Kevin Robinson began his career in hospitality for practical reasons—he needed a full-time, overnight job to pay for his education. Once he graduated, Robinson realized that starting a new career in an entry-level position wouldn’t be conducive to supporting his growing family. Persistence and a passion for hands-on, interaction-centric work environments led Robinson to a career with Four Seasons, which took him to many beautiful locations, but he found the work repetitive. Wanting more, Robinson left Four Seasons for the opportunity to build something of his own, so he started Aparium Hotel Group in 2011, along with his business partner, Mario Tricoci. For the past seven years, he has enjoyed the camaraderie and sociability of hotel management ever since.
What about starting a hotel company really spoke to you?
In hotels, I worked as a dishwasher, bellman, front desk manager, general manager, and everything in between. My entrepreneurial spirit is a self-driver, and when I started Aparium, I wanted to spread my wings and continue to grow. My career has always been centered around working for corporations with solid foundations, structure, and operational environments, and I really wanted to create one of those environments for myself from scratch. Then, during my time at Four Seasons, I met my business partner Mario Tricoci, who was developing a hotel in Chicago that needed a management and programming team. After successfully developing and eventually selling that hotel, I circled back to Mario for the opportunity to start our own company.
You have a pretty robust pipeline. How are you managing all of those openings?
We’re opening properties in Chicago, Kansas City, Topeka, Memphis, and Montclair, N.J., this year, and have several more scheduled to open in 2019. These hotels have been in the works for years, so we’ve been preparing for their openings for a long time. We have an excellent corporate team that runs independently, allowing Mario and me to focus on the strategic elements, such as staggering and timing projects so they don’t have too much overlap. We don’t just take anything we can and slap it together; we’re strategic in prepping for the upcoming year and feel comfortable doing so because of the resources we have.
Do you have a particular property you’re especially excited to open?
There are two. Just for a bit of background, the first property we owned, developed, and managed was the Foundation Hotel in Detroit, which we opened in 2017. Foundation Hotel has been very successful and it epitomizes and capitalizes on the pillars of success around which we built our company. So the first property I’m very excited about is going to be in Kansas City. The Kansas City property is our most extensive project because we developed it, own it, and will manage it. The hotel will be opening in the fall, and we’re looking forward to taking everything we learned from the Foundation and applying it to that property. We’re also excited about the St. Jane, a property we’re going to open in Chicago this spring, because it’s our hometown. We have a place to showcase right in our backyard.
What are the challenges of developing unique properties in secondary markets?
Before we can create a successful independent brand for transient travelers, we first have to be accepted by the locals. Supporting local business owners and residents by providing them with something they need or desire—like food and beverage—is important. The challenge is getting to know small markets inside and out as well as building individual relationships within the community. The entire process can be challenging, but I truly feel that overcoming that challenge just makes our efforts more rewarding.
What advice do you have for hoteliers who are looking to develop boutique properties?
Always be looking toward the next step. Work towards perfection but perfection doesn’t exist, so seeking it exclusively can delay the process. Prepare yourself and do it—that’s what helped us to get to this point; then refine and perfect over time. And, above all value the camaraderie that comes with this industry. Our business is a lifestyle, and to enjoy it and thrive in it, you have to embrace it.