LAS VEGAS—There’s a new way for hoteliers to go through the franchising process, and it’s all done online. Developed by RLH Corporation, Franchiseasy allows hoteliers to apply for Country Hearth franchises in eight steps via a new website. There’s also a deal to consider: The first 10 hotels to sign up through Franchiseasy will get their first year of membership fees paid for by the hospitality group—that means 0% of revenue for one year.
“We frequently hear from hotel owners that our industry’s franchise license process is too cumbersome, time-consuming and frustrating, so we set out to disrupt the process,” said Leslee Torres, SVP of digital, loyalty and partnerships at RLH Corp.
Earlier this year, the Denver-based hospitality group began its efforts to develop a solution to address the industry’s concerns. RLH Corp. included hotel owners throughout the process by bouncing ideas off of them and taking relevant feedback into consideration. “Our focus was on developing a holistic experience that would appeal to independent hotel owners and owners whose hotels don’t fit the traditional franchise model,” she said. Launched in early December at RLH Corp.’s Global Brand Showcase and Expo, held at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino here, Franchiseasy became the hospitality company’s response to its franchisees’ troubles.
“We believe Franchiseasy will reduce the burden of the franchising process and give franchisees more freedom than ever before,” Torres said.
RLH Corp. developed the Franchiseasy concept internally, relying heavily on its digital marketing, lodging development, IT, innovation and legal teams. “At RLH Corp., we are innovating in many areas,” she said. “Some of the work we feel we can do best in-house. Other areas, we look to best-in-class organizations to bring the vision to life in a timely manner.” The hospitality company partnered with Bellevue, WA-based Altriva to leverage the business management consultant’s technology for the Franchiseasy’s back-end services, and tapped Houston-based Adcetera, a marketing and advertising company, to develop the new platform’s website.
One of the biggest hurdles during the development process was challenging industry norms. “We’re in an age-old industry, and there are operational procedures that are assumed at this point,” Torres said. RLH Corp. felt it needed to disrupt industry norms to create something owners want.
“Franchiseasy is purposely structured to be flexible,” she said. “We have the ability to offer a solution that works well for value hotels operating in the economy segment, but could also work well for independent hotels at all levels of our industry.”
Currently only being offered to Country Hearth franchisees, Franchiseasy, which may become available to some of RLH Corp.’s other brands in the future, charges a base fee to hoteliers, which covers PMS, CRS, website and connectivity to major OTAs.
“Bundled services, similar to what an owner would find with other franchises, make sense when the owner’s goal is to look and operate like every other hotel in the brand,” she said. “The Country Hearth brand offered through Franchiseasy is meant for the owner who wants to leverage the local, independent flavor to deliver value for the guest. We include the basic services that every hotel needs and let the owner choose to opt in to the services they need for their unique property. This allows us to keep costs down for the owners because they are only paying for the services they need.”
Additional services available to the franchisee include flexible support, regional hospitality training, a competitive intelligence program, live voice reservations, professional photography, a global distribution system and approved vendor network.
“Franchiseasy strives to be owner-friendly and extremely flexible,” Torres said. “We have taken on the heavy lifting for the services offered to ensure they are the best in class and will help make the franchisee more revenue.”
There are no corporate mandates on brand standards for franchisees who choose to use the Country Hearth logo. “Instead, we eliminated the lengthy delays of the typical brand redesign process and focused on what really matters to our owners and their guests—delivering a quality experience,” she said. “Hotels opting to use the brand must maintain a 2.0 TripAdvisor score. Not only is this approach more nimble to changing guest preferences, but it also focused the owner on the hotel’s TripAdvisor score, which we know is a significant influence on revenue.” RLH Corp. offers on-property consultants to franchisees interested in maximizing or improving TripAdvisor scores.
“Today’s guest clicks around before making a reservation and one of the most frequently visited travel sites is TripAdvisor,” Torres said. “TripAdvisor offers a real-time reflection of guest sentiment and potential guests rely on these peer reviews when making their purchasing decisions. For us, the guest sentiment and reviews give us insight into the hotel’s guest experience in real time without us having to send someone to the property. For hotel owners, the focus is less on brand standards and more on the guest experience. If the guest has a good stay, then the program served its purpose.”
The entire franchise application process can be done online, so franchisees don’t need to contact anyone if they don’t want to. “They just need the legal name of the entity that owns the hotel, an employer ID number or tax ID number, and their current address and contact information,” she said. The entire application process for the franchisee is only eight steps in total.
“The franchisee has the option to join our nationally recognized Country Hearth brand or remain independent,” Torres continued. “We have done all the heavy lifting to pick the best in class offerings for the hotel and created an interconnected web of technology that the franchisees does not need to take the time to research and develop on their own. Once the owner is in the system, they get to operate their hotel based on what’s best for their clientele and bottom line.”
RLH Corp. has received “a lot of interest from potential franchisees,” she said. The coming year will be dedicated to revising the company’s platform.
“In 2018, we plan to get feedback from franchisees as they use the platform and begin franchising with Franchiseasy,” she said. “We will build and improve the program and services offered based on that feedback.” HB