The Hampton Inn & Suites Williston, North Dakota, is Sky Hospitality’s only non-Microtel operated hotel. The women-owned development and management company has 14 hotels in its portfolio.
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida—To trace the growth and success of Sky Hospitality LLC, one need only take a drive down Florida’s Interstate 75.
After acquiring its first property—a Microtel in Leesburg, Florida—the newly minted management and development company began expanding south one interchange at a time.
First came the plumbing contractor who worked with Sky on the Leesburg property. The owner of a reputable, sizeable company, the contractor wanted to throw his own skin into the game but didn’t know a thing about owning or operating hotels, said Marian Goodman, Sky’s CEO and co-founder. After witnessing the success in Leesburg, he asked Sky to take the helm at his own Microtel.
“That hotel likewise did pretty well,” Goodman said.
Then came a private landowner a few interchanges down, who quickly heard of Microtel and Sky’s prowess at developing and operating the brand.
“It’s just kind of grown from there,” Goodman said.
Today, Sky Hospitality has 14 hotels in its portfolio. All but one are Microtel properties. The lone standout is a Hampton hotel. Sky is also finalizing plans to manage a TownePlace Suites by Marriott in Wyoming.
The company has always identified with efficiencies of the economy-segment brand, Goodman said. Sky was one of Microtel’s first developers, in fact.
“Sky Hospitality really came into being because we were one of the first developers of Microtel when Mike Leven purchased the little regional brand in ’95,” she said. When the hotel industry icon was still struggling to get it off the ground, he invited Goodman and Sky’s co-founder (and current president) Margena Hinely to dinner to pitch the brand. The two at that point were experienced hoteliers in their own right, having worked with Leven as Holiday Inn franchisees.
“We went and kicked some tires and we decided to purchase a franchise in ’97,” Goodman said. “We actually opened our first Microtel in the spring of 1999 in Leesburg, Florida. I think we were license No. 30. We have just really, really been blessed to grow with the brand.”
Developing an expertise
While Sky is a committed operator for every hotel in its portfolio—in addition to owning one—the group’s achievements have hinged on its success as a developer, Goodman said.
“We don’t typically just open the hotel. We actually purchase all the (furniture, fixtures and equipment). We coordinate all the installation. We coordinate all the purchase and installation of all the building systems, the phones, closed-circuit television, televisions, the (property management system)—everything that goes into the hotel, we’re a part of,” she said.
The company has opened nearly two dozen hotels since 1999, Goodman added.
“We really enjoy the new development process. We enjoy the ramp-up process. It takes a special skill set,” she said.
That skill set has attracted steady interest from would-be owners, architects and developers throughout the country. Sky now operates and offers consultant services beyond the narrow strip of the I-75 corridor. The company’s footprint stretches throughout the Southeast and up into the Midwest as well.
Much of the growth in the latter is attributable to energy-related industries. Sky, for example, has four properties in North Dakota, which is seeing a boom in natural gas extraction.
When asked about prospects for future growth, Goodman declined to name specific targets.
“I don’t have a number, but I have a concept,” she said. “We are responsive to our guests and we are responsive to our clients. … When we stop growing is when I feel like I don’t think we can continue to hurdle the same bar to keep our arms around our hotels.”
Likewise, expansion into new territories will be measured on a case-by-case basis. Goodman said growth farther away from home must come in clusters, as in North Dakota. “Otherwise, the time and the energy of the travel isn’t fair to us, and the economics don’t work.”
As for brands and segments, Sky’s well-versed executive team can comfortably handle value-focused lower through upper-midscale brands, she said.
“We have a broader background than just Microtel. For us, we want to manage brands that we respect and brands that are built on a high level of quality and service. If that’s the brand standard and that’s what truly the brand leadership believes, then we would manage any brand.”
Conspicuously absent from Sky’s management team is a single man—a fact made all the more evident when juxtaposed against a hotel industry whose boardrooms and C-level suites are occupied primarily by males.
“We didn’t set out to be a women-run company. We are a women-owned company. But we’ve never marketed ourselves that way. It just simply is that way,” Goodman said, adding that while Sky’s management team comprises only women, several of the property’s GMs are men.
However, she said some of the company’s defining characteristics are those more typically associated with women.
“We’re looking for people that start out being compassionate folks and caring folks, and not to be sexist, but I think women tend to exhibit that a bit more quickly than men. … And then in terms of the operation of our hotel, we are clean freaks. Again, not saying guys can’t clean, but you’re going to find a higher amount of women that you’d call clean freaks than you would men,” Goodman said with a laugh.
She is quick to point out the company also exudes several attributes most commonly associated with men.
“It’s not all soft and fuzzy. … There’s a lot of people with a lot of desire and drive to be the very best,” she said. “We probably have one of the most competitive groups of folks that you will find anywhere on the planet.”
That drive has led to a number of franchisee-of-the-year awards and could continue to spur growth, whether farther down I-75 or beyond.