Cobblestone Hotels marked its first decade by celebrating the milestone at its annual conference last month while at the same time announcing a key internal promotion and aggressive growth plans going forward.
The Neenah, WI-based company, led by President/CEO & Founder Brian Wogernese, officially named Josie Kilgore as brand president. Kilgore—who joined the Cobblestone Hotels brand in 2007 and previously held the position of vp, franchise services—also served as a regional manager for WHG Companies during her 14-year hospitality career.
As brand president Kilgore will be focused on franchisee relations, technological advancements to the operations, and continuing to add resources to the brand. Her background includes a variety of disciplines, such as operations, management, food and beverage, sales and marketing, and customer relations.
Wogernese pointed out that Kilgore had primarily been handling the day-to-day operations prior to the promotion, which was more or less a formalization of that. He added the newly created position also reflects the need for him to focus more on continued growth and strategic development going forward as the brand expands to nearly 100 hotels.
“Although I loved the fact that I got to touch and feel everything as the brand grew I can’t do that as much as I want to. I knew I needed somebody to help me to share the passion. She’s been here since the beginning so we wanted to put her in that spot,” he said, adding that she also plays a key role when it comes to general manager and new investor relations.
Wogernese also referenced issues such as connectivity, the company’s revamped Cobblestone Rewards frequent stayer program and its relationship with Skytouch, a property management system provider, as other critical elements of Kilgore’s duties. “She’s handled all those from day one,” he added.
Meanwhile, Cobblestone—which opened its first location in early 2008—now has some 86 locations in its portfolio. With a full pipeline, including eight under construction and a handful of deals that will be announced in the next 60 days, according to Wogernese, the midscale brand is “well situated to hit the 100 mark this year.”
He noted the brand has increased its focus on conversions and has been adding between 13 and 25 hotels a year for the past three or four years. Wogernese acknowledged that Cobblestone could potentially reach the 200-property mark within the next five years.
The brand maintains a strong presence in the Midwest and has grown to include as many as 18 states with properties open or in development. Nevertheless, the company’s home state of Wisconsin continues to be a considerable focus as it is now home to 21 properties. “We’re really solidifying our hold on Wisconsin,” he said.
Wogernese further reinforced the brand’s comfort level in the Midwest when it comes to expansion opportunities as it looks to identify potential markets. “We’re really trying to fill in that gap rather going outside that footprint,” he said.
Wogernese pointed out the company has also increased its commitment to the Boarders Inn and Suites by Cobblestone Hotels brand, which now includes some14 properties. According to Wogernese, dedicated personnel has been put in place to grow the brand and announcements for additional properties are likely in the next couple of months.
Wogernese added that during the conference the company made a “big statement” with regards to the repositioning of some of its older, corporate-owned assets. Cobblestone is just finishing major refurbishments to some of its original properties, which have now reached the 10-year mark.
He detailed the message that was delivered to franchisees. “We got these corporate stores and we’re reinvesting. In year 10 we’re going to expect you to reinvest along with us; so we’re laying the groundwork,” he said.
He further elaborated on the brand’s common sense approach to making any changes. “We’ve worked with enough brands where all of a sudden today something shiny comes along and here’s a new brand initiative and you get to change out your whole bedding package. It can be a year old or five years but either way you’re coming along for the ride. We’ve always been good on preaching that we’re not going to make you change it until it needs to be changed. You’re not going to wake up one day and we decided to revamp the whole program. We have a lot of investments in the brand too, so whatever we do to everybody else we’re doing to ourselves,” he said.
Finally, the company revamped its frequent stayer program last year and that was also a significant focus during the recent event. Under the new Cobblestone Rewards program, guests receive 10 points for every dollar spent, which can be redeemed as award nights or with other redemption partners. “This year there was a bigger initiative to pushing the franchisees to using that to their benefit,” said Wogernese.