The goal for hoteliers usually is to put “heads in beds.” This week, however, the newest player in the hotel space has married this mission with another objective—to sell the beds themselves. West Elm, the furniture, home decor, and home accessories brand announced Monday that it was teaming up with hospitality management company DDK and entering the hotel market with boutique properties in a handful of cities across the country.
The retailer plans to open at least five hotels by late 2018 in Savannah; Detroit; Indianapolis (in a former Coca-Cola bottling facility); Minneapolis; and Charlotte. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, West Elm will design, furnish, and market the hotels, which will be mid-sized (100 to 250 rooms) with price points ranging from $175 to more than $400 for suites.
The individual rooms will be modern, sleek, and sophisticated. Furnishings will be custom-designed for the hotels, which will feature marine blue tile in the bathrooms, marble coffee tables, and 280-thread-count cotton sheets. A press release about the move indicated that each hotel will also feature unique artwork commissioned from local artists. Rumor has it the hotels even have a specially created scent made from Haitian vetiver oil.
The Journal article quoted West Elm officials as saying the move into hotels is a bid to sustain growth without opening up new stores. Apparently, West Elm has had 26 consecutive quarters of double-digit comparative growth, so it makes sense that company officials would want to capitalize on that success in new ways.
Subsequent articles about the move suggested that the deal is a slam-dunk of a marketing play, with the West Elm hotels featuring luxurious-looking design items for middle-range prices that customers can find online. Peter Fowler, head of West Elm’s hospitality and commercial furniture businesses, has said that while there won’t be price tags in the rooms, guests will have the opportunity to purchase furnishings they like through an app they can download when they check in, or on West Elm’s website. After all, as Fowler told the Journal, “We don’t want you to feel like you’re sleeping in a showroom.”
Whatever the in-room experience ends up being, there certainly is plenty of room in the market for more boutique hotels. The number of boutique hotel rooms has grown 24 percent over the past six years and still represents just 2 percent of the total supply, according to STR, a data and analytics company.
This particular project would not be West Elm’s first foray into the hotel space; an article from Bloomberg noted that the company has already furnished properties for brands including Four Points by Sheraton and SpringHill Suites by Marriott. That same article also pointed out that whether West Elm will retain the ability to work with other hoteliers, now that it’s jumping into the space itself, remains to be seen.
Still, it takes much more than nifty furniture and cutesy concepts to operate a successful hotel brand; just because people like a brand in one capacity doesn’t mean they automatically will like it in another.
Two other brands are setting themselves up to learn this lesson simultaneously: Restoration Hardware, which will open a hotel in New York in 2019; and Equinox (yes, the fitness chain), which also plans to open its first hotel in the same city around the same time.
On paper these properties look breathtaking. Let’s hope they end up being as successful as they look—regardless of how many beds they sell.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.