Flynn's Harp: Columbia Hospitality views Salish products as part of corporate brand enhancement
Most of the two dozen properties Seattle's Columbia Hospitality manages across five Western states are destinations well-recognized by hotel and resort guests, but less recognized is the brand of the fast-growing hospitality management and consulting company itself. Now founder and CEO John Oppenheimer hopes a new retail-products unit that will market food items served at the iconic Salish Lodge will help bring broader exposure not just for the hotels and resorts themselves but also for the Columbia Hospitality brand.
A number of food products served at the nearly century-old hotel perched on the bluff above Snoqualmie Falls east of Seattle went on sale last week at a holiday-season kiosk at downtown Seattle's Pacific Place. Columbia Hospitality manages Salish under a 20-year agreement with the MuckleshootIndian Tribe, which bought the hotel five years ago for $42 million and 50 acres across the road for another $20 million.
"We're the first of our kind as a boutique hotel creating a product arm," said Sasha Nosecchi, whom Oppenheimer brought aboard in July with the title of Retail Innovations Director. The title indicates the extent of creative freedom he has given the former Starbucks and Chateau Ste. Michelle executive.
Oppemheimer says the products from Salish, which Columbia Hospitality manages under a 20-year agreement with the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, which bought the hotel five years ago, range from biscuit powder to pancake mix, to the on-site-produced honey, to candles and tea.
"The products are all well known by those who have been guests at the lodge," says Nosecchi, who adds that another product is a honey ale produced for Salish in partnership with a local brewery.
"Everyone who has been there has a story about Salish," he adds. "Everyone has a memory of this place, and that's what the products are meant to take advantage of."
"Honey on biscuits, drizzled from on high, has been a tradition so we decided to begin making our own honey, with bees on site, with our own beekeeper," Oppenheimer says.
And the way Columbia Hospitality's other properties may be promoted to buyers of Salish food products is through special deals tied to the Salish items, like perhaps a special rate at Friday Harbor House in the San Juan Islands with the purchase.
"We think we can create great exposure for the hotels and resorts,"Oppenheimer said. "My hope is that someday people will say they want to stay at a Columbia Hospitality-managed property."
In fact, the company's strategy for building its brand includes a brochure in every guest room at Columbia Hospitality's various properties that list the collective properties. And the company has a newsletter that goes out regularly to its mailing list.
"Guests tell us they are beginning to visit the properties simply because they are Columbia Hospitality managed, which equates to luxury, incredible service, and distinct destinations," says Oppenheimer. "So yes, we are building a brand."
A more readily recognizable brand for the company would be only the latest innovation for the fast-growing hospitality management and consulting company that Oppenheimer founded in 1995 after his consulting company was hired by the Port of Seattle to manage its new Bell Harbor Conference Center.
The port had hired Oppenheimer's Columbia Resource Group (CRG), which had done events around the world, to provide consulting services on selecting a management firm for the new facility. But when the original management firm fell short of port expectations, Oppenheimer decided to bid on the management role itself.
How he eventually got the management contract for Bell Harbor with no experience managing such a facility was an example of Oppenheimer's bold business approach.
"Our bid was based on the premise that while we had no experience operating a conference center, no one understood the customer like we did and we said 'we'll make this the most customer friendly place that exists on the planet.'"
Columbia Hospitality was created out of CRG to operate Bell Harbor, which was able to pay its way from year one without the subsidy the port had assumed it would have to provide for a time.
A growing number of hotels and resorts, and other conference centers soon came Columbia Hospitality's way, including now two in Montana resort areas, one in Sonoma, CA., and the bulk in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. In addition, the company has a half dozen of what it calls "limited service hotels" that Columbia Hospitality operates, but not under its brand.
Oppenheimer explains those hotels come and go because our clients are principally banks who assume the hotel and retain us to manage it until it is sold.
Oppenheimer admits that at one point, when Salish Lodge was available, he thought about putting together an ownership group to buy it. But when it became clear the Muckleshoots intended to buy it outright, he opted instead for the long-term management agreement.