On its way toward Memphis, Interstate 55 straightens into a precise vertical line as it runs down the eastern edge of Sikeston, Mo. About halfway between St. Louis and Nashville, the old railroad town sits in a vast patchwork quilt of almost perfectly flat farmland. Since the days of folded paper maps, weary salesmen and road-trippers have looked to Exit 67 (Sikeston) for a place to rest before rolling along again. And for the past 41 years, the first thing they see when they leave the highway is the five-story, beige-and-auburn Drury Inn and Suites.
As the first Drury property, the sikeston hotel established the foundation for what would become a major regional chain. Since 1973, Drury Hotels has expanded to include 130 currently operating properties across five brands: Drury Inn and Suites, Drury Inn, Drury Suites, Drury Plaza Hotel, and Pear Tree Inn by Drury. The concrete-and-stucco building is large for a town like Sikeston but still unassuming. It’s surrounded by properties that belong to bigger national chains—Super 8, Holiday Inn Express, and Comfort Inn, among others. But Drury is something special, and not just because it’s locally owned.
Drury Hotels routinely leads the national brands in guest satisfaction. When J.D. Power released its 2013 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study in July, Drury was number one among midscale hotels. And when Market Matrix compiled its quarterly reports for 2012, Drury came out on top across the board, surpassing even big names like Hampton Inn and Suites, Best Western Plus, and Fairfield Inn and Suites. “These ratings are a nod to our team members who work hard to deliver on [our] promise to our guests every day,” says Carolyn Feltner, director of marketing for Drury Hotels. She suggests that perhaps the foundation of the brand’s success is simply “hiring the right team members, providing excellent training, and listening to guest feedback.”
Looking at the numbers, though, Drury’s performance seems like a statistical anomaly. Yet the same results are borne out, year after year. Part of the success of the 130-property chain is that it doesn’t rely heavily on statistics and research. For instance, GMs are encouraged to ask guests how they’re feeling about their stay while refilling coffees at Drury’s complimentary breakfast instead of using survey cards. The same goes for the rest of the staff, who tend to worry less about job descriptions and more about what needs to get done.
It’s tough for other brands to draw specific lessons from Drury’s success, because there isn’t an especially novel strategy driving it—CEO Charles Drury says it comes down to taking care of what the customer needs. So while lots of midscale hotels serve complimentary breakfast, the business doesn’t hinge on it. And while many brands offer free Internet, Drury throws in free long distance calling too—which is an easy offer, since guests tend to use their cell phones anyway. It’s really just getting the fundamentals right. Taken together, though, small offerings like these add up to establish trust in the brand. Combined with the company’s attention to detail and do-it-yourself ethic, they become signals of genuine value.
Business the old-fashioned way
It’s practically a tradition in American business to claim Midwestern virtues like hard work and simple quality, regardless of the evidence. But Drury appears to be the genuine article. The family business began in the 1940s, in Kelso, Mo., a tiny town that has doubled in population over the past seven decades to about 600. Kelso resident and struggling farmer Lambert Drury, father of nine, began supplementing the family’s income with plastering jobs. The preceding drought-filled decade was tough on midwestern farmers, and family members credit their Catholic faith with giving them the strength to soldier on.
But with the war ended and the Great Depression receded into history, the economy finally took off. Lambert opened his own business, Drury Plastering, and his sons soon joined him. The family grew the outfit from plastering to residential construction, earning references and repeat business for the quality of their work. By then, money was easier to come by, though the family remained devout—prayers before and after dinner each night, working on all of the secular holidays but none of the religious ones. Meanwhile, the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 passed in Washington, and by the early 1970s, hundreds of miles of interstate had been paved through Missouri alone, bringing business and travelers with them—and they needed a place to stay. One of the highways, I-55, ran past Kelso (which did not get its own exit) before intersecting I-57, 22 miles to the south, in Sikeston.