Hotels Discover Catalogs, E-Commerce

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With hotel occupancy rates rising again after several slow years, hoteliers are in search of incremental sales from non-core businesses. Increasingly, one source for those sales is direct marketing vehicles such as catalogs and e-commerce sites.


"It's the ultimate compliment when a guest stays at your hotel and then purchases the bed that they slept on and continually remembers the experience," said Tery Young, vice president of creative and operations at Boxport, San Francisco.


The company, which provides e-commerce and catalog solutions for hotels, was started by hotel purchasing firm Higgins Purchasing Group after it saw an unmet need.


Until hotel catalogs came along, dedicated guests had to track down hotel purchasing departments to find out how they could buy the bed that produced such a fantastic night's sleep or the plush bathrobe they didn't want to take off, Young said.


"If there is that kind of dedication out there, there has to be a much bigger demand that we're not hearing about," he said of the company's decision to market directly to consumers.


Bedding is a big part of the equation. The majority of Boxport's sales come from bed-related purchases, Young said, because many upscale hotels design custom mattresses and sign an exclusive deal with the manufacturer.


"What hotel retailing has over any other retailer is that you actually experience the products," he said.


Boxport's clients include Le Parker Meridien, New York; James Hotels and The Regency Hotel, New York. Boxport launched a Web site and catalog this month for the new Sedona Rouge hotel in Sedona, AZ, and later this summer will introduce DM vehicles for Shutters on the Beach, Santa Monica, CA, and the Kimpton Hotels chain.


Results have been positive for Le Parker Meridien, which debuted a catalog and e-commerce site in December.


"We've taken the burden off of our staff for processing these requests and sped up the process for customers," said Victoria Barr, Le Parker Meridien director of sales and marketing. "And the brand is being spread around the world."


Both the catalog and Web site are called BuyParker.com. The catalog's 12 pages feature modern furniture and home décor items, a mattress and unique gifts such as diner-inspired tabletop accessories and exclusive T-shirts. The catalog had an initial print run of 10,000 and is being distributed in guestrooms and throughout the hotel.


Le Parker Meridien isn't the only hotel to have broadened its merchandise mix beyond bedding and other items guests would find in the rooms. Many luxury hotels try to create a lifestyle image through interior design, restaurant menus and spa services. Marketing signature items directly to consumers can be another way to reinforce that image.


The W Hotels introduced a catalog and e-commerce site four years ago, making it a pioneer in this category.


"Beyond the typical guest desire to purchase the bedding and the pillows, the W guest has a desire to purchase the W lifestyle," Platform Consulting Group president Steven Werther said.


The company is one of several that helps hotels enter guest fulfillment. Platform, New York, developed W's e-commerce site and catalog.


"A few years ago, hardly anybody was offering these services," Werther said.


One advantage of a hotel-based catalog is that it offers a cost-effective distribution model through hotel rooms and lobbies, Werther said. Mailings are limited to a select list of best customers around the holidays.


"We can achieve very handsome results with several hundred thousand catalogs distributed per year," he said.


Werther noted that 15 percent of those who have the W catalog mailed to them place an order.


Some of the latest hotel entries are banking on consumer interest in distinctive home décor. The Sedona Rouge Style catalog and Web site offer exclusive items inspired by the Arizona deserts such as a wood side table hand painted in a Moroccan-inspired design and a lambs wool blanket in the colors of the desert with a whip-stitch border.


The eight-page catalog features about 60 items ranging in price from $30 to $190. It is available in the hotel's 78 rooms and will mail as part of a package of material sent to potential guests. The catalog had an initial print run of 5,000. After a year, the merchandise mix will be re-evaluated.


"We anticipate getting several special requests and will make every attempt to fill them," Young said. "If we receive several for the same item, eventually it will make its way to the Web site and into the reprint."


As part of Shutters on the Beach's renovation in collaboration with an interior designer, the hotel will start a catalog and Web site the first week of July. Items for sale will include select furniture such as the bed found in guestrooms, beach accessories, juggling balls in a vintage box and bottle lanterns.


The catalog will have an initial print run of 10,000, of which some will be distributed in Shutters' 198 guestrooms and throughout the hotel as well as in the owners' two other California hotels: Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica and Andalucia in Santa Barbara. The catalog also will mail to repeat customers.


Kimpton Hotels expects to start a catalog this summer featuring signature items such as the throw pillows from the 70 Park Avenue Hotel in New York, bedding from the Hotel Monaco in New Orleans, modern lighting from the Hotel Palomar in San Francisco and an ivory- and ebony-detailed mirror from Cypress Hotel in San Jose, CA.


Westin Hotels, which also sells merchandise online, recently signed a deal with Nordstrom to sell its line of Heavenly Bed bedding in its stores.


Chantal Todé covers catalog and retail news and BTB marketing for DM News and DM News.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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