The Secret Sauce of Stay Alfred
Equal parts tech firm and hospitality company, Stay Alfred manages over 2500 units in 33 different US locations. Having raised $62M, the company provides guests with the reliability of a hotel stay and the convenience of an apartment. You can watch the full interview on YouTube or listen to it on
Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast (US only). More stations: https://anchor.fm/secretsaucepodcast
|N of properties connected||+2500|
|Headquarter Location||Washington State, USA|
|Tech Used||Rentals United + API|
Get 2500 properties listed efficiently and accurately on all booking websites
Find a partner that can push multi-unit style logic to all listing sites
Finding a close and easy partner that doesn't constrain the business model
A strong partner relationship and increased speed of doing business
Full Interview with Doug Truitt - Director of Distribution at Stay Alfred
Vanessa: Please tell us about you Doug, and your current position at Stay Alfred.
Doug: My name is Doug Truitt, I am the Director of Distribution for Stay Alfred. Prior to Stay Alfred, I’ve been in the hotel space for 19 years. The most recent position was the Assistant General Manager for RedLion Hotel Parc in Spokane, Washington, which is a 400 rooms hotel with 5 Food & Beverage outlets and 30 thousand square feet of convention meeting space so, annual revenue about 15 million dollars a year. It was a great space to be, but the hotel space definitely was lacking that little bit extra that the vacation rental space has so...
I’m currently the Senior Director of Distribution and Manager of Advertising Presence on all of our third-party channel OTA for Stay Alfred.
Our “Distro team” – as we call it – consists of three teams:
1) The Distribution Team, building and maintaining the advertisements;
2) The OTA Support Team, which is receiving of all the reservation processing, making sure that everything coming from the OTA is correct;
3) The Guest Reviews and Reputation Management, so, asking for, responding to, escalating issues based on our guest valuable feedback throughout the organisation to try and make sure they’re always constantly doing better.
Vanessa: So, what is Stay Alfred and what vertical does it address?
Doug: Stay Alfred offers upscale travel apartments in the downtown neighborhoods of 33 US cities and counting. Our next generation booking process, 24 hours, 7 days a week Customer Service, and professional housekeeping staff, provide our guests with the reliability of a hotel stay, while our special combinations with the kitchen, laundry and private bedrooms give guests the convenience of an apartment.
Our tagline: Your place in the city;
It’s a really good concept for us to really embrace all travellers that come to any of our cities for either work, for families, for tourism… it really encompasses being able to have your own place and not worry about small tiny hotel rooms or, for example, somebody who has cat allergies and maybe there were cat leftovers in their flat.
The vertical that we address, I think really stems from its own niche. You have your traditional vacation rental, you have your surf and ski, you’ve got your resorts, you’ve got houses on the beaches or up in the mountains, but then on the hotel side, you’ve got all this really prime urban downtown locations with all these great hotels... but tiny hotel rooms.
So, we really have this niche right in the middle between all of that, which is the urban downtown market. We found a way to be in those places and actually attract the market of folks who don’t want the hotel room but also don’t want to be 10-50 miles outside the city.
30 DAYS BOOKINGS
Vanessa: Can you disclose what’s the percentage between leisure and business?
Doug: Right now, it’s more predominantly on leisure, but we do have a very strong business presence and we are expanding our efforts to invest more into that. We do have a national corporate sales team, their sole focus is going after big, large companies that feature with relocations or short-term job needs or project needs.
The prime urban downtown markets like downtown Seattle and Boston and Washington DC have a lot of business activity, where big companies need accommodation and folks don’t have to get rental cars or be in a hotel room, and they can actually treat their employees a little bit better with a full-fledged apartment.
Vanessa: Ok, but it’s still short-term right? Or you’re also looking at mid-term now?
Doug: We do short-term, we also do long-term i.e. anything longer than 30 days. But we do have quite a bit of business that comes for longer than 30 days.
In Denver right now we have quite a few long-term stays as well as Boston, and even Washington DC. But I would say our main core focus is the short-term rental side, but it is something that we are moving more towards trying to figure out the advertising to that longer-term stay.
Vanessa: For Stay Alfred is the brand really important? The consistency of the brand?
Doug: Yeah! I mean, some of the ways the brand is important is consistency… just as I explained about the difference between hotels and vacation rentals. The reason why hotels are so successful is because the majority of corporate travellers or families know the reliability and the consistency of staying at a Hilton or Marriott.
The reality is that in vacation rental markets, property managers have very unique pieces of inventory and they are all different.
So at Stay Alfred, we actually have our way of creating unique experiences from combining the space and the comfort of the travel apartment and the consistency and reliability of a hotel. The average size of a hotel room according to USA today is 325 square feet, but the average size of a Stay Alfred apartment is nearly three times that, with a pricing that is very competitive to the hotel concepts.
We also focus on building our own furniture, so, we don’t own the companies that make the furniture, but we work with companies for our own custom furniture. We have a custom, iconic “quotation mark chair” - as we call it - it’s a green chair, you’ve probably seen in a lot of our advertisements, but it’s the same sofa, the same chair, the same dining set, the same dish wear, the same bed, the same linen, the same towels, the same amenities; all those pieces that go into our apartments are the same whether you’re in Boston or you’re in Seattle, or you’re in San Diego or in New Orleans... that consistency really is something of value for a lot of customers because they want more space, they want a full apartment, they want a washer and dryer in their unit.
They want these pieces to make it feel like its their place in the city, but they also want to know that if they go choose one in one city they’re going to have a very similar experience in consistency, and that establishes loyalty.
Vanessa: How do you differ from your competitors?
Doug: We are one of the first ones that actually have a loyalty program, one of the first loyalty programs in the short-term space.
The “Stay Alfred Rewards”, or the “Green Suitcase Society”, which is not unlike what you find in a hotel chain with repeated stays, lead to free nights with us. I think that’s a very valuable piece that has been missing in the vacation rental space. A lot of folks are saying “Well, I love staying in a vacation rental but I miss all my Marriott Rewards points…”.
So, I think we’re really bridging the gap, I don’t think anybody else has actually successfully attempted that. We are fully launched with it and we’re getting a lot of great organic feedback from it without pushing too much.
Vanessa: You’ve raised 62 million dollars to-date, what have you used the investment for?
Doug: We use our investment rounds to really expand the business, strengthen our inventory acquisition, build and improve on the technology and then also move Stay Alfred really to the next level, so we’re looking to get into Europe. Investment helps us constantly gain more acquisition of inventory and really aid those efforts.
We’re also funding a lot of our technology in trying to make sure that we are not only building more on top of our technology but also improving it. As we all know technology is constantly changing and evolving, the guest's needs are changing and evolving, and so that requires a lot of attention and a lot of innovation as well.
Vanessa: You lease long-term, you acquire, is it a mix? How does it work?
Doug: Yeah, there is a mix. We do a lot of “master leases”, that’s how we call them, which are Long-term leases, working with developers and owners of properties. We do have whole building inventory as well, where we actually take over the entire building. In some of them, we take over, several floors in the building.
We have a very healthy mix and that’s pretty much the go-forward strategy in the future. Mostly, longer term secure inventory.
Vanessa: And you’ve got your European locations pinpointed already? Where are you going to go first?
Doug: We’re looking at the UK, Brussels, Warsaw, Krakow; we’re looking at Barcelona and a few other spots in Spain; so we would be coming near to Rentals United soon.
Vanessa: So, you talked shortly about tech, I wanna deep dive into tech. What has Stay Alfred built and what has Stay Alfred outsourced?
Doug: Sure! We’ve built quite a few things. We’ve built our own guest app, native app, we’ve built some housekeeping apps for internal teams. We’ve built our own website; we’ve built the Loyalty program that intersects with all the systems.
We’ve also built a dynamic revenue management system internally for ourselves… There are quite a few other things that we’ve built, some of them a little bit more granular.
Outsourcing... there are bits and pieces of outsourcing that have happened over time. Not a whole lot though! We really try to keep things close to us to make sure we have control over it, and if we don’t we’re going to invest more resources, time and internal employee output to build on that, instead of actually, outsourcing it all. Controlling the project and keeping the flow is really important!
Vanessa: So, how many programmers are we talking about today?
Doug: We have about 12 or 13 programmers. Consisting of various roles... Senior software engineers, lead software engineers etc…
Vanessa: I don’t know if you heard but there is one company in the States that is now reselling their own software; the software that they built for their own property management company they’re now reselling it. Is it something that you’ve been looking into or maybe in the future?
Doug: You know, I don’t believe that it’s really on the roadmap at this point.
But anything is possible in the future for Stay Alfred. The space is constantly changing and evolving and I think everybody is pivoting and reacting in various ways. We are sticking true to our core of what we do and what we are offering.
THE MARKETING MIX
Vanessa: Let’s talk about Marketing and Distribution! How do you choose your channels? How do you know which are the best OTAs to advertise on, when it comes to leisure and business travel?
Doug: Sure! Similarweb.com :D. Just look up the channel and see what kind of traffic they are getting and where it’s coming from, and you will be able to figure out whether you need to spend time on it.
This is a tool that we use to sift out leads, because a lot of folks will come and say: “Hey! You should get onto our OTA” but we want to make sure that we can accommodate the needs of their customers.
I think there are some interesting channels that are emerging out of the space. One of them that we are actually about to integrate with is Anyplace.com, they work mostly with 30 plus day stays. And so it’s an interesting channel, they have a very good brand and a great site and they seem to have a really good model figured out.
For me to consider a channel, they have to be easy to do business with. Because, we’re easy to do business with, so we would like to make sure that a partner is emulating that as well. We don’t want a lot of constraints on our business model and we want a good relationship with the end-user i.e. the guest.
Channels are a marketing platform for us, we are not trying to rob direct bookings from them. Our presence on OTAs is because we don’t have the SEO and the PPC spend that those channels do. We utilise them to extend our brand out there, get new customers in and then once we have them, if people decide, they can come and stay with us directly next time, and take up our loyalty program.
Vanessa: How did you come about Anyplace.com? How did you find out about it?
Doug: You know, honestly, we look at every type of marketing materials that are out there, subscribe to everything that we possibly can about distribution or OTAs.
We saw that these guys were raising some money, and went and looked them up, And saw they had a really cool little piece of the market that we could want to align ourselves with.
Another one that’s very similar to them is 2ndaddress.com. Very similar in that nature, and then actually through Rentals United, we’re going to be integrating with HomesToGo, a vacation rental metasearch channel.
We’re constantly thinking about new ways but we also don’t want to over saturate with lots of channels, because it’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of maintenance... Instead of diluting yourself down and spreading yourself really thin, it’s better to concentrate your efforts on certain channels and make sure that you’re operating on all 8 cylinders so to speak. If you over saturate yourself you won’t be able to actually see what they can do individually, and their full potential.
Vanessa: How do you market not so much to owners but to the companies that you lease the building from? Is there a whole sales team dedicated to that?
Doug: We actually have a full Business Development team that basically goes out and looks for inventory and builds relationships with developers and property owners.
We also have a B2B Marketing team and they do webinars with the aim to help developers and property owners understand this space. Short-term rentals can be a really unique opportunity for developers and property owners.
We are a great partner for that... we have great reviews from lots of our developers and property owners about how our guests are, how we operate the business and what we do. Our B2B Marketing team does a great job at highlighting those aspects, to really leverage this community and helping it to bridge into the Short-Rental space.
RENTALS UNITED RELATIONSHIP
Vanessa: Your feelings about the relationship with Rentals United.
Doug: Honestly, Rentals United has been a blessing for Stay Alfred. We started off when we were quite a bit smaller with Rentals United, we had just migrated from Kigo as a PMS to Streamline. We outgrew Kigo by quite a bit and we joined Streamline and realised…. “Hang on! What’s a channel manager? We actually have to figure out how to do channel management? Oh Okay!”
So, we started talking to Rentals United and it became a really good relationship that has developed over the years. Stay Alfred has grown massively and expansively, and Rentals United has reacted accordingly.
We’re very unique because we distribute more like a hotel, so multiunit style logic, and that is something that wasn’t the core of Rentals United when we first started. You guys have really adapted to that and made a strong effort to figure that piece out, also because it’s a big piece that is coming up in the space.
I think that there is something very genuine about Rentals United and the relationship we have with them. Seeing them at conferences, meeting with them, talking to them, being able to have 1 on 1’s with James, the CEO, and really being able to know that we have a good relationship and that things are resolved very quickly when we have any issues. I think it’s a great relationship. We’re right now building our own integration to Rentals United to go directly with them and it’s a really exciting thing for us because it strengthens our relationship and the speed with which we can do business.
PREDICTIONS FOR 2020
Vanessa: That was a lot of compliments there.. I think I blushed :D Thanks so much! Very last question: your industry prediction for 2020. What do you think will happen next year?
Doug: Stay Alfred is really going to focus on what we are doing and hopefully stay away from the noise with all the changing and pivoting that happens, because we really have a good core. I would say, predictions wise, the market is going to continue to expand, I think that there will be some loosening of inventory.
It will start showing that there is a toolset for property owners and developers to really maximise their business efforts. There is a lot of expansion out there, a lot of new builds, and I think that property owners and developers are going to start realising that this space is something that is definitely needed and that the majority of the travel space is starting to ask for it really heavily, even demanding it.
Vanessa: Thanks so much and take care!