Cobblestone Hotels grows, stays grounded as a company

MINNEAPOLIS—When Cobblestone Hotels held its first conference three years ago, you could almost count the number of attendees on two hands. It's a different story now for the company. With approximately 220 attendees this time around, Cobblestone held its conference at the Hyatt Regency here, briefing its owners and franchisees on the state of the company and asking for their input.

Brian Wogernese, president and CEO of Cobblestone Hotels, underscored the extraordinary growth of the midscale brand. Fifty hotels by 2015 is the goal for Cobblestone, he said. As of today, there are 39 hotels altogether in 13 states, split across the company's two brands: Cobblestone (its new-build brand) and Boarders Inn & Suites (its conversion brand). Thirteen hotels are currently under construction.

Some of the new inititiatives that will be implemented by Cobblestone include 32-inch flat-panel TVs, now required by December, triple sheeting in guestrooms and a new brand inspection program called LRA, which involves annual third-party inspections. 

As for new hotels coming into the system, Wogernese said Cobblestone oftentimes benefits from gaining hotels that couldn’t stay in other brand systems. "Some conversions don’t need a $600,000 PIP," he said.

Jessica Junker, Cobblestone's VP of sales and marketing, discussed customer feedback for both the Cobblestone and Boarders brands. In 2013, for Cobblestone, 13,573 surveys were sent out and 1,165 were returned. The overall score was 9.3 out of 10. For Boarders: 2,100 surveys sent out with a 10-percent response rate. The overall score was 8.3 out of 10.

Cobblestone is also now following other branded hotel companies by displaying customer comments and scores on its website—regardless if its great, mediocre or bad—the point is to be transparent.

In order to tap into more customers, Cobblestone is also partnering with Sojern, a data-driven audience platform that helps brands reach and engage travelers to drive conversions and loyalty. It can collect social media data, for instance, and advertise to people looking for certain things. For franchisees, conversions work better than OTAs: Sojern's commission is 15 percent, about 10 percent less than traditional OTA takes.

In a beta test with Sojern, using 15 hotels in March, $6,000 in reservations was booked. "We would like to make it a brand standard," Junker said. "We are constantly thinking of ideas to bring franchisees money without costing them money."

In addition to all the brand announcements, Cobblestone said it will look to put a franchise advisory committee together by next conference.