John Russell, appointed CEO of RLH Corporation on 9 June after more than six months in the role on an interim basis, shares his long-term goals for the company and how it has adjusted to the pandemic.
DENVER—Officially named CEO of RLH Corporation this week after leading the company in an interim capacity since December, John Russell said his top priority will be maintaining efforts to improve performance and relationships.
While COVID-19 has posed some challenges, the focus will remain on the strategy set out pre-pandemic, he said.
In an interview with Hotel News Now, Russell shared his long-term goals for the company and predictions for when the industry will settle back into normalcy.
Q: In December 2019, the focus was to get back to the basics and hone the company’s fundamentals. Now that it’s about six months out, touch on where your focus is now.
Russell: “It’s the same thing. We’re still back to basics. We’re still looking to recruit new franchises and sell to existing franchisees. We’re still looking to open and onboard the properties very quickly. We have looked at all of our programs that we offer through the brands for adding value either through increasing topline revenue with marketing promotions (or) decreasing operating expenses with training programs or purchasing programs.
“Lastly … retention. Once we get franchisee owners in the family, we’d like to keep them in the family. We want to make sure that we’re providing services that increase their return on investment. If they’re happy, they’ll stay with us.
“We’re staying the course that we set out pre-COVID-19. It’s basically the same plan; it just got altered a little bit. We had to take a deep dive into the company and see where we could save some expenditures, and we did do some reductions in force so we could create a structure that is compatible to the new economic environment.”
Q: Has RLHC relaxed brand standards for franchisees during this time, too?
“Yeah, we did a couple things. We did relax brand standards; we have suspended breakfast … through the end of the year. We increased the time that (franchisees must act on a) property improvement plan; we have relaxed that time period. (The goal) is to give the franchisee the ability to keep some of his or her cash and keep some liquidity. They still have to pay their bills.
“We had a fee deferral program for three months (April, May and June) for any property that was interested. We’ve done a lot in working with the owners.”
Q: Any timeframe for when we might get back to 2019 levels?
“A lot of the properties, because of the nature of their guest profile, more leisure than business, I think those properties are coming back and could be back in 2021. The other ones that are more urban and bigger boxes, more hotel rooms, more meeting/event space, that’s going to be a longer turn. (Those) are probably going (return at the) end of 2021, end of 2022.”
Q: What are your long-term goals for the company?
“We want to sell more franchises. We’re a franchise company; we’ve got eight hotel brands. It has been a little bit of a slowdown in April, May and June for selling franchises because people are hesitant to make any changes. They’re also watching their cash. Our goal still … (is) keeping the (owners) that are in the (RLHC) family … when it’s an end of contract. We’d like to see a good 90% of those people stay with us and not go out of the family, to another brand or go independent.
“We plan on bringing back (some workforce). We did do some significant reductions in force; up to 48% of our workforce was reduced. We have plans three months, six months (and) nine months (out) on bringing some people back or filling some positions for growth.
“We’re going to stick to what we do and try to do it a little bit better. We’ll (remain) looking for new opportunities, new programs, revitalizing the eight brands that we have, maybe redefining them a little better, and that’s the plan for the foreseeable future.”