With the transition of a handful of properties throughout the past year, including three select-service hotels within the last month, Spire Hospitality continues to expand and broaden the makeup of its management portfolio. The Irving, Texas-based company—founded in 1986 and previously known as Lane Hospitality—manages a diverse portfolio of some 34 full-service, select-service, lifestyle, and condo hotels for a host of owners, primarily its parent company, AWH Partners, LLC.
LODGING recently caught up with CEO Chris Russell—who took the reins of the company roughly five years ago—for an overview of Spire, as well as his thoughts on the current management landscape. The following Q&A represents a portion of the conversation.
LODGING: How has the company’s portfolio evolved in recent years?
Chris Russell: Five years ago, this group was pretty much focused on your big-box, full-service hotel. We did a lot of that, but now we’ve got some different product types. We’re managing a condo hotel down in Orlando [The Grove Resort & Water Park], and we’ve got some select-service hotels, which we didn’t have, as well as lifestyle hotels. AWH has done a good job of buying and being in front of some of these transactions for the last few years, and with that we’ve been able to diversify our business. We’ve been able to add some third-party [management] as well. I think we’re a little more spread out now and little bit broader.
How did the company navigate through COVID-19, and what was the overall impact on business?
Everything stayed open; we didn’t lose any hotels. We responded very quickly to our owners to give them options, whether they wanted to close or remain open. We’re very fortunate to have a lot of great support from our owners/investors. Like everybody else, we lost employees, but we did the best we could to retain as many employees as we could. We asked a lot of people to wear a lot of different hats in our hotels and our [corporate] office. We were able to ramp up fairly quickly; like everybody else, leisure did very well. With some of the bigger group houses, we tried to augment what we weren’t getting from group, but things are coming back pretty nicely now. We feel pretty good about this year.
There has been a lot of consolidation in the management ranks in recent years, creating a number of larger operators. How do you assess the current landscape?
I think that creates an opportunity for the smaller operator, personally. I think transparency and accessibility are critically important. We want to be an option for private equity [companies] or an independent investor if they want to work with a smaller company. Sometimes it makes sense for them to work with a bigger company, but regardless, we don’t look at ourselves as competing with anybody. Our goal is to just do a really good job. If someone wants to call at 9 p.m. on a Friday night, I answer my cell phone; that’s what we do. We’re able to get to the hotels and do what we need to do. So, I think that we have an opportunity right now to be that company or management partner for someone that wants that. At the same time, we’ve got employees that want to be part of a smaller company and grow, and I think that’s great too.
How would you describe the company culture you’ve established with Spire?
We don’t have room for egos; I’ve got a job to do just as everybody else has a job to do. Collaboration, flexibility, communication, and transparency are probably the words that we all rally around. We want to be honest, and we want to have a reputation of being so. We absolutely try to be very focused and balanced on people’s personal needs. We’re family first; if they need to take time off, we want to make sure we can support them in what they want to do. We’re very approachable, or we try to be.
We’re also very partnership driven with our people in the field. Our GMs, sales leaders, and operations team are really what drive the company. Our office is here to support them, not the other way around.
What’s your long-term vision for Spire Hospitality?
We want to be the operator of choice, whether it be for our parent company or for someone else; that’s incredibly important, and reputation is important. We want the brands to view us as good operators and want to be the employer of choice. We want to be very involved where we can be in serving our communities; that’s important. I’ve always had the philosophy [that] if you keep your head down and do a good job and you’re focused on results, good things will happen.
We’re going to grow organically. We don’t necessarily have somebody out there pushing third-party business; we do it based on our relationships and reputation. AWH is continuing to grow; they’re looking at opportunities daily, and we’re going to continue to grow our third-party business as we can. I look at it as, we’re not chasing after management fees, we’re chasing after hotels where we can get results, and we want to do a good job managing them.