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New Technology Reunites Forgotten Items With Guests

NEW YORK—By profession, Brian Colodny is an accountant. But the CPA has an affinity for startups and has applied his skill set to several in his field of expertise, and a few outside of it.

One “outsider” enterprise is Chargerback, a Web-based automated end-to-end solution for hoteliers that lifts the burden of wrangling lost and found items and helps staff reunite them with their rightful owners.

Colodny, who serves as the company’s president/CFO, co-founded it with Michael “Mac” McLaughlin, now chief technical officer of Chargerback, after his own experience of trying to retrieve a lost cell phone charger from a major brand hotel in Southern California after he arrived home.

“The folks at the front desk literally laughed at me, saying. ‘Well, if you want to drive back down here and go through our box of phone chargers, then you can see if you can find yours.’ That wasn’t very pleasing to me, so I had to go out and buy a new charger,” said Colodny.

Three months later, the CPA was reading an article about how many items are lost in hotels on an annual basis (Colodny’s data maintains its 46 million items in U.S. hotels) when he had an “aha” moment, and the wheels began turning. He called McLaughlin, who has expertise in computer coding, logistics and shipping, told him to read the article and, the next day, Chargerback was hatched.  

That was August 2010 and, by the following May, the entrepreneurs were in beta test. “But it was nothing like we have now. It was very rudimentary and didn’t have any bells and whistles,” said Colodny. Still, the product was impressive enough to Hotel Director Jean Patay and General Manager Glenn Carano at the Silver Legacy Resort Casino in Reno, NV, that the hotel helped develop Chargerback and became an early adopter, launching it on its website. “They were very helpful to us,” Colodny recalled.

Fast forward a few years and Chargerback now has a home with hotel partners that include Caesars Entertainment and the JW Marriott in Las Vegas, Hard Rock Hotel at Lake Tahoe, the Sheraton in Atlanta and the Hilton San Diego Resort and Spa. It also has IBC Hotels as a marketing partner and is a recommended lost-and-found provider for the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA).

“We view the hotels as being partners of ours, not customers, because we’re in it together to make the guest have a better experience,” said Colodny. “And, partners are more apt to give you suggestions about how to improve something or make changes; customers are demanding.”

So, how does someone retrieve a lost snake, prosthetic leg or $30,000 in cash left in the guestroom underneath a plant (some of the items reported as lost, according to Chargerback)?

“We are a cloud-based product, and we provide a small piece of [computer]code to the hotel to put a lost-and-found link on their website, preferably on the front page so it’s easier for the guest to find. The guest can still call the hotel to report the item, but most hotels now will direct the guest to go to the website to file their lost report…and Millennials expect to find something on the website…that’s what they’re used to,” said Colodny.

He stressed guests cannot view the gamut of inventory that has been found at a participating hotel. “The guests cannot ‘go shopping’ to see if their items are on the list,” said Colodny. However, guests may upload a photo of their lost item to the hotel.

Chargerback provides a full, back-end system for the recording and management of lost and found, including a suite of management reports to gage productivity of hotel staff, which Colodny sees as particularly helpful for large resorts.  

The system matches what’s reported lost with found reports, and also allows the hotel to search for matches. When a match is made, the hotel via a clickthrough can select the packaging required to ship the item.

“We have a great partnership with the United States Postal Service. It provides all the shipping supplies for free. So, the hotel no longer has to weigh or zone. We took that whole aspect of lost and found out of the picture,” said Colodny, who noted FedEx or UPS could be used for international mailing or oversize items.

The hotel emails or texts the guest to let he or she know the item has been found. Colodny said, “We don’t take the human element out of the picture, particularly with high-value items. There are just certain things in the hospitality industry that, no matter what a product is, you still have to have a human make a decision that this Rolex watch ‘for real’ belongs to this guest? Did this guest really stay here?”

The solution is provided to the hotels at no cost, and a $2 rebate is provided for every item that is shipped back to a guest. Most items fit in the USPS’ priority flat-rate boxes or envelopes.

“When guests pay for an item to be shipped back, the hotels are notified by the system automatically that a payment’s been received. All they have to do is open up Chargerback; it directs them to the one that’s been paid for, they click the button and it prints out a pre-paid shipping label. How we make our money is the difference between what the guest pays for shipping and handling and the cost of the postage we pay for, minus the $2 fee we pay to the hotel for its shipping and handling, and we make a little bit on each shipment between that differential. We’re a transaction-based business,” said Colodny, noting the company makes about $3 per transaction.

The executive indicated huge returns for the business was never the driver.

“When we started the company—and we still hold true to it today—Mac and I said we want to provide a great service. We want to do something that’s going to help the guest. We want the hotel to have positive experience with guests, because, quite frankly, and from personal experience, if they’ve left something behind at a hotel and they don’t have a good experience getting it back, the whole experience of the hotel is going to go down the drain.”

Stefani C. O’Connor

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