understand the fundamental elements needed to make that kind of product efficient.”

My Place hotels often sit securely in the midscale economy category, but these hotels don’t offer a complimentary breakfast and other amenities common at the midscale level. Rivett said hotels throughout the industry need to cease harping about where exactly they fall on the tier list of chain scales and instead focus on what they have to offer guests—and then they need to get the word out in a way that guests will understand and care about.

“As consumers we talk about brands we know, locations we like to visit, amenities we enjoy using and rates we are wiling to pay. We don’t talk about chain scales,” Rivett said. “My Place is relative to its economy roots, but is also the backbone of the newest form of economy hotel out there. What other economy brands are doing is difficult to define on an aggregate basis. There are some good ones and a lot of poor ones, and everything is shifting, the lines are blurring.”

5. Roadmaps are Unnecessary – Build by Opportunity

Rivett’s approach to franchise sales involves flying prospective My Place franchisees to the company’s headquarters in Aberdeen, S.D., getting to know them and their goals and setting targets for development. With that in mind, Rivett is interested in growing the chain in primary markets but is more interested in being where franchisees want to be, and that turns My Place development into a sort of mercenary, opportunistic operation.

“We are often asked if we are defined by being located in many secondary and tertiary markets, and the simple answer is no,” Rivett said. “We are looking to develop in more primary markets, but there is no shift there, either. We are a product that is flexible and led entirely by franchisees.”

That shrewd attitude has led to some interesting developments for My Place, which has fielded interest from developers wanting to build in Canada and South America but lacks a hotel in primary U.S. markets such as New York City or Chicago. Rivett is quick to point out that My Place is not effective in every market, and is unsure if it is even has applications in every country, but is not against coming up with a product that would be.

“When we find an opportunity to make a significant push outside the U.S., an additional arm of My Place will emerge,” Rivett said.