AUSTIN, TX—Locale, a player in the apartment-hotel arena, recently launched a new retail program for its guests—Shop My Stay by Locale.
The in-room shopping experience allows guests to shop brands used in Locale’s apartments, including products from Parachute, known for its premium-quality sheets, towels, robes, and rugs, as well as home decor; Fellow, known for its coffee and beverage-related products; Public Goods, which offers amenity essentials made sustainably; and Art of Tea, purveyor of organic and specialty teas. Guests can sample the products during their stay and seamlessly purchase the products for at-home use via Locale’s website and, at some properties, in-room tablets.
Nitesh Gandhi, founder/CEO, Locale, noted that this evolution of the relationship between places to stay and the products inside them has been a long time coming.
“Think about hospitality,” he said. “If you ask someone, ‘What is one product that you think a hotel sells?’ most people answer with the Westin Heavenly Bed, even 10-15 years later. That is because there hasn’t been a lot of innovation in the space.”
But that’s changing. “We are moving to a world where almost every product has a start-up or a brand that sells just that product really well direct to consumer, but you don’t get to see it, don’t get to experience it, don’t get to feel it,” he said.
We’ve all been there: You do the research, read the reviews, weigh the pros and cons, and order something online, but when it arrives, it’s not quite what you were expecting.
Lodging is the perfect scenario for a consumer to get that firsthand knowledge, according to Gandhi. “The hotel room, the apartment, is a place to experience some of the new products and brands, and get to know if it is something you want in your own home, is just the perfect part of the experience for us,” he said.
And, if it’s not a brand the consumer was familiar with—but which they come to love during the stay and want to take home with them—that’s a great experience for them, too.
He stressed that partnering with the brands adds value for guests. “We really think it is augmenting the experience and it is exposing the traveler to so much more, both with local products, like coffee, and also national products like Parachute, which does all of our linens,” he said. “We are really exposing them to some interesting products.”
While the program currently only allows guests at its Dallas/Ft. Worth properties to purchase the products on their own devices using a booking code, the company hopes to expand the program using its own technology. The company is actively fundraising to do just that.
“Part of the reason we are fundraising is to improve our product and technology in house; you will be able to purchase it on your phone, it will connect to your guest profile—if you let it—and it can be a very seamless experience,” he said. “That is what we are building toward, but we didn’t want to wait for the infrastructure to be in place because we just found so much demand to get this going.”
Sometimes, perfect can be the enemy of good.
“We started it with a bit more pen and paper, so to speak,” Gandhi said. “We wanted to get it out there. Our vision is that it is a very seamless experience for purchasing; we should have that in the next six months, where you can buy it on your phone, and it will be shipped to your door and you’ll get your discount.”
Gandhi thinks that the retail program is a good fit for the upscale and upper-upscale segment that Locale targets. “We think that [the segment]is relatively underserved by our peers and the broader hospitality market in general,” said Gandhi. “Aparthotels, which have really been popular abroad, still really haven’t been activated the same way that lifestyle hotels have been activated here, in that they are still pretty basic and barebones. That is changing, but I find that many of our peers are still focused on growth above all else, and they are not paying enough attention to the quality of the experience that we are all trying to provide. Our focus is on that upper-upscale segment: to have the best service, the best overall in-room experience. I consider us to be more of a boutique player, if you will, in this category.”
The company hopes to bring more of the “hotel experience” into the aparthotel segment. “Going forward, we are having conversations with developers—many of them boutique developers—about doing full building deals where we would control the entire experience from start to finish,” he said. “That is something that we are very excited about and passionate about—really bringing in more of that hotel experience into the aparthotel experience. We are doubling down on the hotel side of that equation, which we are excited about.”
Gandhi hopes that the program will add to the continuing popularity of the apartment hotel sector. He sees a number of reasons for that popularity: families traveling more and for extended periods of time; bleisure travel; and the demand for stays in places that have a neighborhood feel, as just a few examples.
Another reason for the popularity, according to Gandhi, is that the quality of the apartment buildings—and their amenities—have dramatically improved over the last 10 years. “They truly are upscale, upper-upscale, luxury multifamily buildings that just weren’t being developed 10 years ago with the intentionality around the gym and the rooftop pools and restaurant on the ground floor. The product has changed, which has facilitated that a traveler’s preferences have changed,” he said.
Technology has also made the model much more seamless and effective. “It has really enabled the apartment hotel to take off as a category,” Gandhi noted. And with these upgraded amenities and technology offerings, it’s created the perfect storm for a tech-enabled amenity shopping platform. HB