4. BALANCE LOCAL FLAVOR WITH DEPENDABLE TOUCHPOINTS
Creative financing is one aspect, but the company really hangs its proverbial magic hat on transforming buildings into Kimptons. “We’re looking for properties that are fun locations and interesting places to stay,” DeFrino says. “Sometimes that’s an older, inner-city building, or it could be at the beach. But we start from scratch with every one. They all get designed and developed individually. We have a design and construction team that ensures the design is unique and local, especially on the restaurant side.”
All properties have the same foundational branded elements that are key to the Kimpton experience, including the same beds, sheets, and pillows; a mini bar in every room; electrical plugs on the tables; a functional working desk; proper spacing between beds and nightstands; yoga mats in every closet and yoga classes; a complimentary wellness channel; free use of bikes to borrow and prowl around town; plus funky bathrobes designed to echo local sensibilities. “In Philadelphia, the robes are inspired by Rocky Balboa,” DeFrino says.
The restaurants and bars are operated separately from the hotels and are chef driven, usually overseen by a local chef, incorporating regional menus with local foods and products. The restaurant and bar also is meant to attract local patrons. It’s where the traveler can dine like and mingle with the residents. Though Kimpton runs both the hotel side and the restaurant side, it believes in keeping separate pillars of people for each entity, thus keeping the knowledge base and passion for each, where it’s best served.
5. RECRUIT THE BEST TALENT
Hiring and training the right staff makes a huge difference in providing great service and is made somewhat easier when you’re named one of Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” in five of the last six years. This pays off when, in the case of Philadelphia’s Hotel Monaco, 5,000 applicants applied for 190 positions in the months before it opened. “What we hear over and over again from customers is, ‘How do you keep getting these great Kimpton people?’” DeFrino says. The answer is part of the mystique. “We’re looking for people who are inspired, who want to serve and be in the hospitality business,” Depatie says.
Since there’s no corporate script, employees are empowered to run on instinct and Kimpton’s take on the Golden Rule. “The Kimpton rule is ‘do unto others as they want to be done unto,’” Depatie says. In other words, staff must be able to anticipate what a customer wants and needs at any given moment and care for that individual. When it came to staffing The Brice Hotel in Savannah, seven managers from other Kimpton hotels came down to hire, plant the mind-set seed, and begin the training process.
“In every new hotel, we start with a foundation of Kimpton employees,” DeFrino says. “We pull from that pool of people, instilling the kind of passion we want and then look to find that same fire in prospective employees.”
6. STOKE FRONTLINE PASSIONS
DeFrino keeps that fire burning across all Kimpton properties in part by doing the “road show” with SVP of Inspiration and Creativity Steve Pinetti. Together, they visit 40 Kimpton properties a year (allowing for a visit to each property on their roster every 18 months) to meet with and rally the troops and make certain everyone’s tapping into the essence of what Kimpton is all about.
“We’re beating the cultural drum,” DeFrino says. “Each property has its own identity, and they’re encouraged and have the freedom to bring the local texture alive. We want to keep that going and even have friendly competitions between properties to see who’s delivering more locally themed specialties.”
The operational aspects are the responsibility of Pete Koerner, SVP guest experience. He and Pinetti work under DeFrino. “We make sure that the fundamental Kimpton service elements are always there, that we’re operating like a guest would expect, that we’re consistent in our execution, and there’s a confluence of these to create the Kimpton experience,” DeFrino says.
7. CONSTANTLY ENGAGE WITH GUESTS
Many of the elements are designed to encourage customer engagement. For example, rooms don’t include coffee makers because Kimpton wants guests to come down to the lobby for free coffee and mingle. Even the rewards program, Kimpton Karma, provides extra credits for attending a complimentary wine hour, visiting the restaurant or bar, and mentioning Kimpton on social media. “We want to give kudos to people who interact,” DeFrino says. “We believe that people are desiring to be social. We’re blending more public areas together so they’re more communal, like bringing some of the bar area into the lobby, for example. Those lines are being blurred.”
The legend is that the wine hour concept started with Bill Kimpton, when he used to hold staff meetings in the lobby over a bottle of Chianti, and guests began to join in. “Everything we do is an attempt to enhance our ability to have more meaningful relationships,” DeFrino adds.
(Editor’s Note: In an email to loyalty program members, Kimpton assured customers that IHG’s acquisition would not have any immediate impact on their benefits. “We’ll continue to offer the same great perks and benefits through our Kimpton Karma Rewards program across our 62 Kimpton hotels and any reward nights you’ve racked up stay perfectly intact,” the email stated.”For the time being, the Kimpton Karma Rewards program and IHG Rewards Club will continue to run as separate loyalty programs.)