The Antlers Has Done It Again

The Antlers has just done what nobody else has done … again.  For someone who likes to think outside the circle (see?) it is insanely gratifying to work for a company that’s consistently willing to try new things, break ground and be on the cutting edge. Do leaders get some arrows in the back? Sure, but I’d much rather have a few darts in the derrière than just slog along in the middle of the pack.

Among all the lodging properties in Vail (and later the Vail Valley), here are just a few of the things on which the Antlers has led the way:
Not charging for local phone calls (that’s right … 1983-ish)
Accepting non-Saturday to Saturday bookings during the height of the ski season (even harder to remember that)
Building employee housing (1982)
Converting all wood-burning fireplaces to gas (1991)
Putting VCR’s in every condo (1987)
Getting a fax machine (1992-ish … people asked, “What will you do with it?” and we said, “We really don’t know.”)
Computerizing our operations (1980 … with an Apple II+)
Adopting a stretch of highway (1985)
Offering free snowshoe rentals to all of our winter guests (2012)
Starting the redevelopment of Lionshead (2001 … at $18M, that was the biggest of all)

Now comes another biggie … more subtle than some of the others, but with potentially huge impact.  For many years the Antlers owners have enjoyed a 64/36 rental spilt. Owners get 64% of the rental income from their condominium. For full service properties (daily maid service, etc.) that’s the best in Vail, by a pretty wide margin. The rental split at most of our competition ranges from 60/40 to 50/50.

Last month the Antlers owners agreed to change that split, but here’s the fun part … Consistent with our efforts to encourage the owners to upgrade their condos to Platinum status, the split will be a sliding scale. Those units rated 90 and above (Platinum) will maintain the old 64/36 split, but for every rating point below 90, the split changes by 1%. In other words, a unit rated 88 (high gold) will receive 62% of the rental revenue rather than 64%. Our lowest rated units with an LQA score of 83 (thankfully not many of those) will have a 57/43 rental split … right up until the time they make some improvements (many of which are now being hastily scheduled).

This is a pretty radical departure from our historical approach of only using carrots to motivate condo improvements. This has a decidedly greater “stick” element to it. Does that part bother me? Yep, a little. But there’s such justification for it and ultimately it really is fair (in my mind, at least).

Best of all, it’s totally cutting edge. Nobody else is doing it … YET. I’m willing to bet that others will follow. I can’t wait to see.

Rob

Revenue Management?

Twenty years ago, most of us in the hospitality business had never heard of a Revenue Manager.  Back in those days people made their reservations either by calling us, or having their travel agent call us.  It was pretty simple.  Establishing our pricing was a fairly straightforward exercise, taking into account supply and demand, which was relatively homogenous.

Fast forward to 2014 and you have the internet and a plethora of new ways to book a hotel room.  Our puzzle includes guests who:

  • Call direct
  • Book on-line direct
  • Have their travel agent use one of those two channels
  • Use a wholesaler (a travel agent for travel agents) who does the same, or maybe books through the Global Distribution System (GDS) run by the airlines (Apollo, Sabre, Worldspan, etc.)
  • Use one of two Central Reservation Systems in Vail (with or without a travel agent involved)
  • Use one of the online travel agencies (OTA’s) such as Expedia, Booking.com, Hotels.com or more than a dozen others

There is also the question of how all those people who are booking on-line, whether direct or through a third-party, arrived at that particular website.  The possibilities are literally endless.  Attempting to track the demand from hundreds of such different channels is a full time job, to say the least.  Each of those sources of business lends itself to complex analysis of pricing, discounting, restrictions, behavior, etc.

Ryan Kelsey c

With this ever-growing complicated puzzle of “inbound traffic” the Antlers has taken the plunge of hiring a full time Revenue Manager.  Ryan Kelsey comes to us with a good analytical background, as well as local hospitality experience at the Charter in Beaver Creek and Destination Resorts in Vail.  We’re excited to welcome Ryan to the team, and love the fact that he can focus on this crazy puzzle of selling hotel rooms and providing the best possible return to our owners, while still maintaining great customer loyalty.

These days, when people ask me, “So how’s business?”  My pat answer is, “Well, it’s pretty good, but it sure ain’t easy!”  I realize that doesn’t make us special.  Business everywhere is tougher than it used to be.  Heck, it isn’t always easy being a consumer, either.  Think of the travelers who have to deal with the same plethora of choices about where and how to book their rooms. We’d love to hear from any of you who have a favorite way to book hotel reservations.  Naturally, we love it when you call us directly. That gives us the best chance of understanding all your preferences and satisfying all of your needs. But if you’ve found a preferable way to get a great Antlers suite with just a few online clicks, we’d love to know how and why.  And we promise to share the info with Ryan.

We Lost A Great One

Col. Don circa 1990We lost another one.  A great one.  One of the original Antlers owners.  He liked to tell the story about walking through the building (the original building) when it was a concrete shell.  Must’ve been 1971.  Colonel Don Wiethuechter (pronounced Wee-Tuke-Ter) was known to us as just Col. Don.  He was as supportive an owner as there ever was.  He came to every annual owners meeting as well as one or two other times a year, and always offered encouragement and appreciation.  Sure, on occasion he may have tied me up on the phone for a few minutes too long (hours, maybe?), but what I wouldn’t give right now to hear that voice say, “Hello Mr. Manager … How are you doing today?”

Col. Don and Bud Benedict were great chums and I remember when Bud retired, me being a little worried about that element of the transition.  My worries were unfounded … Col. Don had my back just as much as he ever had Bud’s … and as much as any other owner ever has.

I always claim that the Antlers Heart and Soul is what sets us apart from our competition.  It’s unquestionably what has kept me here (and happy) for 36 years.  Well, if ever there was a symbol of our heart and soul, it was Col. Don.  We’ve had some great owner/cheerleaders over the years, but Col. Don was Col. Don circa 1995there with the best of them.  I think we only took second place to his beloved Huskies at the University of Washington, and maybe his employer of 30+ years, the U.S. Army.

He would frequently travel with the Washington football team to away games and I think even received some sort of super-booster honor at mid-field one time.  I remember when Rick Neuheisel got the coaching job at UW, after getting canned from CU.  Things didn’t go so well for Rick at Udub either and we had a great time ribbing Col. Don for years afterward about our hand-me-down.  Despite his propensity to bleed purple (as they say), he always took it well.

I think we only have five or six of the original owners left now, although there are happily another six or eight that have been handed down in their families.  It’s such a bummer to see the number dwindle, but Col. Don will always be a permanent part of Antlers lore.

Annapurna, the Antlers Puma

Our friend and fellow Vail Symposium board member, Jay Huffard, recently sold his house in Minturn.  Perched outside was a bronze mountain lion originally sculpted by Edith Huffard, Jay’s mother! Rather than leave the sculpture there, Jay would like to sell it and donate the proceeds 50/50 to the Symposium and the Minturn Community Fund.  You gotta love that!

Annapurna 1

Since it wasn’t going to get much attention in a remote neighborhood of Minturn, the Antlers agreed to host this puma on our property, overlooking Gore Creek and the bike bath.  We named her Annapurna, after the mountain in Nepal.

Annapurna 2

While she may only be ours temporarily, we’re secretly hoping that someone will make a $6,000 donation and leave her here permanently … or at least indefinitely.  Either way, Anna is one of a limited edition of ten, and others have sold for more than $12,000.

We’re also wondering if she’ll keep away the deer and other wildlife that seem to frequent our back yard.

moose by pool 0514 e

It’s a Big World … Not

So we’re giving a site tour to four lovely wedding consultants from A Touch of Bliss in Denver.  We had just come out of #420, one of our largest, most beautiful four bedroom-condos.  We’re walking down the hallway to show them #311, a super nice one-bedroom, overlooking the swimming pool.  Just making conversation, one of the young women, Zoie, asks me, “Are you from Colorado?”

“As a matter of fact I am.” I reply, “I grew up in Littleton.”

“Really?” says Aimee Thomas, another one of these very charming wedding planners, “Where in Littleton?”

“Oh, way down south, almost to the Ken Caryl area”

“No kidding? My mother’s house is in that area.”

I ask where.  She tells me it’s close to Platte Canyon Road. I tell her that we lived near Coal Mine and Platte Canyon.  She acts a little surprised and I say, “It’s a little community called Normandy Estates.  You’ve probably never heard of it.”

The look on Aimee’s face goes from surprised to incredulous.  “Heard of it?  We live in Normandy Estates.”

“NO WAY!” I say, “What street?”

“Ontario”

Gulp.  “Circle or Way?”

“Circle”

“OMG”  At this point I’m starting to shake a little. Ontario Circle is a cul-de-sac and only has about eight or ten houses.  I tell that to the others and they’re all pretty much in disbelief as well.

“6755” I say.

Aimee turns a little pale.  “6755 W. Ontario Circle?”

“Are you kidding me? No way.”

(queue the eery music)

“That’s my house.” she says.

I tell her that we lived there from 1960 to 1972 … moved out 42 years ago.  She tells me the carpet’s been changed.

Yikes Stripes.  Beechnut gum.

Aimee Thomas c

Aimee and Rob, same house, 42 years apart

Delight The Weird: Unique Hotel Amenities

I enjoy reading Seth Godin’s blog. He of the Purple Cow fame. One of his recent posts was titled “Delighting the Weird“. The essence of it is differentiation. Not just performing well, but also doing things that nobody else does.

The Antlers finds itself in a fun but challenging position as an independent property, competing against some awful big companies. Our neighbors include the Marriott, Four Seasons, and Ritz Carlton. Even our main condominium competition … Lionsquare, Montaneros, Manor Vail, Landmark and the Vail Spa are managed by Wyndham, Destination and East-West Resorts. Each of those companies have portfolios that make the Antlers look like a gnat.

So the name of our game has to be differentiation. If we try to compete against those big guys as just a well run commodity, we’re toast.

Free, unique hotel amenities

So what do we do to be unique? How about free, unique hotel amenities? Well, stuff like not collecting resort fees sets us apart from most of them. That’s nice, but it’s not THAT unique. Surely there are others who do the same. Aren’t there?

No, what’s REALLY different? How about a free GoPro camera loaner program? Now we’re talkin’. Free snowshoe rentals? Yeah, baby. Maybe a minivan for our condominium owners to use when they’re here. Again, one of our free & unique hotel amenities.

Under the heading of “Playing to your strength”, our guests have always told us how much they appreciate our well-equipped kitchens. Okay, time to amp it up … now we have a small appliance loaner program (free) with everything from waffle makers to toaster ovens to full on mixers. If your condo doesn’t have something you need, say the word … it’s on its way. While that doesn’t qualify as bizarre, I’m pretty sure it’s not something those other guys are doing. Happily, that effort also falls squarely in line with our motto of, “The answer is ‘yes’, now what’s the question?”

unique hotel amenities, Vail, hotel, lodging, delight the weird

We’ll continue to brainstorm at almost every one of our staff meetings about what we can do to set ourselves apart … to delight the weird. Of course, we’re always open to suggestions, too.

The best part is that although it’s challenging, dreaming up stuff like this and then implementing it immediately (corporate red tape? No thanks) helps make this a really fun place to work. We hope it makes it a really fun place to stay as well.

Rob

Government at its Best

We’ve said it before.  You’ve heard it before … maybe a zillion times. We live in an amazing place … but this time it’s with a different twist.

Aside from the incredible aesthetics, recreation, culture and obvious “specialness” of Vail, behind the scenes we are beyond lucky to be served and led by the most incredible group of people you can imagine. With apologies to others equally deserving of the shout-out, Stan Zemler, Kelli McDonald, Suzanne Silverthorn, George Ruther, Dwight Henninger, Pam Brandmeyer, Judy Camp, Mark Miller and Kristin Bertuglia are the ones who the Antlers comes in the most contact with. To a person, they are the most professional, accomplished and motivated bunch of folks you’ll ever meet.

With all due respect to our elected officials (who by and large are pretty good too), these are the working stiffs who get it done. Anybody who ever complains about “government employees” just isn’t familiar with Vail. Period.

So what motivated this over-the-top, smoke-up-your-skirt rave? Simple … I happened to take the time to read the Town of Vail’s 2013 Year in Review. It took awhile. Quite awhile. I encourage anyone with a modicum of connection to the ToV, to look at it … at least skim it. As a sidebar, the Antlers is honored to get a mention in that sizable document … first person to tell me where, gets a free night at the Antlers. Not you Suzanne … you author, you. Not you either Kristin … hint, hint. And no fair using ctrl-f, you have to read it.

Pardon my effusiveness, but the sheer volume of high quality work accomplished by this organization is mind-blowing. From complicated infrastructure improvements to all manners of economic development to an unceasing dedication to environmental impacts (in everything they do) … it’s beyond inspiring. It’s overwhelming.

We who live in Vail, full-time or part-time, as well as those who just visit occasionally, owe these people and everyone who works for the Town, a HUGE debt of gratitude.

Vail Valley Hospitality Professional of the Year!

Last Friday night, January 31, The Vail Valley Partnership held their annual Success Awards Gala.  It’s the same event at which the Antlers won the Business of the Year Award in 2003 and the Green Business of the Year in 2009.  This year, our very own Magdalena King was nominated for Hospitality Professional of the Year.  Out of several dozen nominees, Magda was then chosen as one of three finalists going into the awards ceremony.  Two nights ago at the Vilar Center, we erupted in cheers when her name was called from the stage as the Vail Valley Hospitality Professional of 2014.

Magda award

We could simply not be any more proud of Magda.  It’s so nice to know that others recognized what we already knew … that nobody could possibly be more deserving of this recognition. I could go on and on (and would be happy to).  However, let me just say that in addition to the countless examples of her professionalism (and everything that entails), Magda constantly inspires me and everyone else around her, to be more professional as well.

Magda & Cristina

It was quite fitting that upon receiving her award, she offered a brief “acceptance speech” which was both gracious and thoughtful.  Almost as many people (probably a hundred) congratulated her on her “award winning” public comments, as on the actual award itself.  It was great!

Shame on us for one thing … we didn’t think to get a good picture of Magda in her time of grandeur.  I took this one of her and her sister Cristina (on the left) with my phone.  It will have to do for now, but that’s a shame because there is also a great story behind her beautiful dress.

At the party afterward when Jill Lammers, the Vice-President of the Partnership, complimented Magda on that dress, I had to jump in and point out that Magda told me she had designed it herself, back when she lived in Ecuador.  Jill’s reaction was immediate, humorous and perfect … “Shut UP!” she exclaimed, “You win this award AND you designed your own dress!  You’re killing me.”

All in all, thanks to Magdalena, the whole evening made all of us at the Antlers feel super proud.

Rob

Vail’s Finest … Love to see ’em … Anywhere else.

One of my least favorite moments in time (okay … absolutely most hated), is when the fire alarm goes off in the hotel.  The piercing blast of the horns, rudely shaking me from whatever I’m doing, coincides with an intense and immediate sick feeling in my stomach.   My thoughts are equal part, “I hope everyone and everything is okay” and, “I wonder how inconvenienced (and probably mad) all of our guests are going to be, thanks to this obnoxious intrusion.”

I just hate it.

(Incidentally, whenever I’m in some other establishment and the sirens start to blare, my first thought is enormous sympathy for that manager, that poor bastard, whoever he or she is.)

Almost as upsetting as the alarm, and only because the audible invasion is missing, is when I come around the corner on my way to work and see the fire truck, lights flashing, sitting in front of the Antlers.  Same thoughts exactly … “Oh Damn!  Please let everything be okay”, and “How mad are they all going to be?”

Today was one of those days.

Vail fire truck

Happily, when I pulled over and spoke to Sean, one of Vail’s finest, he uttered those two words I was dying to hear …”Burnt toast”.  It happened to be in 317.  Additionally, the fact that it happened at 9AM and not 2AM goes a LONG way toward alleviating the “upset guests” part of my concern.  Hallelujah.

Next problem please.

-Rob

Nothing But Platinum Rated Condos

We used to just be in the condominium management and short term vacation rental business, but now we find ourselves in the construction business as well.

Like every vacation condominium property in the world, we wrestle with individual unit decorating and variance of quality.  After forty plus years of non-stop pleading with some owners to “fix it up”, we have just instituted a formal Unit Quality Improvement plan.  Now we are not only encouraging and rewarding those condominium owners who invest the most, but now we also have some sticks to go with those carrots.

As a result, 43 out of our 88 rental units have made, or are making, upgrades to their property.  Some are big projects, some smaller, but all are meaningful improvements.  And that’s in just this year … we expect to have that much and more, in the next couple years following.   Which brings us to the construction business.  If we’re going to become a completely Platinum rated property, as is our goal, we can’t just tell our condominium owners, “You go figure it out.”

Rather, it’s our job to facilitate everything from new furniture and soft goods, to new flooring, windows, appliances, cabinets and some major renovations.

Tom c

Antlers at Vail Chief Engineer, Tom Schlader

David Collins s

Dave Collins, the newest addition to the Antlers engineering department

Fortunately our Chief Engineer, Tom Schlader, is an accomplished contractor in his own right.  It’s a good thing, because coordinating and implementing this many simultaneous but diverse projects is way more than a handful.  So much so, that we just brought on long-time local Dave Collins to help Tom in that role.  Dave has worked as a project manager for projects large and small so his skills are exactly what we need.

The Antlers commitment in this regard is enormous … in both time and money.  That’s okay though.  Like so many others, our business model is changing and we can either embrace that change, or get run over.

Happily, we plan to be the runner, not the runee.