True North builds on a consistent approach

OVERLAND PARK, KS—With a name like True North Hotel Group, it’s no wonder the company has a clearly defined mission. “Staying focused on what matters, with our compass pointed ‘True North’ is a consistent, unwavering approach that has kept us successful through two generations,” said Brad Wiens, EVP/chief development officer for the company.

“While we are enormously grateful for our status as a seven-time Marriott Partnership Circle Award winner, what we’re most proud of is what it says about how we prioritize relationships and focus on doing what’s right by our owners, investors, partners, employees, guests and parent brands,” he continued. “The tenured duration of our company stems from the infectious, deeply giving family feeling that’s been part of True North’s culture from day one—a culture that extends into our communities through our company-wide Give Back program.”

The company’s roots extend back to 1975, when homebuilder Lew Wiens, Brad Wiens’ father, founded Homes by Henry. “In 1983, he and his partners evolved into hospitality, opening the 16th Residence Inn as franchisees—four years before Marriott acquired the brand,” he said.

In 1998, Lew Wiens formed a new entity in partnership with Michael Dubroff, and True North Hotel Group was born. “Richard ‘Dick’ Merkel’s addition in early 1999 as COO rounded out a partnership triad devoted to exceptional, caring hospitality and smart business acumen—all attributes that have since evolved True North Hotel Group into a major player in hotel development and management,” Wiens said.

The company has always had a close relationship with Marriott as well. “My dad [was]a franchisee and founding member of the Residence Inn Association (TRIA board) before Marriott acquired the brand from Jack DeBoer in 1987,” Wiens said. “Lew was the incoming TRIA board president at the time of the acquisition and was appointed by Marriott to serve on the transition task force. He was subsequently invited to serve as the first president of the SpringHill Suites Franchise Advisory Council when Marriott launched that brand. It’s amazing when you realize he has served as a Marriott Advisory Board member for 32 consecutive years and has seen Residence Inn through 36 years of immense changes in design, development and demographics. That all three of us—Lew, Dick and I—have now served on franchise and marketing advisory boards and committees keeps us excited about the industry’s—and True North’s—future.”

Today, the company’s portfolio includes 27 hotels, focused primarily on the extended-stay and select-service segments. “We pursue and respond to smart, quality projects in the right markets with the right partners… We tend to focus on markets where we have existing hotels, as the operational synergy makes it more efficient,” Wiens said.

“Besides having a major presence in our own backyard, greater Kansas City, the Northeast has been a very solid development market for True North Hotel Group,” the executive said, adding that this region would be a focus for the company in the coming year. “Additionally, we’re just starting construction in Tuscaloosa, AL, on a 120-key AC by Marriott; are under construction on our second dual-branded Marriott hotel—a SpringHill Suites and TownePlace Suites—in Wrentham, MA; and we’re in the development stages of our second Home2 Suites by Hilton in Astoria, OR, at the mouth of the Columbia River.”

Wiens described the company’s growth strategy in simple terms: “Being equally strong in development and in management is a winning and fulfilling combination that has solidified our reputation and fuels our growth strategy. True North has a long history of identifying sites, building ground-up, and then successfully operating. This year, we added a new VP of development, Chris Harlow, to help grow our portfolio with the right brands.”

What does the company have its eye on in the coming year? “Like everyone else, we continue to watch interest rates very closely,” Wiens said. “We will hit the end of the diving board one day, and that is why it is so important to have the right brands in the right markets. Also, finding and retaining good associates is always a challenge for our operations teams in the fields, which is why it is so important to take care of your associates every day.” HB

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