Magazine article Personnel Journal

Sleep Inn Wakes Up to New Labor

Magazine article Personnel Journal

Sleep Inn Wakes Up to New Labor

Article excerpt

Something strange happened to the budget sector of the lodging industry in the early 1980s. To entice new customers to their rooms, hoteliers began to add conveniences such as microwave ovens, coffee makers and portable refrigerators. They called this phenomenon "amenity creep." Soon these comforts (perhaps the most infamous being the in-room Jacuzzi) began to drive the proprietors out of the economy market and into a new realm the industry coined "luxury budget."

"That's where we all ended up," admits John M. Jorgensen, vice president of development for Silver Spring, Maryland-based Choice Hotels International. "Everyone vacated the budget business and watched it disappear."

Choice Hotels International, one of the world's largest hotel franchisors, selling such brands as Comfort Inns and Quality Suites, wanted to return to the days of no-frills rooms at bargain prices.

The company, which has 2,600 hotels in the U.S. and in 19 countries, also needed to figure out a way to contend with an even bigger obstacle--the expected labor shortages and declining employee productivity in the service industry.

The solution, company executives decided, was to design a new hotel that was "labor lean," yet offered the customer a comfortable, attractive room at a competitive price. Thus was born Sleep Inn.

For its efforts, Sleep Inn has been recognized as one of PERSONNEL JOURNAL's 1991 Optimas Award winners. The award is given annually to companies that display excellence in human resources management in one of 10 categories, which range from managing change to global outlook. Sleep Inn was the winner in the competitive advantage category.

Jim Crawford has been in the lodging industry for 20 years. As president of the Hickory, North Carolina-based Hospitality Management Group, he recently built two Sleep Inns and is planning a third. "Sleep Inns," he maintains, "are less expensive to operate and require fewer employees."

Crawford says he can run a Sleep Inn with half as many employees as needed in a comparable budget hotel. His 10-room Sleep Inn uses 14 full-time workers. A similarly priced budget hotel would need 25 to 30 employees, he says.

So why so few workers? For one, the rooms are smaller and designed for cleaning efficiency, enabling the housekeepers to breeze through them in two-thirds the time it takes to clean the average room. "My housekeepers can each clean five more rooms a day at a Sleep Inn," Crawford points out.

Indeed, Sleep Inns were designed with human resources in mind. Not only can they be scrubbed in 20 minutes--about ten minutes less than average--but employees have to do less lifting, squatting and moving. This comes in handy for Crawford, who says housekeeping is becoming less attractive to younger workers (who don't want to work on the weekends) and is forcing him to evaluate senior citizens for employment.

Wes Balmer, a Phoenix-based architect who has worked for the management of Ramada Inns and Embassy Suites, drew the plans for the Sleep Inn rooms and lobby. Among the many questions he asked was, "Do people really take baths when they stay in hotels?" The answer is no. Only 5% of lodgers will soak in a tub. So the tub was replaced with a shower, cutting down on square footage. The rooms are 70% the size of the average budget hotel.

Balmer, however, had a hidden agenda. Cleansing the pesky corners and slots of a tub is labor-intensive. …

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