Why a Health Care Company Built its Own Best Western

As the director of business development at Samaritan Health Services, a non-profit health care organization that covers the communities of the mid-Willamette Valley and Central Oregon, Rob Mullins seems like an improbable candidate to become a hotel franchisee. However, in May of this year, that’s exactly what he became. Mullins is the voting member of the Best Western Premier Boulder Falls Inn, a new property that sits adjacent to the Samaritan Health Sciences Campus. The Samaritan Health Sciences Campus is a huge demand driver for the hospitality business in the Willamette Valley. Mullins took some time to speak with LODGING about entering the hospitality business through an unorthodox avenue, and the successes Samaritan Health expects for its new property.

What prompted your decision to enter the hospitality business? As a not-for-profit organization, we’re always looking for investment opportunities and possible revenue sources to fund more health care. And when the new campus opened, we started to see a lot of visitors—especially students and professors, but also a good amount of local interest. We also fly a lot of physicians in, because we employ 5,000 people, and we have them stay in hotels. We were spending over a million dollars a year on travel and lodging, so it was a natural next step to think, “Why not build a hotel and pay ourselves?”

What made you want to franchise with Best Western? When we decided to enter this industry, we weren’t oblivious to the fact that we don’t have a background in lodging. We wanted a teacher, someone who could guide us and give us a template to run a good business. So in the course of our research, we learned that Best Western offers franchisees voting member classes, GM classes, and really guides their owners into opening a successful hotel.

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What advice would you have for someone entering the hotel industry from another business arena? First, you need to look at yourself and say, am I cut out for working 24/7? Because there are no weekends, it’s year round, and some people just aren’t cut out for it.

Why is running a top-notch property important to you? Here’s how I see things: In the hospital industry, people have to come whether we give them good service or not, because when you’re having a heart attack, you just go to the closest place. In the hotel industry, it’s a choice. Guests don’t have to come here, so it comes down to giving them the best experience. We want them to have a great experience, and to enjoy themselves, and you need a staff that will really strive to make that happen.