Trey Matheu and Christopher Baran of The Nemacolin resort in Pennsylvania discuss the business case and advantages of changing staffing models for luxury properties with host Robin Trimingham.
This broad-based conversation highlights the advantages, for example, of replacing the traditional front-desk team with a pre-arrival team that focuses on guest interaction and creating personalized itineraries designed to help maximize the resort experience.
Highlights from Today’s Episode
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Trey Matheu: A lot of this multi-generational travel. They’re coming because we can be a little bit of everything to everyone. If mom and dad want to go out and do something alone in the afternoon or in the evenings, or kids club is world class, we’re doing everything the kids club that adults can do, so we’re taking them out, we’re playing golf, we’re doing the animal encounters, we’re doing skiing, we’re doing all these different things. Miniature version that’s now focused on on learning and development for the children, at the same time giving them a heck of an experience where they come back going out.
Robin Trimingham: Welcome to the Innovative Hotelier podcast by Hotels magazine, with weekly, thought provoking discussions with the world’s leading hotel and hospitality innovators. Welcome to the Innovative Hotelier, brought to you by Hotels magazine. I’m your host, Robin Trimingham. As we’ve alluded to multiple times in this series, the events of the last couple of years have altered both traveler destination preferences and experience expectations in the luxury hotel market. This shift has intensified a preference for a variety of lifestyle experiences within a single property, where you once might have been able to get away with simply having the best spa or Michelin star chef to lure guests to your property. Today’s luxury experience seekers increasingly want to be able to immerse themselves in a wide range of culinary, recreational, technological and wellness activities. But how do you create a streamlined business model to seamlessly operate multiple lines of business? My guest today, Trey Matthew, managing director of the Nemacolin, and Christopher Barron, the VP of sales and marketing, oversee a 2400 acre resort. That was done just that, and they’re here today to offer insights regarding developing a mixed use hotel business model for the next generation of travelers. Join me now for my conversation with Trey and Chris. Apple is a global food service and hospitality company that manufactures smart commercial grade solutions, headquartered in Miami. The company designs and manufactures all their restaurant and hotel products. They have showrooms and distribution centers located throughout the globe, and their products are always in stock and ready to ship from any of their distribution centers worldwide. Welcome Trey and Chris. It’s great to get a chance to talk with you guys.
Trey Matheu: Robin, thank you.
Robin Trimingham: Thank you. I am really looking forward to our conversation. I don’t know if you guys know this. I’m home based in Bermuda, so I will admit up front that I really hadn’t heard of the Nemacolin resort. I know it’s famous in America, but I’m going to learn a whole bunch of things along with the listeners. So let’s start us off here. Nemacolin, if I’ve got this correct, has been in operation for 35 years. So, Trey, what sort of shifts have you seen in the demand for luxury travel during this time?
Trey Matheu: Yeah, Robin, interesting question. So I’ve been involved with Nemacolin for about 21 of those 37 years, and I think the resort itself has grown during that period. So we 27 years ago was a 35 room hunting lodge, in essence, and now we’re about 280 units over about 2400 acres throughout the property. And we’ve grown everything from amenities to activities. We’re going through some major renovations right now to the tune of about $50 million worth of a multi-phased renovation process. So as the resort has grown, we’ve started to see some differences in travel as well. Prior to Covid, the resort subsisted. A majority of our business was through group travel. We did a lot of group business, we did some incentive business, but it wasn’t nearly as large. I think what we’ve seen since post-Covid, and I think a lot of people in the industry have seen the same thing that we’ve started to see some of that group business fall off, especially with remote offices. We see a lot more incentive business than we have from the group side, but we’ve really transitioned our guests to multigenerational leisure guests with a lot of different needs than they had pre-COVID and a lot of different needs than they had 10 years ago.
Trey Matheu: And we’ve spent a lot of time and effort on the individual guest experience. So how many contact points can we have prior to the property? As I mentioned, we’ve got about 280 rooms, but it’s spread over 2,400 acres. The amount of amenities and activities we have can be confusing. And so how do we get to the point where someone’s calling you ahead of time, whether it’s a pre-arrival team or 48 hours before the property, it’s our butler team to ensure that you’re going to get the most out of it. And we’re asking questions in that side, not as, hey, what do you want to do when you’re here? But more along the lines of, I see that you already you’re into golf. What are some of your interests at home? And then creating personalized itineraries throughout that process at those different touch points when they get to the property so they can enjoy more?
Robin Trimingham: That’s a fascinating business model. Your front desk must almost be operating like event planners fielding questions left, right and center all day long. How do you guys handle that?
Trey Matheu: Another interesting point. We took the opportunity during Covid to transfer into butler service for the entire resort. And so the traditional functions of a front desk being able to give people keys, take their credit card, check them into the rooms has gone away. So now our butlers will greet you at the car. They’ll get you the room as quickly as possible, but spend as much time or as little time as you want to by reading individual guests. But what that’s translated to into the front desk is now we have a giant concierge team rather than front desk, not a front desk team. And they’re able to do pre-arrival. They’re able to do customized itineraries, they’re able to spend some time. Plus, we added shortly after Covid, we added a whole division in our reservations team, a pre-arrival team that actually continues or tries to fill your dance card before you even get to the property, or at least to educate people about what we can do and not offer prior to Covid, we found that we had our return guests really maximize our experience in their their time frame. By about the fourth day they were here, and we believe that happened because they had the experience putting the tigers and not petting the tigers, but doing a giant cat encounter, doing the enrichment tours they had that they had the artist in residence program that they didn’t find about until the third stay, so on and so forth. So we’re trying to ensure that guests have a great experience from the first time they’re here, and that they’re educated in all those different things to do based on some of the things they like to do at home, some of the things that they’ve done on prior vacations, some of the things that they’d love to try or experience that, that maybe they haven’t done so before. And Nemacolin is a great place to do all of those things.
Robin Trimingham: I get to talk to a little bit of everybody from all around the world, and you’re the first luxury property that I’ve really encountered that has this, what I’m going to call very cutting edge approach to guest services. What sort of data have you guys been analyzing in evaluating the changes that you’ve made and the creation of what I’m going to call your mixed use hospitality business model?
Trey Matheu: First and foremost, this comes out of our president and owner, Maggie Hardy. And she says that she has two bosses in the world. And I love this statement. She’s been my mentor for 20 years and I’ve learned a lot of hospitality experience from her, she said. My two bosses are the associates that work at the resort and our guests. So we looked seriously at medallion scores. We were looking at at a lot of written comments. On a day by day basis. We are walking around and talking to our associates who are talking to our guests. Now, the average person in the spa will spend more quality time, especially a nail tech, for instance. We’ll spend more quality time with a guest than I will and with more guests than I will in a week. So how do we mine that information? I think we use those. I think other data points. We’re always looking at sales mixes. We’re looking at what’s popular activity now, what’s not a popular activity now. And then we’re looking at was it a marketing issue? Was it an availability issue? Is it just one of those things that the guests aren’t interested in doing anymore? We look at obviously ADR, we look at rev Par, we use Smith Travel Research star reports for a couple of different competitive sets, both regional and then national in those sides.
Trey Matheu: And then we do a lot of a lot of research. We travel a lot. So whether it’s the owner or the owner’s son and our VP of brand, or whether it’s us or associates we do every year, we do. We call it on every moment. But it’s our associate of the year program, and we take our associate of the year to a luxury property across the world, actually going to Orlando this year. But what are the feedback that we’re actually getting from the associates who are the best of the best on different ideas that are happening in those areas and then stealing them? Nemacolin has become what I’ll call a collection of collections. We collect everything from architecture to planes to cars to animals in our exotic zoos. And actually, we’re using species survival plans in the zoo. So we’re rescuing the animals more than collecting them, but then putting them all together in the melting pot and seeing what’s there. And that’s where we got our research. It really isn’t anything too fancy. I think it’s everyone else’s there is doing. But I think the key for here is really listening directly to our associates and directly to our guests to engage at high levels to find out what they what’s missing, what they’d like to do with some of those trends are out there.
Robin Trimingham: When you have 2,400 acres, there must be just so many different directions that you could go in. How do you figure out which lifestyle trends to follow? Which ones are actually influencing the development plan?
Trey Matheu: I think there’s a couple of different ways we’ll do that. We’ll do obviously competitive research and see if someone else has done something. But on the flip side, the owner and president has done a wonderful job of cultivating entrepreneurs at the property, so I get just as many ideas out of the activity or the wildlife team that I do from the guests, or what’s going on in trends there. They’re going out, they’re looking and they’re seeing it. And then one of the neat things that the resort is we invest in fashion. We know that if someone’s going to bring up a project and we’re going to spend a certain amount, we’ve come up with a return on investment. That person taking ownership of that project and moving it forward, they’re not going to fail. Those are just good investments. It keeps people engaged. It keeps people growing. And we may come up with an idea that we’re able to put out there. It’s phenomenal. So that’s probably our number one piece in some of the development. We have to keep monitoring these things throughout and using whatever we can in the short time to to figure out what our guests need. And then the bigger picture of how do we bring it all together in a cohesive manner. To your point, over 2400 acres, and I’m sure that there’s a degree of quality that stands from from the sloth encounter to our five star dinner at the track and everything in between.
Robin Trimingham: Have to say, though, you haven’t lived until you’ve fed banana to a sloth. I’ve actually done it so I know. Yeah, I was going.
Trey Matheu: To say that the whole sloths move slowly is completely a rumor. They can move pretty quickly when they need to.
Robin Trimingham: Yeah, you show it the bananas. And I think, okay, so when you have this many projects on the go and a lot of them are really viable, I’m almost wondering if you reach a point where you’re at the risk of trying to be all things to all people, all at the same time? How do you differentiate between the short turn must haves that would like to haves and the long term goals?
Trey Matheu: Well, as I mentioned, I think it goes back to the comment a collection of collections. We know that we can’t be everything to everyone. If you’re looking for an urban experience, we don’t have it. If you’re looking for swimming in the ocean, we don’t have it. If you’re looking for for world class black diamond skiing and going off of cliffs and all that fun stuff we don’t have, we know that’s the case. But we do have a ski resort, and our goal in the ski resort is to be the best learning experience. For someone that’s never been on skis or someone that’s in there in the beginning of skiing, so we know what our limitations are, that’s going to be the case. We will give you one on one skiing treatment. We’ll make sure that you can get down, that you have a good time, that it’s not a traumatic experience. When I was first learned skiing, I fell and skinned all the freckles off my nose and I still wanted to go. So they said, okay, you can do it. That’s not our goal here. It’s to have a good time, customize that experience and to bring people on a one by one basis. When we look at the spa, I think we want to be the best spa that we can or the best spot that’s out there. How does that define it? Changes. We’ve seen spa industry in general changing where we have taken over the last couple of years. A strong look into health and wellness, incorporating that into more of a more than just a pleasurable experience, which we’ve seen in the spa for years and years, the almost hedonistic. So we want to change that. And because our guests are telling us that we need more of the health and wellness, and that’s something that came out of Covid and has really pushed, we’re looking at the same thing from from our culinary perspective.
Trey Matheu: Can we be the best at providing? For many years, we provided a farm to table five diamond, five star experience that we were okay with going to live Amish auctions that are purchasing straight from the field. That happened a couple of times a week when the season just ended. But to make sure that we’re offering that product, which nobody else can because we have Amish farms that are within driving distance. So I think that’s the piece. And I do think that that unfortunately or fortunately for us, that a lot of this multi-generational travel, they’re coming because we can be a little bit of everything to everyone. If Mom and dad want to go out and do something alone in the afternoon or in the evenings, our kids club is world class. We’re doing everything the kids club that adults can do, so we’re taking them out. We’re playing golf, we’re doing the animal encounters, we’re doing skiing, we’re doing all these different things. Miniature version that’s now focused on on learning and development for the children, at the same time giving them a heck of an experience where they come back so we know our limitations. We’ll never be a large association property. We don’t have the space, nor is our direction at this point. From a convention perspective. But if you’re looking at incentive travel, it’s not very many places that you can go. Give people the keys to the castle and have as many diverse experiences as you can in southwestern Pennsylvania at Nemacolin. So I don’t know if that answered your question or made it more confusing, but.
Robin Trimingham: I think I’m coming to the conclusion that you guys are the family resort on steroids. Not in a good way. Should we.
Trey Matheu: Use a marketing.
Christopher Baran: Tagline? Robin? We’ll think about using that, right?
Robin Trimingham: I’m here to help. So let’s talk logistics a little bit here. I know something about having a luxury resort in the wilderness. I worked for a brand that had properties, iconic ones in the Rocky Mountains, so I know a little bit about things like internet access above 5000ft when you have multiple buildings and all kinds of fun stuff like that. Chris, how are you guys handling advances in AI applications in a way that is impactful and appreciated by your guests?
Christopher Baran: That is now our focus. As I mentioned, through the pandemic, we did a pretty big paradigm shift in our consumer where we went more on the luxury segment, and now it’s actually dissecting that segment. And with the adaptation now of what is AI? What are the current algorithms? So what is metadata really for our consumer? We’re actually doing a great job of breaking down our leisure. Guess where an old adage in hotels was to try to keep the repeat percentage of guests at a high number. So you didn’t assume a great customer acquisition piece. We see that as taking our repeat percentage, turning them into members, and always filling our funnel with new, innovative guests. As Robin, the face of travel has changed immensely since the pandemic, and people are now in the new generations and the current travelers, the younger travelers, as we’re all getting a little older in our hotel careers here, they’re looking for memorable experiences. They want curated experiences that might be a one time that they’d like to travel to one place, get that Instagram post, travel to the next place, and so on and so forth. When we see the repeat percentage, we literally tried to turn them into members, but they have for multiple visits. But we’re always looking at that. The innovation of AI and really using our marketing skills in a sense of those targeted ads. What you’re looking after, whether it’s luxury goods, arts, outdoor activities, we really work well in our space for advertising to get to the consumer. That is our new target audience. Over the past few years, we’ve seen people that have unrecognized their hotel in a variety and not in our traditional sense, not from our online travel agencies or our travel advisors, but really from our Instagram posts, from our social posts, from our ads. And we do a variety of media placements, whether they be in Forbes magazine or Robb Report. We’re also advertising in Pet magazine. We look at different audiences and really try to reach out with that metadata to find our biggest reach.
Robin Trimingham: Established in 2002, FOH is a woman-owned, global foodservice and hospitality company that manufactures smart, savvy commercial grade products including plateware, drinkware, flatware, hotel amenities and more. Driven by innovation, FOH is dedicated to delivering that wow experience that restaurants and hotels crave, all while maintaining a competitive price. All products are fully customizable, and many are also created using sustainable, eco friendly materials such as straws and plates made from biodegradable paper and wood, and PVA free drinkware. FOH has two established brands front of the house, focused on tabletop and buffet solutions, and room 360, which offers hotel products. Check out their collections today at fohworldwide.com. It’s funny how travel goes because you guys are career hoteliers, so we’re all speaking the same language. Don’t you find that it goes in waves, where everybody wants to go out and see the world go somewhere new every time? But really it all comes down to, let’s find that place that feels like home. You know, that I’m going to come back to when things are good, when things are not so good, simply because it feels like home.
Christopher Baran: We always have an adage here, and me and Trey are in unison the best. He had a similar thing in hospitality, right? But it boils down to what was the best meal you ever had on Earth, right? We always do that as a topic conversation where we’re entertaining guests and the best restaurant, the best memory you ever feel is number one. When you’re actually in the hands of the front of the house of the waiter or the chef, right? When the chef says, I’m going to take care of you, you’re in my hands. You breathe a sigh of relief. And that’s what we’re really trying to do with this Butler program. Now experience it on all of our trees. We really, during the hands of our associates, our associates are familiar and as Trey alluded to earlier, owner has a huge commitment for everyone on our staff, our associates, to go through every experience on property. So they are that front of the house. They are that real memory curator, as we call them. They’re going to create a memory for you and say, Robin, it’s raining today. So we moved your fishing trip to tomorrow. But I know you’re into spa because you requested some information. And then we get our sneaky marketing. We know you spent time on the spot page, but didn’t book anything, so again, we’ll reintroduce that to you for an ask and really curate your experience. And then the second best part of it is we have a memorable experience at a restaurant, and the waiter knows you and they know what you like, and it feels at home. And that’s that second level of repeat guests that we like to turn to. So for that first timer, we’re trying to create the perfect itinerary for their memories and for that return guest, we’re trying to give them that sense of familiarity, of home, of something they want to come back to time and time again.
Robin Trimingham: It’s great talking to you guys because you guys are actually living and making work. The things that the rest of the industry is saying, oh yeah, well, it would be nice if we could do that. And you guys are actually walking the walk, so props to you for that.
Christopher Baran: Yeah, actually this has been an experience. Trades backgrounds in a variety of hotels and these regions. Both myself and Trey live on property, which was a first for me coming from more urban hotels in Las Vegas. It’s been it’s actually such a great integration. Our ownership encourages us to spend more time there. I know you guys will speak, uh, a little bit later on about the projects that you’ve done on property to make it feel like more home for the associates, but having that connectivity to our hotel only allows for that much better service to our guests.
Robin Trimingham: Speaking of connectivity, one of the big new experience demands of travelers is state of the art in-room entertainment. How are you guys handling that in the middle of 2,400 acres?
Christopher Baran: Absolutely. We have a very expansive IT team for sure. As Trey mentioned earlier, we’re going through a ongoing, massive, almost close to a half billion dollars renovation. It has been at the forefront. And that connectivity from Wi-Fi and coverage, what is now the norm of that 5G coverage and the speed we need to enhance. They really do want to feel a home away from home. We definitely take that to the next level with our technology. As anyone knows now, the world is CTV connected TV. They’re watching Netflix or watching Hulu. All of our TVs have been updated, as well as our cellular service on property that you could catch your favorite shows. And literally the goal given to our IT team and the individuals involved in the project was we want the guests to feel like they are at home on their couch, that they have that comfortability that you and I and Trey have. When we come home and we say, oh, I remember this was recorded on my DVR, I want to binge watch this. That is what our hotel rooms are set up for. So as much as we encourage our guests to get outside and experience the beautiful nature, we also know there are those dreary days where you just want room service from your butler.
Christopher Baran: And even with that, we make the butler experience very unobtrusive. We’re in a constant battle with our travelers right now of high tech versus high touch. We try to balance those two. Where butlers are absolutely will give as much interaction as a guest desires, and high touch and unpack you and pack you and be there for our wake up service if you want, in your room. And then we’re also very high tech where it can be all communicated via text, uh, where you can order meals, you can request services, you can book reservations, all with texting. Your brother had never see him again and never leave your room if you wanted to. So the technology within the room allows that to happen and really give it that seamless. I know myself sometimes I go on vacations and you turn it on to Do Not Disturb sign on. You don’t want to leave your room for 48 hours so we can have that service, but also be abreast of our guests at any time.
Trey Matheu: Let me just add one thing to that too, Robin. I think that when we start training our associates and this has been new for us over the last three years, we have to train them to read instinctually what the signs are for that particular guest. So we have to make sure that if there’s a guest that’s running late for a meeting, rather than that guest saying, I’m running late for a meeting, that we can make those assumptions and make that check in process instantaneous. And then you’ve got, you know, other people that want to talk and they want to find out about the history of. Resort. And wow, there’s a great $50 million art collection that we’ve heard about. Can you tell us more? And we’ve got to read those individuals and then use the technology that Chris is talking about to be able to hit those touch points and be able to interact with our guests, specifically how they want to be interacted with.
Christopher Baran: Yeah.
Robin Trimingham: Emotional intelligence. You’re speaking my language. I think that is absolutely the best approach. And it’s interesting to see how the world is transforming, because we’re in the midst of a shift from one travel demographic to the next. And obviously, I’m talking about the entrance of Gen Z travelers. My understanding is that these kids don’t use the telephone. Yeah, they carry around the device in their pocket, but it’s all about texting and apps and Instagram. And if they have to actually talk to a person, no, that’s not a good thing.
Christopher Baran: You know, they’re going through this renovation. Robin, it was interesting that we’re tearing down walls. You see the phone Jack there in the bathroom, right? Something that was industry cutting that I could take a telephone call from the restroom. And that was all the rage back in the luxury hotels. And now it’s gone, by the way, the wayside. Right? We want to be able to have that intuitiveness that they’re connected at all times, but not physically. Right. The real rotary phone is not there. All of our new rooms obviously have the iPad integration, with all the touch screen controls and the connect TV, so they can log right back in and feel that they’re home. But really it is a it is driven on our side by our app on property, which really gives you access to everything on property, the whole online experience or numerical experience on your phone.
Robin Trimingham: That’s definitely the way the world needs to head. And and I think it’s great that you guys are actually going there and making it all work. It’s paving a road for some of the rest of us. So I hear you guys have a residential component. Talk to me a little about this. Do you see this as a growing demand, or is this a little bit of a fad and you’re jumping on the bandwagon or you’re figuring it out? How’s it going?
Christopher Baran: Sure, absolutely. Again, that really comes back to what Trey said about listening to our guests. Obviously, we have a tremendous resource, tools at our disposal with guest feedback. During the pandemic, obviously, we saw a huge surge in demand for private entities, private estates. Our guests were leaving. The city didn’t want that hotel experience to be around other people, other words, during the pandemic. So we went forward with several projects on property for more private home experiences. Those private homes are so popular that, again, there was a propensity where we literally got asked the question, oh, is this for sale? Can I buy one of these? So on and so forth. So that secondary home, that’s where we see that repeat percentage going. And actually we pay close attention to not only our represented repeat percentage as a hotel guest, but then actually our hotel guests turning into memberships. And the membership component is really where the residential comes into play here at the property, as though we’re not in the real estate business per se. We encourage our guests to have property on the land here and become access through the membership portal, if you will, or demographics. So that is where we’ve seen a repeat customer that wants to come time and time again to really have their own executive state, however they want that, say, augmented with the services of the hotel. There’s no better sense of the world. If you ever have the affordability to have a vacation house in your personal residence. Boy, wouldn’t that be great if the refrigerator was stuff the housekeeping was was catered to, and at any given time I get meals delivered? No. Yeah, right. So we try to create that experience for our guests here in our residential programs, where they have these services and the amenities of the hotel. However, it is their private residence where they can have anything they want.
Robin Trimingham: I think back in the day, like in the 50s, that was a model that sort of did exist in a few luxury properties around the world. I know we had that here a bit on my island, and it’s nice to see that it’s coming back. Yeah, I was actually interested. So I’m going to change the subject here, that reading about your employee programs and that you encourage them to share ideas that will enhance the guest experience. And either one of you can answer this, what would you say is one of the best ideas that’s come from an employee? Yeah, I’ve.
Trey Matheu: Got a favorite. I’m sure Chris does too. First of all, I think one of the things we call our associates is associates at the property. And I think that’s a differentiating factor that we use from a verbal perspective, because associates to us insinuate partnership. And we want to partner with all of our associates out there. And I remember coming out of Covid, I was I came back in July of 2020 right in the middle of opening for Covid. And and every day I’d walk through the different activities, amenities that we’d opened. And every day the associates at the pool were we got so many people, we don’t know what to do. We don’t know what to do with the pool. We’ve got all this. So in November, I sat down. Actually, it was in January. I sat down with with president and owner, and she said, what are we looking at for next year? And I said, well, we need to do a lot more programming at the pool, yada, yada. So she said, well, what was the issue? I said, well, I. Stocking associates. They were talking to the guest and we just didn’t have enough room. So she said, well, let’s build a pool, okay? And quite literally the next morning, I got a phone call at 8:00 in the morning after we said, all right, let’s build the pool. Did you find someone to design the pool yet? Well, you’ve got a couple of different people. We’ll have them out next week to have a view. And then when we started talking to Food and Beverage Associates, when we started talking to the Activity Associates, we found a great location for that pool as part of our ski operations.
Trey Matheu: And we had our director of activities at the time was from Lake Tahoe, and he had run this pool that was open up year round and said we should have it year round. So let’s make sure we have enough heaters to pull it year round. And then we had another couple of associates. We do a lot of entertainment, large entertainment here at the resort. So instead of buying rigging the conference services, people said instead of renting tents and rigging, why don’t we just build a stage? So we built a stage as part of it, and then we had some of the folks from the kids club that chimed in and started saying, well, if we’re going to do all this, wouldn’t it be neat if we had a lazy river or something that you could stand up in? So we built the lazy river and then food and beverage said, we need to do that. And it really was just a combined effort that by July 4th of that year, we had built a whole new pool complex, which dramatically changed the resort. And that was a good idea that someone listened to and that we started just bringing more and more associates into to make it a better idea. And now it’s changed the makeup, and it’s saved our bacon. On years when it’s been a little too warm to blow snow. At least we have an opportunity for people to come and be in the hot tub and be in the pool.
Christopher Baran: I’ll echo that from today’s perspective, it’s we definitely believe in servitude leadership here as our owner president always echoes to us. They are the subject matter experts. And you guys as leaderships have to always crucial goals. It’s to remove obstacles and provide the tools. And it goes well beyond the archaic days of the suggestion box. There’s always that the proclivity to not put your name in there, they’re going to I’m saying something bad against management. I don’t want to offer ideas. So our owner president encourages us and insists that we are out there talking to our associates. And that’s the best. Ideas come because they are the subject matter experts to today’s point, with the idea of what is now, this multimedia absolute juggernaut of amenity came from the genesis of one associate having that idea in talking with their leader. And by ways, and I’m always on the technology side, what is making your job easier? What are those tools that are, you know, it can be simple as a location of a time clock, efficiency, so on and so forth. We really make a huge point to talk to our associates because most likely, again, it’s either one of two things. Either they want something easier for them to do their jobs, but more ultimately for better guest experience and getting there earlier. And I’m clocking in better, and I’m getting these items rung in faster by the placement of the POS system. But we have no way of that idea. You know, every managing director or VP in the C-suite is always, oh, we should put it here, because that’s where the designer said, talk to the people. Talk to your associates because they know better. Actually, they’re running from the kitchen to service a guest.
Robin Trimingham: Yeah, I think that’s very good advice. Tell me a little bit about your Associate Village project, because I imagine if you have 2,400 acres, you probably haven’t got like easy places for people to live off property. So they must be somehow living on property.
Trey Matheu: Yeah, I think this goes back to when when we came out of Covid, we started to have a formula that worked. We started seeing demand shoot up, drive radius increase, etc., etc. and as we were coming out of Covid, we also needed to go back to basics and do some really basic training we lost in. In a few months we were closed. It seemed like we forgot everything about hospitality and start at the beginning again. And one of those things was attracting and retaining great talent. And so Nemacolin is like I mentioned before, it’s not in the middle of the it’s not in the edge of the ocean. It’s not in the middle of the mountains. We’re in a rural community about 40 minutes away from the first metropolitan area in Morgantown, West Virginia, about an hour away from Pittsburgh. So one of the things we saw as we brought leaders in that they wouldn’t stay for very long, they would leave. So so Maggie insisted that we start with creating a village community. We built duplex housing units. We built single family housing units, we put in a market, and we were just about to open it for both for the public as well as for the associates.
Trey Matheu: And he said, we’re not going to do that where you’re going to operate this as an associate only market. So it’s on par with many Whole Foods. And we listen to associates as well. We had a lot of folks from Jamaica, so we opened up with Goat meat, which sold out the first two hours of opening the store. Amazing and really been in there. And her point was, I don’t want someone that may have had run in with a guest in shorts trying to shop for on their time off, trying to shop for staples, and then have to feel uncomfortable in there. And that’s that was a huge decision to say we’ll forego business in order to be able to to treat the associates well. We also put in a workout facility with a yoga room we have. Structures that are fitness instructors just for associates. We have a pub and restaurant that’s just for associates. And and we’re discounting all of these, these prices not to resort prices, but we’re competing with the local grocery store and the local bar down the corner or actually down the corner means about 45 minute drive.
Christopher Baran: But obviously with that shift that happened with our guests, happen with our associates as well. For the first time in my life, my both my managing director came and said sales needs to be involved with HR. I said, but this is a I’ve never been asked for that task. Now, just like it is attracting our new customer from a leisure standpoint, it’s attracting our new associate they mentioned earlier. Now this, the Gen Z is going to be coming up. The Gen Y, the Gen Zs. We lost a whole generation of hospitality workers, obviously with the pandemic. And our owner and president saw this a couple steps ahead, she said. Now is going to be the shift from your group now to this luxury, leisure and curated experiences. But now your associates are going to want so much more than just a paycheck. They’re going to want a community. They’re going to want a sense where we used to put something up. A job would be open, would be a short lead time of 2 to 4 weeks. We have seen that longer lead time. So what offerings do we need to enhance? What offerings do we need to enhance for our associates to be happier at work? And they weren’t leaving their houses, right? Everyone was saying hunker down, staying in cities, moving out. And as I said, we’re we’re a little bit remote.
Christopher Baran: But what can we provide for our associates that they’re happy on day to day basis? And the word that kept coming up and up again was community. They want to have this new generation of workers really want to be intertwined more than I think we’ve ever in our generation. We would work and would come home and don’t want to see my coworkers and I want to be out is that they actually all want to be together. What we’re finding through our active talking is that they want that sense of community. They want the gym. We put in a pub, a bar on property for our associates that they can interact. And I gotta be honest with you, Robin, the synergies that are unbelievable. We try to stay away from work, talk and they try to enjoy their their off times, but it always ends up being worked out right. It always ends up, boy I had this guest and we could do this. And that’s what these great. That’s the genesis and the origin of all these great ideas, because they have that sense of community at the pub and they come back and talk to their leaders and say, you know what? We were talking about this the other day, it’d be much easier if we did X, Y, and Z for our customers, and they’re keeping ahead of our trends.
Robin Trimingham: So talk to me a little bit about what I’m going to call your culture in your associate village. I’m very familiar with another luxury brand that has a facility just like this. And one of the challenges they faced was, I’m going to call them line workers, not necessarily wanting to encounter their boss on a Friday night. How are you guys navigating that one?
Trey Matheu: Personally, I found it’s the exact opposite. I come in on Friday night.
Trey Matheu: Yeah, there are absolutely people that don’t want to engage, and they want to have a good time and they don’t want to be judged while they’ve had a couple of drinks or they’re having laughs with their friends. And that’s we understand that implicitly. But on the other hand, when the collaborative effort that we’re trying to do with all our associates, we’ve done a lot of napkin planning at the pub where someone comes up and says, I’ve got this great idea idea of a few minutes to talk, and we sit down with literally with a barn napkin and as we said before, and come up with some of those ideas. So I think this goes back to the culture of the resort. And our management culture consists of three very specific things. The first one is listening care for your associates. That’s the first thing right off the bat. The second is work hard. So when you’re at work, it’s you’re not spending a lot of time at the water cooler. You’re being productive during those times. And I’m not saying that we need to work 100 hours a week, but we all know when we need to be busy and when we don’t. And then the last thing, which I think is our core tenant, and this one really goes back to everything from the president down to everyone throughout the resort, is check your ego at the door. None of us have time for egos. We’re moving so fast that I have no pride of authorship. I have no pride of ideas that come up. I’d love to celebrate the heck out of someone else doing that. And and I think if you nurture those things, then some of the awkwardness that you had mentioned at prior areas tends to melt away a little bit. How approachable are you? And that should be a barometer of our leadership too. We have a really walks into the bar and everybody leaves and we got a problem.
Robin Trimingham: Definitely. You know, I think that’s an excellent point. We’re just about out of time here today. But I do want to ask you one more question. What’s your key piece of advice for all of the people who view this broadcast regarding blending multiple business models together to create this sustainable, multifaceted hospitality business model that you guys are making work?
Trey Matheu: I think if I can point it down to one key, it’s communication. And that communication we mentioned throughout this time together is listening, asking questions and getting the stakeholders, whether they’re guests, whether they’re associates, whether they’re developers, whether they’re designers, all the stakeholders on the same page, and then communicating and taking the time during those periods to to ask probing questions. I am the dumbest person on the. Senior leadership to hire people that are smarter than you and let them do their jobs and listen to the people and develop them and encourage through those communication development of the folks that are talking to the guests on a daily basis.
Robin Trimingham: I think that’s an excellent place to leave it. Chris and Trey, I want to thank you both so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure to meet you. You’ve been watching The Innovative Hotelier. Join us again soon for up to the minute insights and information specifically for the hotel and hospitality industry.