Cobblestone Hotels sets lofty goals for 2015 at conference

Brian Wogernese (left) speaks with Republican Senator Ron Johnson (right).MILWAUKEE—Brian Wogernese is setting the bar high. The president of Cobblestone Hotels began the chain's 2015 brand conference yesterday announcing that last year Cobblestone surpassed its goal of having 50 hotels in the planning stages by the new year, and is pushing for even more by the end of 2015.

How many more? Try double. That's right: Wogernese wants 100 total Cobblestone hotels open or under construction by the beginning of 2016, and he is certain it's going to happen.

"We set the goal of '50 by 15' years ago, and it wasn't a stretch of imagination," Wogernese said. "I think it's realistic, and I'll sit here in 2017 with the same conversation, saying we met the goal and setting new ones."

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The conference was hosted at the historic Phister Hotel here, and was attended by representatives, owners, investors and managers of Cobblestone's current set of 55 hotels. Cobblestone is specifically seeking out sites for new-build properties, but is also open to potential conversions as the brand expands into the eastern part of the U.S.

Brand Moves
In going over changes that have taken root in the brand over the past year, Jessica Junker, VP of sales and marketing for Cobblestone, focused on inspections for properties throughout 2014. Guest experience surveys for Cobblestone reached 9.06 out of a possible 10 last year, suffering only in the hotel breakfast category (8.26). Last year, the brand completed installing flat-panel TVs to all of its guestrooms and has a bedding update due for June of 2015.

Josie Kilgore, VP of brand services and procurement for Cobblestone, spoke on a push by the brand to reduce the margin Expedia is taking off of every booking made to the hotel. This year, Cobblestone is working to drop its margins off Expedia bookings, depending on whether or not a hotel is willing to sign up for a direct debit with the OTA. OTAs brought Cobblestone over $1.5 million in business during 2014.

There were also a series of advancements for the brand on the technology front. Cobblestone signed a partnership last year with SkyTouch Technology to use their property management technology. "We decided to change to SkyTouch after looking at them for three years," Kilgore said. "The program is web-based, easier to use and offers better training for the front desk."

Cobblestone launched its own app for Apple and Android devices, which has been downloaded in four different countries, and also revealed upgrades to its back-end portal, C-Street, which displays information on a hotel and its operations. It will be viewable by investors, creating what Junker described as an "open-door policy" for those interested in working with Cobblestone.

The conference closed with a Q&A session between attendees, Wogernese and his team. The session touched on topics from the forward-looking—where are the investors and is Cobblestone looking into Canada?—to the small, but important—can I move my hotel's mailbox? They all were answered.

Toward the end, one attendee asked Wogernese how long events with Cobblestone will remain as personal as this when the brand hits 100, and someday 1,000 hotels.

"All I can say is, we want to keep it as personal as long as we can," Wogernese said.