OVERLAND PARK, KS—When RHW Management, based here, was founded 35 years ago, founders Richard Wiens, president/CEO, and his cousin Lew, had a backup plan if the Residence Inn didn’t succeed.
“[They] considered themselves pioneers of a new extended-stay concept, thinking that if it failed, it could be a mini-apartment complex,” said Chandler Thayer, COO of the company.
But that backup plan wasn’t necessary. “They found it to be well received by guests, so they began building them in other markets,” she said. “At one point, we had one on each coast and even operated the first international Residence Inn in Baja, Mexico, just South of Tijuana. Eventually, we wised up to economies of scale by having our hotels closer together. We sold off our earlier projects and diversified into other brands.”
The company now specializes in franchised brands from Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton and IHG. “We experience a huge sense of pride with each one we open,” Thayer said. “They are never easy. Our largest projects would be the obvious standouts: a dual Residence Inn/SpringHill Suites in Glendale, AZ, a dual Courtyard/Residence Inn in Omaha, NE, and the Hyatt Place and Conference Center in Lenexa, KS.”
Naturally, the industry has changed a lot since 1983. “Back then, computers were in their infancy and what we had was DOS-based and dial-up,” said Thayer. “All reservations were made via telephone either through a 1-800 number or directly to the hotel. There was less of everything—fewer hotels, fewer developers, fewer brands. And there were fewer companies, so there was less demand. The cadence of change was slower back then. We still had to evolve, but today, it seems we do it at lightning speed, and whatever we implement today will already be obsolete within a couple of years—if not sooner.”
Thayer herself started with the company in 1987 in its apprenticeship program, giving her an appreciation for all roles in the company. “I will confess that it took me two hours to clean my first room to Marriott’s expectation,” she said. “I was not given any guidance, just told to prepare the room. I have the utmost respect and appreciation for our team members who today are able to clean that room in under 30 minutes. They are incredible and our success depends on them.”
She continued, “And our assistant GMs work tirelessly. Imagine working all day only to have the night auditor call in sick and the only person available to cover is you. And our GMs are buried trying to maintain RevPAR, market share, maximize profitability, keep up with the ever-changing brand initiatives and HR regulations and staffing shortages, while still trying to provide the best possible service for our guests. In short, I empathize with every one of our team members, appreciate them, and do my best to never take them for granted.”
Thayer views the shortage in labor as a major challenge facing the hospitality industry, and the company works hard to attract and retain the best talent. “We have an in-house talent acquisitions department trying to create a pipeline of staff for our hotels,” she said. “Aside from that, we treat them well, pay at market or above, and reward our team for referrals.”
Other challenges she identified are the commissions and fees from OTAs and the brands. “They are drowning us. We used to forecast an 18-plus% cash-on-cash return for each new project. Now we are lucky if we get to 10%,” she said.
But the company is excited about its future. While, at press time, it was too early for any specifics, Thayer noted, “We have a couple of developments in the works.” HB