50 Years of Success at the Akron Fairlawn Hilton
In an industry that changes so often, the Hilton Akron Fairlawn in Akron, Ohio has something to boast about: longevity. The company is getting ready to celebrate its 50th anniversary. This milestone makes it the longest continually owned and managed Hilton Franchise in the world.
A big part of that longevity is due to the top level leadership. Tim Winter, General Manager at the property, has been with the company for 39 years. And Susan Smith, Human Resources Director, has been with the company for over 20 years.
We sat down and spoke with Susan and Tim about their strategy for long term success at the Hilton Akron Fairlawn and how the right staff is an essential key to success.
As you look at an operation that’s spanned 50 years, what do you think has been the secret to your success?
Tim Winter: Our ownership, RDA Hotel Management Company, really has a philosophy of investing in properties for the long-term. You have to stay relevant in terms of renovations and amenities in order to gain a long term reputation with guests. Even with a respected brand like Hilton, you have to exceed that expectation for quality rather than just meet it.
Susan Smith: Staff has also always been a large part of that equation. Maintaining a very high quality standard in terms of guest interaction as well as cleanliness and timeliness is essential to keep guests coming back to the Hilton Akron Fairlawn.
TW: That’s true. You have to have great service to back up amenities and décor. And I think we’ve done a great job building positive and long term relationships with team members.
What kinds of things do you do to build on that positive relationship?
SS: RDA is a very family oriented company and at every possible turn, we let the back of house staff know that they’re part of our success. We do many things to show appreciation, including hosting holiday parties, events during housekeeping week, and offering holiday bonuses when possible. But, I think that letting people know that they are part of a team and part of our shared success is essential. That comes from the management leadership here at the property, but it also comes from the highest levels at RDA Management Co.
TW: Rennick Andreoli, the President of RDA is very involved. He makes it a point to communicate the value of our staff whenever he gets a chance. A hotel is still a very personal business. Even when you’re dealing with a large corporate brand, you still need to maintain a personal touch and that philosophy extends throughout our organization.
How do you work with a vendor like HSS to ensure that personal level of service?
TW: HSS supplies the Hilton Akron Fairlawn with all of our housekeeping staff so there needs to be a great deal of trust. There are many staffing firms to choose from but we know that HSS maintains the same level of brand integrity that we do. It’s important to have a partner that shares our values in terms of quality and integrity as well as longevity.
SS: We manage the housekeeping staff internally so there has to be a constant open channel of communication in terms of the types of experience we require, what kind of training we expect and how we deal with challenges like call-offs or no-shows. Every time we’ve reached out to HSS with an idea about how we can improve our staffing they’ve always been receptive.
You mentioned before that you make an effort to show employee appreciation. How do you work with HSS to include their employees?
SS: We always include HSS employees in any parties or shows of appreciation. It’s very important to us that we are working as one team. HSS employees receive training on hotel procedures, programs and customer service. The employees are included in our Employee of the Month program and a special “shooting star” recognition program with prizes. Of course we do refer HSS staff back to the agency for employment issues.
Finding and keeping employees at any level is a challenge today. How are you working with HSS to address this issue?
TW: We’ve been very impressed with HSS’s ability to recruit from a diverse population in our area. With low unemployment everywhere, you need to work with as large of a population as possible and HSS helps us reach all geographies in the Cleveland / Akron area.
SS: At the same time, we need to maintain our brand standard no matter the challenges in recruiting. HSS helps us maintain a pool of talent that keeps those standards high. We appreciate that HSS offers background checks and drug testing to ensure the highest quality staff. It’s also important that staff working at the property are working as a team. Identifying people with the right team spirit in addition to the skills is important to our success and HSS provides this.
When it comes to housekeeping, are you implementing any innovations you can talk about?
SS: We developed a system of compensating Room Attendants by the room rather than by the hour. We’ve found that employees who are more in control of their income have higher productivity. But, of course, you have to maintain the same quality standards as well. We’d like to broaden the demographic to include people who normally wouldn’t see themselves in that role. It’s definitely hard work, but it’s also indoors which might appeal to people working outside in hot or cold weather. We provide flexibility in hours to work with stay-at-home parents who might have limited hours to work but are still interested in employment. We’re also exploring high school students. We need to expand the pool of people that we’re hiring from.
What do you see for the next 50 years?
TW: Although we’re celebrating 50 years, we’re not resting on our laurels. Our market is, by far, more competitive than it’s ever been. But we’re doing more than maintaining; we compete effectively. We believe a high star rating online is only the beginning to a good customer experience. We want our guests to come back again and again because they know what’s here for them. Working with partners like HSS certainly helps. We offer a very popular, established restaurant, Beau’s Grille, located within the hotel which exceeds expectations of hotel dining with our guests. The Cleveland / Akron area has seen good times and tough times. We’re a stable region and I think that we’re entering a positive time in the area. We have seen success in the past 50 years and look forward to continued success in the next 50.
Read more about the Hilton Akron/Fairlawn at www.akronhilton.com.