Quality Inn, the brand from which Choice Hotels International formed, started out as an association 80 years ago. Today, it’s a midscale brand on a strong growth track, according to executives and a long-time owner.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The brand that eventually created Choice Hotels International began as an association called Quality Courts, formed 80 years ago by seven Southern hoteliers.
The association became Quality Courts United in 1941 and was the first hotel chain in the country. It became known as Quality Courts Motels in 1963, then Quality Inns International in 1972 and eventually Choice Hotels International in 1990.
Today, the brand is known as Quality Inn, and it sits in the midscale segment of Choice’s portfolio.
A brand of firsts
(Illustration: Rachel Daub)
Quality was the first to adopt many well-known industry practices. For example, it was one of the first brands to offer wall-to-wall carpeting, 24-hour desk service and non-smoking rooms.
It has also served as a first for some owners.
Hemang Shah, principal of Kala Hotels Group, treasurer and Region 8 director of the Choice Hotels Owners Council, said his first branded hotel was a Quality Inn he bought in Huntingburg, Indiana, 16 years ago. He still owns and operates the property today.
Shah came to the U.S. for an education, graduated with an engineering degree in 1993 and worked as a civil engineer before getting into the hotel business with an independent hotel in 1998.
As a first-generation immigrant who didn’t know a lot about hotel franchising and “didn’t have family to mentor or guide me,” Shah said he did his own research into branded hotels. He was attracted to Choice because of development incentives the company offered him to buy the franchise. He also liked the logo, he said.
“I don’t regret my decision to (buy a) Quality Inn because it really gave me a platform to build my foundation, to grow my portfolio,” he said. “I ended up doing other hotels from that, but … your roots are your roots. You treasure it. That’s how you build up. No matter what other brand I do, that’s the first thing I did and I continue doing it.”
Today, Shah has eight hotels and three in the pipeline, all of which are branded properties. He converted a first-generation Hampton to a Quality in 2003, which he sold. The Quality Inn in Huntingburg, Indiana, is the only Quality Inn in Shah’s portfolio, he said.
Grounded in midscale
Quality Inn is grounded firmly in the midscale segment, and Choice intends to keep it there, said Anne Smith, VP of brand management and design and compliance at Choice.
“There’s a very specific lane that Quality swims in,” she said. “It’s different from Comfort, and it’s different from Econo Lodge. That brand segmentation that we have across all of our brands is really, really important.”
Quality has a design package, but it’s not mandated for owners, Smith said. Choice could go in and change guest satisfaction targets and revenue-per-available-room targets for the brand, but then Quality would be leaving its ownership base and its guest base behind “because that’s not why they got into Quality,” she said.
Delivering cleanliness, guest satisfaction and profitability to owners is the focus of the brand, said Tim Shuy, VP of owner and portfolio strategy at Choice.
“Quality is geared for our owners making profit,” he said. “We do that extremely well and at an extremely effective price point for them, and that has to match up. … (Quality properties) need to be clean, need to have a good name, certain brand attributes … but that doesn’t mean you need a lot of extras other brands tend to do.”
“The beauty of Quality is that developers get their money’s worth,” said Tom Nee, VP of franchise sales at Choice.
“Our (product improvement plan) is engineered toward the highest LTR (likelihood to recommend) score we can get,” he said. “When we go and we look at a property that wants to convert, we’re focused on: how do we get their scores the best they can be to enter our system? It is really focused on scores and what the guest is expecting.”
The expectations of Quality guests are somewhat simple and straightforward, but have changed over time, Smith said.
Quality Inn started in 1939 as an association called Quality Courts, shown here in an advertisement for the brand. (Photo: Choice Hotels)
The Quality Inn in Breezewood, Pennsylvania, is a good example of change that guests wanted, she said. The property started out as a 12-room motel/hotel “because that was the demand that was there when the hotel opened, and that’s what people were looking for.”
“It was in a part of the country that wasn’t a fancy high-end, high-price-point (location), so it was a really midscale hotel,” she said. “They added a pool, and that started to become an expectation (from guests). We now have pools as a requirement for Quality hotels sometimes where it makes sense.”
Another shift in guest expectations was from being content with a continental breakfast to expecting a hot breakfast, Smith said.
Shuy said Quality is “pushing the envelope” in the midscale segment.
“We are trendsetters,” he said. “We talked about wall-to-wall carpeting, and we talked about color TVs. We talked about the reservation referral system for owners … the first non-smoking rooms … (Quality has) always changed with guest needs.
“It’s not like we are getting along to get along, we’re actually pushing the envelope for that segment. As (guest needs evolve), we evolve.”
The brand also stands out because of the involvement from the company’s founder, Stewart Bainum, and his son, Stewart Bainum Jr., Shuy said.
Stewart Bainum Jr., who joined the Choice leadership team in 1976 and currently serves as chairman of Choice’s board of directors, knows the business and Choice’s owners, he said.
According to Nee, Quality is one of the “fastest-growing brands in the industry.”
An ad from when Quality Inn was still known as Quality Courts Motels. (Photo: Choice Hotels)
“We have outsold our competitors combined,” he said. “More than Tru, Baymont and Candlewood combined.”
The company awarded 150 contracts for the brand and opened one Quality every two days in 2018, he said. Choice also has a robust development goal for Quality this year, which Nee said he expects to hit.
“I have a team of 30 across the country selling. We use technology to identify the best markets that are open, the ones that are going to drive the best (average daily rate), and we go in and we target the hotels to find out what’s for sale in those markets,” he said. “We try to marry them with developers so they know where the best markets (are) to be focusing on, where to go into, and we try to increase their portfolio or make a change to get a higher (return on investment).”