retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe
Interesting story in the New York Times about how Marriott International, after its acquisition of Starwood Hotels and its Sheraton brand in 2016, seems to be turning that 82-year-old brand into a test case for internal disruption.

Understanding that travelers largely see the Sheraton brand as “tired and dated,” or in another turn of phrase, “the epitome of the beige hotel,” Marriott decided to invest in an extensive renovation of the Sheraton Grand Phoenix and “remake it into a prototype for the new face of the brand.”

An extensive renovation has begun: “Guest-room furniture will be lighter in color and more streamlined. There will be adjustable tables in lieu of desks, updated lighting and multiple seating options. Public spaces are being restyled to be gathering places, with semiprivate studios and phone-booth-like pods in the lobby where people can retreat for private calls.”

The Times notes that “in June, Marriott’s chief executive, Arne Sorenson, pledged to invest half a billion dollars into updating the look of Sheraton and, hopefully, its reputation. But creating a consistent brand identity will take time. The Phoenix renovation is expected to wrap up at the end of this year or in early 2020,” and it could take much of the next decade to achieve any sort of critical mass throughout the chain.

Now, updating a hotel chain like Sheraton is a complicated thing. Marriott doesn’t actually own many of the 200 US hotels and 250 overseas properties, and there are limits to how much it can demand of its licensees under the terms of their contracts.

But what’s noteworthy about the situation in which Sheraton finds itself is how much it seems like other competitive scenarios. It has been around for a long, long time. What in the past might’ve seemed like a proud tradition had devolved into complacency with a veneer of dust. There are lots of new competitors in the marketplace (some 18 new hotel banners were introduced just last year), many of them offering more eclectic and differentiated value propositions. (See Michael Sansolo’s column from last week.) And that doesn’t even count the brands such as Airbnb that are roiling the competitive waters.

All of which adds up to one key insight.

Beige won’t cut it.

Let’s be clear. Beige can be a color. It can be an attitude. A culture. A flavor. A perception.

But whatever it is, it ain’t good.

Marriott, to its credit, seems to realize it. There are more than a few retailers, afraid of sinking in rough and rising competitive waters, that also have realized it.

But not everybody has, and to be clear, everybody needs to.

Repeat after me.

Beige won’t cut it.

That’s the Eye-Opener.
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