In a world impacted by shipping delays, reduced production, social distancing and other factors that influence manufacturing, construction and renovations, experience is key to getting a project completed. And that's what Q&A Hospitality Services, a furniture, fixtures and equipment procurement and design firm, has to offer.
Significantly, Emille Aboona, the company’s co-founder and managing director of purchasing, and Ken Qualtier, Q&A’s other co-founder and the firm’s managing director of design, both started out in the hotel side, overseeing design, purchasing and project management at companies like Hyatt Hotels Corp., Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Sun Development & Management Corp. and Nationwide Hotel Supply. The experience gives them an edge when dealing with hospitality clients, Aboona explained, because the partners understand the “urgency and distress” that is inherent in all development projects. “We definitely have the understanding and the knowledge of the wants and needs of the client on the other side of the table because we were in those shoes at some point in our careers, too,” he said. That means when a client brings a project to the team, “they can trust us and hand us the ball and we can just run with it.”
The partners had known each other from shared projects over those years, and decided to “take the plunge” and form their own company in 2014. “It was time to take a leap of faith and trust each other and then get this thing going,” Aboona said. “Our main objective was just to get one or two projects under our belt, just so we can get going. And that's exactly what happened.” The partners called their friends and connections within the industry and explained what their new company would do. They secured a few small projects to start off with, overseeing partial renovations and replacement pieces at Microtel and La Quinta properties.
In 2015, the company partnered with a general contractor to work on an Embassy Suites in Schaumburg, Ill., for Indianapolis-based real estate investment trust Hotel Capital. “Eventually, the owner chose to deal with us directly,” Aboona recalled. Working with the interior designer’s concept, the Q&A team oversaw the design, procurement and installation for the guestroom and public FF&E architecture for the project, saving the REIT about $400,000 by focusing on value—“just making smaller selections here and there.”
That project led to bigger assignments, and the company is now an approved partner for Red Lion (now part of Sonesta International Hotels Corp.), Radisson and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.
Finding the Sweet Spot
While Q&A handles a range of services, its “sweet spot” is procurement, Aboona said. Still, the company’s ability to meet a range of needs comes in handy. “Clients have more options now than ever,” he explained. “They can go and purchase things on their own, they can go to China, they can go wherever they want—but once you create that rapport, they will trust you to become their one-stop shop.” Many hospitality companies have, over the years, demolished their internal infrastructure, he explained. “You no longer have companies that have, say, a purchasing division and what have you. So this is where a company like us can be the help that they need.”
When the pandemic struck, the company still had several projects that remained in development, which helped keep the team busy. As winter turned to spring, Aboona saw a shift, with projects that had been on hold coming back online. “We were just working on two brand new constructions as we speak right now, and there's more in the pipeline for this year into next year,” he said. “So we are very, very bullish about where we are and what's ahead for us.”
At only 7 years old, the company of eight is still evolving and adjusting to different needs. “We roll up our sleeves, we're in the trenches from all aspects,” Aboona said. “That's something that you cannot put a price tag on, and over the years that has really served us well.” When problems happen—and they will, Aboona emphasized—what matters is how the team can fix those problems and rebound. “And that's the ultimate compliment—that we can persevere, and we can overcome obstacles that come along the way.”
Logic in Logistics
Q&A holds weekly internal meetings for a number of aspects related to each project, going over everything from budgets to tracking shipments—“everything to make sure that things don't fall through the cracks,” Aboona said. “And as things ramp up, we'll look at the business level. We'll look at our delivery and deliverables timeline, turnaround time—all those things. So it's a moving target, but it's one that we manage on a daily basis so we can stay ahead of the game.”
To determine what each project will require, the company also holds a kickoff meeting with the owner, architect and general contractor of each hotel they work on. “Then we create a timeline and work backwards from opening to where we are today, and that's how you determine the timeline.”
Clicking with Clients
The pandemic made it difficult for the Q&A team to visit clients, but they were still able to get business done. “Over the years, we've created such a personal relationship with these clients that we don't necessarily need to talk about business to stay in touch,” Aboona said. During the shutdown, team members reached out to their contacts at different companies to make sure they were doing all right. “Up until a couple months ago, any time you reached out to any client, first thing [to say was] ‘Hope you hope you and your family are well.’” And if things were bad, he added, it was imperative to offer support “in any which way you can [and] make it as personal as possible.”
The most important part, he said, was to make sure all people involved in the process knew that the Q&A team was there to help. “This is the time when we all need to come together,” he said.