A Case Study in Soft Brand Conversion

The number of properties converting to soft brands such as Marriott Autograph, Hilton Curio, BW Premier, Loews’ OE and the like demonstrate a significant upswing in traction for this hybrid hotel category. Seemingly, a fine balance between the hotel having its own unique identity and gaining in operational expertise, loyalty programs and web booking advantages have wide appeal with both owners and the larger financial community that provides the necessary capital.

In Philadelphia, with a new Four Seasons Hotel in the making, the brand’s venerable Logan Square property represented an ideal opportunity for a newly independent hotel to make its mark on the City of Brotherly Love. The resultant property makeover, managed by Sage Hospitality, is now part of the Hilton Curio group. The senior team saw this rebranding as a chance to develop a truly independent, destination property that builds upon James Logan’s historical significance to the city as well as to the nation. As well, these sought to make the hotel more accessible to locals, as highlighted by an engagement program called ‘Living The Logan’ where monthly events feature resident art exhibits from nearby university students.

All told, this rebrand is a daunting task that took six months to complete from mid-June to December 2015. While visiting recently, I met with Sandy Heydt, Director of Sales & Marketing to discuss this transition and the strategy for the hotel moving forward.

Why was Hilton Curio chosen as a soft brand?
By its definition, the Curio brand is a collection of unique hotels, each with its own history and character in cities across the globe. We embody exactly that – our property has a wealth of history in the city, and our design has countless historical elements worthy of exploration. Our namesake, James Logan’s character and lifestyle, can be found around every corner, with nods to Philadelphia’s history in manufacturing, fashion and textiles. Our curated local art collection is quickly become a destination in its own right, leaving guests captivated by the impressive works created especially for our property and wholly inspired by Philadelphia.

What was the total CAPEX investment in the refurbishment of the property?
While we can’t disclose the exact amount, it was significant to say the least. All public space was taken down to frame, guest rooms were updated, corridors renovated, spa and fitness center tripled in size, lower level renovation, outdoor spaces enhanced, and the library and rooftop lounge were added.

What do you see as the advantages of having a Curio brand vs a stand-alone independent?
We have the benefits of being soft branded which allows us to remain independent while still offering benefits to travelers in the Hilton network who would like to use their points for a more unique experience. We have access to the vast Hilton distribution system and marketing programs and can opt in at our own discretion.

What unique positioning elements are part of the property that you see as differentiators?
There are many unique position elements and selling points that are part of The Logan that we see as key differentiating factors from our competition.

1. Connection and easy access to an events venue/conference center. The Logan is located at the foot of Philadelphia’s mecca of museums, art and historical landmarks. From The Logan, visitors have easy access to major highways, and are walking distance to Center City shopping and the restaurant district.

2. Rooftop bar/lounge. The Logan’s Assembly Rooftop Bar & Lounge is a major signature item for us as no other hotel in Philadelphia has a rooftop bar with such views. Assembly is located nine floors above the city and is a chic ultra-modern space with its unhindered panoramic view of Logan Square to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway all the way to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

3. In-house art program. The Logan has collaborated with a bevy of Philadelphia based artists, who collectively work together (as well as artists who work independently) to promote and support the local art community. There are over 1,800 pieces of art in The Logan collection displayed throughout the hotel. Most notably, the Philadelphia Elite Silhouette chandelier created by over 300 images celebrating famous Philadelphians across history, the Crew statue honoring Boathouse Row and Philadelphia’s Crew history, and Hombre De Hierro or ‘The Logan Man’ which honors the men and women who shaped Philadelphia’s industrial history through innovation and craftsmanship.

4. Unique design. The concept for the brand of the hotel is driven by the idea that the hotel embodies the independent character of Philadelphia, blending classic and historic elements with modern influences, as sophisticated and stylish as Philadelphia itself.

5. Outdoor spaces. The Logan has lush outdoor living spaces with multiple exits from the hotel. Expansive terraces have comfortable furnishings that encourage you to step outside and get a different perspective on the city.

If an owner was planning to launch a property, does a soft brand make sense, and why?
Absolutely. The soft brand gives you access to millions of potential loyal brand customers while allowing the property to maintain its independence. It is the best of both worlds. An owner can literally save dollars in marketing and sales costs making the decision to partner with a soft brand. I have worked in both scenarios. It is very expensive to launch a new hotel with a new name and new brand, as a total independent. Such an endeavor also takes much longer as well.

Anything else that you might add?
As the former Four Seasons Hotel, we knew we were renovating and reopening an iconic property that locals and out-of-towners alike already had much affection for. The reviews from our customers and locals have been overwhelmingly positive. I believe it is because we tell the story of Philadelphia around every corner and we have created a very unique contemporary hotel with an energized vibe that is warmly inclusive to all. We have been rewarded by gaining the reputation as being one of Philadelphia’s social hubs.

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in eHotelier on September 22, 2016)

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