Above and Beyond

Posted on Jun 1, 2009 :: Small Business Spotlight
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Urban design sets Aloft Hotel apart in Ashwaubenon

Did the Green Bay area really need one more hotel? That was one question developers asked themselves a few years ago before committing to building an Aloft Hotel in Ashwaubenon. And while most might believe the answer was “probably not,” Jay Supple, one of the project’s developers, and his partners were convinced the upscale hotel could succeed if it made enough of a statement.

“We have to be different than our competition,” says Supple, CEO of Supple Group, which also owns the adjacent Fratellos restaurant at the Fox River location. “It was exactly what we thought would fit into this area.”

Brian McGuinness, senior vice president of Aloft Hotels, agrees. “The urban design sensibility and lively social atmosphere make it a perfect match for the dynamic city of Green Bay,” he says, adding that the venue will offer an “eclectic and electric experience targeted to savvy travelers and area professionals.”

The four-story, 105-room hotel, a brand of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, is the first Aloft Hotel in Wisconsin. It opened April 2 – complete with scent machines (to create a subtle ambient atmosphere), hip background music, an urban-inspired lounge laden with plasma TVs, ticker news, pool table and the trendy wxyz bar.

“We create the music, the mood, the vibe,” Supple says. “We’re trying to stimulate the senses of the consumer. The whole goal when you walk in is you’re not walking into a lobby – it’s like a lounge. We want you to spend time down here.”

In the works

Supple says the venture, from conception to completion, was about two years in the making. “We as partners talked about something to complement the development,” he says, referring to his partners in AB Hospitalities, a company established by members of the Ashwaubenon Boardwalk and Supple Hospitality.

The multi-acre development along the Fox River, located just under Hwy. 172, also includes the Ashwaubenon Boardwalk office complex, luxury condominiums and Fratellos.

About two years ago, Supple traveled to White Plains, N.Y., to see Starwood’s Aloft concept set up in a warehouse. The brand is designed as a spin-off of Starwood’s high-end boutique W hotel.

“They created something similar,” Supple says, “and kept the hip and fun parts of the W.” The concept is extremely new; the first Aloft opened last year in Montreal.

During the conceptualization and planning stages, the economy had not yet taken a downturn, and the local Hwy. 172 reconstruction project had not begun. Both could have thrown wrenches into the hotel’s local debut.

Supple says they seem to be on target with room rentals, thanks mainly to Starwood’s online reservation system. He estimates more than 50 percent of the Aloft’s reservations and revenue come from being part of that network.

And despite the current closure of the Oneida Street ramp on westbound 172 (one of the most direct routes to the Aloft from the highway), Supple says that since most reservations are made in advance, clients won’t have trouble getting effective directions, either from their staff or from the now omnipresent GPS systems many travelers use.

He also anticipates that Packer home game weekends will fill rooms, though he is careful not to rely on that business alone.

“It’s a nice perk to have, but you’re building your business model for an entire year. We have to sell rooms, but we also have to develop the culture,” Supple says. “There’s enough uniqueness.”

Supple says they also plan to position the hotel as a venue that will appeal beyond travelers. The lounge and meeting room will be available to the local community and businesses as well.

One step ahead

In a troubling economy, opening a hospitality business can be risky. But Supple is no stranger to the business. He’s been in hospitality for 30 years, following in the footsteps of his parents. And he’s banking on that history and experience to make this fledgling venture a success.

“You have to go into it thinking it’s going to be successful,” he says. “The worst thing you want to do is be negative.” Remaining proactive and being sensitive to pricing – especially when customers are counting every dollar – is important. “You have to be one step ahead,” he says.

But Supple also believes, “It all comes down to staffing and service. At the end of the day, that’s what makes us successful.”