Cobblestone Hotels celebrates 10 years, looks to the future

BLOOMINGTON, MN—For Neenah, WI-based Cobblestone Hotels, this year’s conference, held here at the Radisson Blu Mall of America last month, had a theme that was equal parts simple and descriptive: Celebrating Ten Years. The corporate team for Cobblestone Hotel & Suites, Cobblestone Inn & Suites and Boarders Inn and Suites by Cobblestone Hotels—joined by general managers, owners, prospective investors and more—took time to reflect on the company’s first decade in existence and lay out plans for the next decade.

And those plans include adding to the 86 hotels that the upper-midscale hotel brand company has open in 18 states. Last year, the brand opened 13 properties, representing an additional 618 guestrooms to the system. Now, there are eight more properties under construction, with an additional 50 locations in the pipeline. By the end of the year, Cobblestone Hotels expects to add two additional states to its portfolio.

Jeremy Griesbach, president of development, noted that Cobblestone Hotels is continuing to expand its Main Street prototype. While, traditionally, Cobblestone properties have been found in smaller markets, the new-build brand created this model to compete in larger markets. A new headquarters location of the Main Street prototype broke ground last month; when completed, the company plans to use this property to train managers.

However, Griesbach said, this doesn’t reflect a fundamental change in how the company plans to operate going forward. “Is this our future? No,” he said. “We understand our bread and butter, and we think that is what will drive us in the future. But, we do think there is a place to increase Cobblestone brand recognition as people travel throughout the states. I want to reassure you that small town America is where we’re from and where we’ll be.”

With 10 years under its belt, one area of focus for attendees was that of refreshing older properties. Brian Wogernese, president, founder and CEO of Cobblestone Hotels, addressed the concern about the implementation of property improvement plans head on. “The point of this conversation is that at the 10-year mark, it’s time,” he said, which was met with chuckles from the nearly 300 attendees (a record number for the brand, surpassing previous conferences). “At that point, you’re either worn out or uglied out. So, keep in mind that ahead of year 10, we need to talk about your plans.”

Practicing what it preaches, Cobblestone Hotels completed renovations on several of the corporate properties last year, and it plans to move forward with the next round of renovated properties. Speaking to the crowd, Wogernese assured the attendees: Cobblestone Hotels wouldn’t expect franchisees to take on anything that it hadn’t tested and completed first.

Additionally, the brand services team addressed the company’s focus on driving direct bookings and building guest relations, and revealed changes to quality assurance and guest satisfaction scoring. The team also unveiled Cobblestone Rewards Visa Signature credit card, which will launch this summer, as well as a new uniform program.

During the conference, attendees also were able to attend educational sessions on a variety of topics ranging from brand and operations, to development and strategy. The speakers included Travel Media Group, discussing the importance of the operators staying current with social and search trends; Terra Verde, discussing the heightening issues of cyber security and protecting guests’ information; and Advocates for Human Rights, educating the franchisees on human trafficking and how to handle any misgivings and suspicious behavior. The development educational sessions were concentrated on several subjects: investor feedback, growth of Boarders Inn & Suites, and what market feasibility companies and banks are looking for in projects.

The following were recipients of 2017 Awards: Boarders Owner of the Year—Marsha Nice, Boarders Inn & Suites of Medford, WI; Cobblestone Owner of the Year—Joel McDowell, Cobblestone Hotel & Suites of Greenville, PA; General Manager of the Year—Dean Hanes, Cobblestone Inn & Suites of St. Marys, PA; Employee of the Year— Tammie VanAusdal, Cobblestone Hotel & Suites of Charlestown, IN; Renovation of the Year—Boarders Inn & Suites by Cobblestone Hotels of Syracuse, KS; and Property of the Year—Cobblestone Inn & Suites of Corry, PA.

This year, the property of the year was awarded with an orange Challenger; however, this prize was not for the property to keep. Instead, the car is used to better the community in which the property is located, by asking the property of the year to use the car to raise money for a local charity.

“Being part of the Cobblestone network is an honor in itself, and to have our Corry property chosen as Hotel of the Year from among our 80-plus peers is absolutely amazing,” remarked Tom Kennedy, owner of the hotel. “To me it represents that we truly embraced and delivered [on] Cobblestone’s culture of ‘Big City Quality, Small Town Values.’” HB