LAS VEGAS — While RLH Corporation's introduction of a new housekeeping robot made the biggest splash at the company's 2018 brand conference, held this week at the Mirage, that wasn't the only big news. The company also detailed a plan to improve and expand its recently acquired Knights Inn brand.
Knights Inn was founded in Columbus, Ohio, in 1974 by Cardinal Industries. The company has had a menagerie of owners over the years, beginning with its acquisition by Hospitality Management Systems in 1991 after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy just two years earlier. Knights Inn then was sold in 1995 to Cendant, which became Wyndham Worldwide in 2006, and most recently the chain was sold to Red Lion in April of 2018 for $27 million.
The brand's tenure at Wyndham helped nurture it into a organization with 340 hotels open in North America. However, despite its significant portfolio, Greg Mount, president and CEO of RLH Corporation, said Knights Inn was badly in need of a refresh. During the company's general session, Mount unveiled plans to reinvent the brand, beginning with a new logo unveiled during the conference.
"We see real potential in the future for this brand," Mount said. "With the new repositioned Knights Inn logo, we are taking a different step in a different direction."
When Mount talks about growth, he is not kidding around. He stepped into his role as president and CEO of RLH Corporation roughly five years ago, and at that time the company had roughly 55 hotels in eight U.S. states. Now RLH Corporation is approaching 1,500 hotels in 48 states and Canada, partly thanks to the addition of Knights Inn.
A new logo is only the beginning. RLHC’s goal was to take an established brand, update it and expand outward, and Amanda Marcello, SVP of brand strategy at RLH Corporation, said Knights Inn was the perfect target partly because it was in need of a facelift.
"It's been obvious the brand was in need of a refresh, and had been stuck where it was for a period of time beyond just its logo identity but what it means to consumers," she said. "There are value-seeking economy travelers segment and we are seeing more competition in that space all the time, so part of our focus is upgrading those offerings in a way that is feasible for those owners."
According to Mount, these improvements begin with the guestroom bed and room aesthetic. For example, he said cycling out Knights Inn’s existing linen for pure white bedding would improve its base aesthetic, which is something RLHC is proving to Knights Inn owners through doctored renderings ahead of time.
“We’re really happy with the response the owners are sharing with us,” Marcello said. “Many of these concepts or programs… some of these things they have tried to do themselves and now they are navigating it with support from us. With our buying power and some programs we really can give them a solution that some of them are already asking for or trying for on their own.”
Another component to Knights Inn's growth will be its eventual addition into the Hello Rewards loyalty program. In 2017, Hello Rewards grew 83 percent, and in 2018 RLHC anticipates it will increase a further 50 percent. If this pace is maintained, the program will reach 2.2 million members by the end of the year. This growth was achieved partly through the introduction of a new membership portal, as well as the new Hello Box currency, which will also be utilized by loyalty members visiting Knights Inn.
“Once we plug [Knights Inn] into Hello Rewards and all the other things on the digital side, [owners] are going to get a lot of attention, and of course that’s going to gradually improve everything that they are doing and the results they are seeing,” Marcello said.
As for how RLHC will be growing Knights Inn, Marcello said she anticipates much of it will be focused on conversions in the economy hotel space, fleshed out by a smaller number of new builds.
"I think it's early in the game," said Paul Sacco, chief development officer at RLH Corporation. "We've unveiled the new logo and the new direction of the brand, and what we've seen across the board is a lot of ignited interest. People are curious."