Bigger isn’t always better according to Mandy Farmer, president and CEO of Victoria-based Accent Inns. With six locations under its wing – including the newly re-branded concept Hotel Zed – Accent Inns is a small operator in a portion of the hospitality/tourism business known more for the "big guys."
“We’re nimble, we can react really fast,” says Mandy. For instance they can do an employee survey and get the results almost instantly. “We don’t have to go through corporate structures and procedures and different levels of approval. We can react immediately.”
With 175 employees on the roster, Accent Inns is small enough that Mandy knows them by name. “It’s more of a family. We have a ridiculous number of long term staff,” she says with a laugh. “Some have been with Accent Inns for 20, 30 years – which is unheard of in the hotel business.”
When she travels to any of the six properties she can reel off stories. “I know these people, I knew when they were pregnant, now their kids are working for us. People take care of each other. We encourage that. We’re looking out for each other.”
Like many tourism-related businesses the economic downturn in 2008/ 2009 was very challenging. “We really had to sharpen our pencils. We focused on brand awareness. We are a small chain and we are constantly up against the big boys,” she says referring to international chains.
Accent Inns is tiny by comparison. “How do we compete with that? We didn’t have the marketing budget. So we decided to make sure every customer’s experience is excellent so those customers tell other people. It was a ground level campaign. We have to make sure our customers spread the word for us because we don’t have marketing dollars.”
Though she grew up in the business, her first job wasn’t in the family firm. She started out as a chamber maid at a local bed & breakfast.
Advice to someone who is just starting out in the business: “You really have to think outside the box and apply innovation to our industry. I feel the hotel industry is lacking innovation. There is ample, ample opportunity to innovate and capture attention.”
That’s what she’s doing with the Hotel Zed concept in Victoria. It’s the first of what could be a brand new chain for Accent. It’s an updated motel concept with friendly shared spaces to encourage guests to get outside and socialize.
It’s early days. But with Mandy Farmer at the helm, Hotel Zed is the one to watch.