Greg Mount started his new job as president and CEO of Red Lion Hotels on Jan. 27, which also happened to be the first day of the ALIS conference. He succeeded Jim Evans, who had served as interim president and CEO since August 2013, and had lead the company through its sale of non-strategic assets. Lodging spoke with him a few hours into his first official day at the helm of Red Lion.
Why did you make the move to Red Lion?
The company has a great history behind it and there’s a lot of potential for this brand to grow. When you look at some of the initiatives that Red Lion has already put in place, you can see the company is going to gain some great momentum. My hope is to accentuate that and increase the velocity. I will continue to look at our own real estate and make the best decisions on behalf of the shareholders. I’ll also continue to look at our cap ex opportunities—we spent about $12 million last year and are carrying over about $4 million into this year to make sure we’re meeting our guests’ expectations. And there’s definitely an opportunity to grow. All the churn in the marketplace creates opportunities for good brands like us.
What is Red Lion’s current balance between owned and franchised properties?
We own 25 properties and franchise 30 others. While we will be growing our franchise business, we’re also going to continue being opportunistic on the owned side—I think there’s going to be good deals out there that we can participate in, either on a JV basis or providing some level of equity. We’ll continue to look for those opportunities. We’ll continue to focus in the West on major MSAs and gateway opportunities, but if the right deal comes along east of the Mississippi we’ll definitely take a look at it.
Do you see any need to differentiate Red Lion’s product line some more?
I think we really need to solidify what we have. The team has done a good job of identifying some opportunities so we’re going to want to focus on creating an opinion about the brands we have—helping people understand what we’re about and the value we’re creating for our customers. This is more important than just creating another brand. That’s kind of an easy solution for hotel companies, but I’m not sure that it’s the right solution for us at this time.
Given your background, what do you bring to your new position at Red Lion?
I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have worked both on the independent side with Interstate and Sage, then heading up Richfield, and spending a number of years with Starwood and Marriott. I was fortunate during my time at Starwood to be there during the development of W, Westin, and Aloft. I got to really understand the process Starwood went through. Back then it was this concept of wanting the hotel to be more aspirational and similar to the lifestyles of our customers instead of being just a commodity.
Is there any experience in particular that you’re looking to leverage?
Sure, one of the things we owned at Richfield Hospitality was a company called Sceptre Hospitality Resources, and it was an e-commerce, CRS, CRM, and website solution. So I’ll be leveraging the experience of creating Sceptre as well because the way that customers are booking hotels will continue to change, and we need to be on the cutting edge of this change. Companies like Priceline and Expedia are creating their own loyalty programs and the technology exists right now to see exactly how people are booking their rooms and what channels they’re using in each particular market. We need to better understand how we can dynamically influence those purchases. Up to this point the industry has been more focused on looking at the historical Star data. Now it’s more about our ability to market electronically and to price dynamically.