The Name Game: Branding Takes Hotel From Foreclosure to No. 1 Marriott in U.S.

The future seemed grim for The Northland Inn in Minneapolis when it went under foreclosure five years ago. But, with the help of Marriott International and a change in name and ownership in 2012, the property has transformed into a top-notch hotel, crowning as Marriott’s 2015 Hotel of the Year. The feat is the result of a three-year rebranding process of the property into Minneapolis Marriott Northwest. Connect’s Hayley Jones spoke with Bob Schrader, general manager, on the hotel’s past, initiatives leading to growth and its increased meetings business. In a mere three years, Minneapolis Marriott Northwest went from bankrupt to the top of its game. What caused the hotel to falter before Marriott gained control? The hotel was independent and didn’t have a brand. The owner was a local gentleman who built and developed the area around here and the hotel. When he fell ill, he wasn’t able to contribute and be an active part of the hotel like he was originally. During that time, we also had a couple of recessions, and those things pushed the hotel closer and closer to bankruptcy. A new brand brings on big changes. What were some of the initiatives that had to be implemented to achieve today’s success as Hotel of the Year? The biggest initiative was recognizing the need to take care of our customers—to customize or personalize the experience for each and every guest who came into the hotel. We also increased the size of the sales staff here. We spent a considerable amount of time honing our skills in terms of interviewing and making sure we hired the best people to bring into the organization. I think the quality of people and honing our process for interviewing really was paramount in being able to find all the great people we have now. What has the meetings business been like at your hotel since Marriott’s takeover? Last year, our meetings business increased 20 percent over the year before, and prior to that it increased 50 percent over the previous year. Your meetings business grew 50 percent in the year Marriott took control. How do brand names make such a difference in the success of a hotel? Without a brand, it’s difficult to be able to sustain your business levels because of the loyalty programs the brands offer. These programs are so popular and people really look for that type of incentive to stay at your hotel. What’s attracting planners and booming your business? We have more than 50,000 square feet of meeting space, so there’s a lot of room for people. There are a lot of choices and I think the newness and freshness of the hotel, as well as the increased service levels from our brand and the quality of the food and beverage all contribute to making the meetings business increase and be a big success. What challenges have you faced with rebranding the hotel and getting planners to reconsider your meetings offerings? Our biggest challenge was to get people back to the hotel. Although they had seen that the exterior changed and the name changed, a lot of people didn’t realize it wasn’t just a coat of paint. We held a lot of open houses to get people to come in and see the hotel again, and everyone was very excited about and impressed with the quality of the renovation, and anxious to try our product. From there, the great people we have here really drove the level of excitement among the meeting planners and their willingness to rebook. We have a very high level of repeat business here in this hotel—that’s due to the quality of the product, from both a product and service standpoint.  How do you think Marriott’s Hotel of the Year award will affect your business? When people invest time and money to either stay or have a meeting at a hotel and then find out it’s become the No. 1 hotel in the Marriott brand, it reinforces that they made a good decision. I think that it’s reinforcing people’s opinion in the community about the hotel, how they feel about the hotel and the fact that things have gone so well here. What do you see for the hotel’s future? We are still growing and we’re fortunate to be in a part of town where there’s still growth in the business community. I wouldn’t be surprised if we add rooms.