Lark Hotels’ new CEO hopes to expand the company’s footprint beyond its New England roots through careful and well-planned growth.
AMESBURY, Massachusetts—Months now into his new role as the CEO of boutique hotel management company Lark Hotels, Peter Twachtman sees a way to turn a “regional powerhouse” into something bigger.
Twachtman joined Lark after serving as COO at Migis Hotel Group, where he first got to know Lark’s founder, president and former CEO, Rob Blood. Intrigued by what Lark Hotels was doing, Twachtman said he contacted Blood through LinkedIn, setting up the time for the two to meet over coffee. Over the next seven years, he said they became competitors and colleagues by working in the same hotel space.
“We developed a good friendship, and for the last few years, we’ve been talking about how to work together,” Twachtman said.
During the last summer, the two had decided they were ready and spent weeks preparing for his transition to CEO of Lark, Twachtman said. It came through building that relationship over time, perseverance and a genuine commitment to hospitality, he said.
Twachtman started in his new role on 2 January, and the transition has been relatively smooth, he said. The main thing he’s been doing over the last several months is meeting with and learning from the people at Lark. At the time of the interview, Twachtman had visited most of the company’s properties and planned on visiting the rest over the next several weeks. Meeting with everyone and learning the operations at the hotels and corporate office helps to determine the agenda he believes is right for the company, he said.
The people that work at Lark Hotels have been approachable, thoughtful, honest, kind and sincere, he said. They’re also focused and hard-working.
“I never would have come this way if I didn’t think that that’s what Lark is and was and continues to be,” he said.
“Lark is a group that others will aspire to work like,” Twachtman said.
But as good as the operation is that Lark has, in his new role, the team will need to peel back the company’s layers and be honest about where it can improve, he said. That might be a new experience for everyone, but as people learn it comes from the right place, it will allow everyone to work in a unified way and understand and accept it.
“I think at the end of the day, people want the direction, and they want to know that they’re going to be supported after they follow that direction,” he said.
Looking ahead, one of Twachtman’s short-term goals is to get everyone on the same rail. The teams are good people doing good work, but it might be slightly divergent from their next teammate, he said. They’re working on what they think is important, and many times it is, but it’s not structured in a way that the same messages are being communicated across all channels.
“When we think about working through groups of people, we have to think about the nature of messaging that is easy to communicate, is impactful, and wherever you bring the dialogue, you can pull it back to it,” he said. “It seems overly simplistic, but it’s not.”
The message needs to be about focusing on people: Larks’ employees, its hotel and restaurant guests as well as its purveyors, he said.
Having everyone talking about the same thing and being on track together will help keep things running smoothly at its hotels open year-round as well as help teams at seasonal properties prepare to open for spring and summer, he said.
Lark has 24 hotels across New England and one in California. The company’s most recent property, the nine-room Blind Tiger in Portland, Maine, opened in February.
The company’s name is a powerhouse regionally, Twachtman said. It’s well-known down the East Coast, and it has an outlier in California that’s doing a good job, but otherwise it’s not known well outside those areas, he said. The business goal is to go down the Eastern Seaboard to start the hub, and the company is looking at how to take a thoughtful approach to building that out.
“We've had good dialogue in the last eight weeks with investment groups to sort of understand how we grow exponentially through a funding infusion,” he said, adding he could not say more beyond that. “We would certainly love to double in size in a thoughtful way and drive a brand and management company.”
While Lark operates independent hotels, it does have an internal brand that could develop into a soft-brand, he said.
It will take some time before any of this happens, Twachtman said. He is working with Blood to understand their best course of action. The company should take the next several months to make sure that it is buttoned up so that when it moves forward aggressively, it does it the right way, he said.
In looking at expanding Lark’s portfolio, the company has built the foundations of its success in finding the sweet spot in a market through design and service, Twachtman said. They don’t go up against the high-end properties but find a “beautiful rate category” that’s not always touched around $325 to $475 a night, he said.
“You have a lot of leeway in there,” he said. “You can command a strong rate without being pretentious. You can—I’ll use a word that’s overused—still remain authentic in the kind of nature of your service, in the people, and allow them to be themselves while they’re operating it.”
There’s a sweet spot of hotels with 30 to 75 rooms where Lark operates well, he said. It’s a difficult place to operate, but the company does it well, and effectively, he added. Lark started with hotels with nine to 15 rooms and did a tremendous job growing that market. It means running tight staffs and having a sense of service and innkeeping, which requires people to take on multiple roles, he said. There’s a lot of opportunities in hotels with 40 to 75 rooms, or even 90 rooms.
Twachtman said both he and Blood have heavy experience in taking on properties and managing their remodeling, repositioning and rebranding. They are looking at some opportunities for ground-up developments as well, he said.