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ABF aims to get Jameson Inn back in business
December 20 2012

America’s Best Franchising is trying to resurrect the beleaguered Jameson Inn brand by introducing it to a franchising model and growing the portfolio across the globe.

Highlights
  • When America’s Best came into the picture the conversation progressed “quickly and positively,” according to CEO Doug Collins.
  • The move toward a franchising model is a first for Jameson.
  • Also included in the deal was the Signature Inns brand.
By Brendan Manley
HNN contributor

ATLANTA—America’s Best Franchising is aiming to resurrect the beleaguered Jameson Inn brand, which it acquired in December from Argila Jameson Brand, an affiliate of JER Partners, also located in Atlanta.

The undisclosed all-cash acquisition includes the rights to the Jameson brand, as well as 12 properties under Jameson license agreements in Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Illinois, plus trademark rights to Signature Inns and a variety of operating systems that Jameson owns.

The upper-economy Jameson Inn brand has struggled in recent years. Some 100 company-owned properties were foreclosed upon earlier in 2012 by Colony Capital and converted to other brands. But executives say the Jameson name is still strong among guests, especially in the Southeast region, where it is traditionally based.

“Jameson is very well known around the Southeast with hoteliers and the traveling public, and we admired Jameson for many years since its inception in 1986,” said Doug Collins, chairman and CEO of America’s Best Franchising. “It consistently exceeds guest expectations; Jameson was ranked No. 1 for six straight years in customer satisfaction by the annual Market Matrix index.”

Collins told HotelNewsNow.com that when America’s Best learned Jameson might be available, Collins’ team promptly contacted the former owner, which had acquired the once 121-hotel chain in a 2006 buyout worth $371 million, before spiraling into default and foreclosure on a $330 million loan used for the swap.

When America’s Best came into the picture the conversation progressed “quickly and positively,” according to Collins, and the deal for what remained of Jameson—essentially the brand itself and the 12 licensees—was closed in a matter of weeks. Jameson now joins a multi-brand conglomerate that also includes Country Hearth Inn & Suites, America’s Best Inns & Suites, America’s Best Hotels & Resorts, Parkside Inns, Hotels & Suites, Budgetel Inns & Suites and 3 Palms Hotels & Resorts.

“We feel the acquisition is the perfect addition to our family of upper-economy brands because we know this market segment,” Collins said. “Jameson has never offered franchises before to the hotel owners, and we feel we can build the brand by supplementing the great name it has with the great existing package of services we give to our franchisees. We’re honored to be the new owners, and we look forward to building the brand.”

Franchise firsts
The move toward a franchising model is a first for Jameson, and efforts will begin in earnest in early 2013 according to Collins, once the proper legal and regulatory filings are complete. In addition to revisiting the 100 or so markets that recently lost the foreclosed Jameson properties, he said the ultimate goal is to take the Jameson flag to all corners of the nation, as well as abroad.

“We intend to expand the brand beyond its roots in the Southeast to other regions of the country and throughout the world. The 12 properties we have are a good base, but we believe there is an opportunity to franchise the Jameson Inn brand, which has been well received by the traveling public in the past,” Collins said. “The brand has a very exciting future.”

Although there’s no one textbook Jameson “style,” there is an architectural quality at many of the properties that emphasizes pillars, porticos and other elements associated with grand, Southern mansions, while many of the newly renovated locations are multi-story hotels with a more contemporary look. Collins said this aesthetic flexibility will continue in the future as new franchises are developed.

“We’ll make sure that each property that joins the system is true to the Jameson Inn heritage, but also that they fit what the customers are expecting in that geographic area,” said Collins, noting the brand’s service standards are a bit more stringent. “Whether it’s the requirement for the continental breakfast or the room amenity package, Jameson has a very good and competitive brand standards manual that we’re going to adhere to.”

Also included in the deal was the Signature Inns brand. However, Collins said there are no plans to develop the brand further at the moment.

“We do not plan on franchising at this point but may at some point in the future. It may be a brand we can position more as a mid-priced brand,” Collins said. “We’ll keep the Signature Inn brand and maybe at some point in the future we’ll roll it out.”

Meet the new boss
After the deal closed, Collins personally traveled to meet with the 12 existing Jameson licensees, and said news of the acquisition has been well received.

It’s no small incentive that as part of the America’s Best family, these properties—which Collins said will be converted to full franchises at no extra cost—will now receive enhanced support, such as individual websites, reputation management tools, a travel club and an enhanced central reservations system.

“I think they’re very heartened that the Jameson brand is not only going to survive, but it’s going to prosper. All of them feel very strongly about the value of the heritage of the brand, and we’re looking forward to making this as profitable as possible,” Collins said. “The licensees did not have the benefit of some of the services that a traditional franchiser provides, whether it’s a preferred vendor program, a company extranet, a shoulder to cry on, or local marketing. On the one hand they’re very happy for Jameson to be continued forward, and they’re equally looking forward to getting enhanced services.”

One such legacy licensee is Chicago-based Agrani Hospitality, which operates the 114-room Jameson Inn in Arlington Heights, Illinois, one of the few current Jamesons located outside of the Southeast. Principals Ajay Barot and Parin Patel both expressed their enthusiasm for the ownership change, as well as the greater resources the deal provides.

“There will definitely be a value to the reservations system and engine. Being a larger brand, the scale and reach will be much larger across the country, as well,” Barot said.

Agrani Hospitality has been a Jameson licensee for about a year and have seen positive results, according to Barot, who stressed that guest satisfaction is consistently high.

“We’ve experienced a strong loyal customer base, even though the brand didn’t have a strong presence here in the Midwest,” Barot said. “I think the overall guest experience and the strength of the brand that it had in the South—with corporate travelers who were from that region or stayed in that region and have had positive experiences—will lend for a good opportunity for the brand to actually build and scale a presence in the Midwest market, and probably across the country, as well.”

“I think it’s good that finally we now have a company that sees a long-term vision for the brand itself; that they want to see the brand grow and scale appropriately,” Patel added. “We’re excited to grow.”

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