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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 18, 2010 10 years ago

Victory Dance

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The lost art of setting specific goals for every employee has been rediscovered at an island resort company. It has helped the business swat the recession.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

REVIEW SUMMARY
Business. Silver Resorts, Anna Maria Island
Industry. Hospitality, tourism
Key. Company has utilized new marketing plans and promotions to help survive the recession.

Guests at the Silver Surf and BridgeWalk resorts on Anna Maria Island get a lot of perks and treats, from afternoon appetizers to beach massages.

What they don't get, however, is dance lessons.

That hasn't stopped the sales staff, front desk personnel and other employees from boogying down in the back office. In fact, the staff has been known to cut a rug with more frequency the last few months because each small dance symbolizes another room night sale.

For a resort company with 29,000 possible room nights for sale over a calendar year, one or even 10 sales might not seem like much. But to the staff at the Silver Surf and the BridgeWalk, the sales — and the celebratory dances — are symbolic of how far the company has come in its effort to survive the recession.

The effort has been nothing short of heroic considering the obstacles. Those include the roaring recession of 2008 and 2009, still smoldering in 2010; the unusually cold Florida winter of late 2009 and early 2010; the newfound trend of people booking hotel stays in Florida at the last minute; and, of course, the threat — real or imagined — of oil washing up on Florida's shorelines.

“There are certainly moments in the past several years where we have been dealing with a lot of challenges,” says Angela Rodocker, the general manager of both hotels, which fall under the name Silver Resorts. “Our company has been through a lot.”

Silver Resorts consists of the two resorts and a restaurant, the Sun House. Revenues at all three properties were down on an annual basis in the first quarter of 2010, including a 20% drop at the 50-room Silver Surf resort. The 28-room BridgeWalk was down 9% in the first quarter of 2010 compared to the first quarter of 2009. Rodocker declines to elaborate on specific revenues.

Rodocker realizes, of course, that her business and industry isn't alone in dealing with the recession. Indeed, the challenges faced by Rodocker are similar to the ones faced by dozens of other small business owners on Anna Maria Island.

Still, local resort owner David Teitelbaum says the island has proven to be somewhat of an island onto itself when it comes to the recession. “We are doing very well,” says Teitelbaum, who runs three resorts on the island. “We are ahead of last year despite all the doom and gloom out there.”

One reason for the overall success of Anna Maria Island, says Teitelbaum, is a global marketing presence it has in places like Germany and England. The island was also recently prominently mentioned in several national travel publications.

Rodocker has tried to capitalize on that popularity. The company recently revamped its marketing and promotions for one resort and has been using social media more often to push its properties.

And then there are victory dances. Many times the dances, short jigs that usually take place in Rodocker's cramped office, means the staff is one step closer to a specific set of daily and monthly goals.

Those goals, set up by Rodocker, are a detailed combination of individual and group sales targets for both overall revenue and average daily room rate figures. The program has since turned into a key recession survival technique for Silver Resorts. It's also one that can be practiced and enhanced by entrepreneurs and executives in nearly any industry.

“Everybody here now lives and dies by the goals,” says Rodocker. “That has played a significant role in getting us through this difficult time.”

A good return
Rodocker, 42, grew up in the hospitality industry.

Her family has been in the business for 40 years and she was fascinated by all the inner-workings of a resort as a young child, from cleaning rooms to paying taxes. Adds Rodocker: “I always liked to count the money at the end of the day.”

Rodocker's mom, Barbara Rodocker, owns the resorts and the restaurant. The elder Rodocker, who turns 80 in July, still works nearly every day at the resort. “You can't hold that lady down,” says the younger Rodocker.

Barbara Rodocker's first foray into the hospitality industry was in 1972, when she bought the Silver Sands Gulf Beach Resort on Longboat Key. The Rodockers, who moved to the area from Michigan, lived in a house across the street from the resort.

Rodocker paid $350,000 for the property. She led the resort through several renovations over the next 25 years, ultimately adding more than 20 rooms and a pool. She sold it to a national resort company in 2003 for $7.2 million.

The Rodockers then focused on the Anna Maria Island properties. The Silver Surf properties underwent an extensive renovation in 2001, while the BridgeWalk was a new construction project, built in 2002 after older buildings on the property were torn down.

BridgeWalk is the more high-end resort. Rates in the peak of season for all of the room varieties there usually run more than $200 a night. The Silver Surf is more of a no-frills approach, with fewer perks and rates about 20% less than BridgeWalk.

One connection between both properties: The premium Rodocker and her staff put on repeat guests, which are easier to book than recruiting new ones. Says Rodocker: “We know that our repeat customers are the most important thing to us.”

That's more than lip service. The staff, for example, sends out birthday and anniversary cards to past guests. And sales and marketing director Linda Haack tries to keep in touch with couples who get married at one of the resorts.

'Realistic goals'
Even though sales at both resorts were down early this year, the low point for Silver Resorts might have come in the summer of 2009. That's when revenues and average daily room rates had plunged even further, which forced Rodocker to set up a war room in her office.

The walls were plastered with goals, targets and data sheets. Rodocker set up an incentive-based goals system for employees years ago, but she thought the times called for a reinforced effort.

One key: Make the goals tough, but not impossible. “I set realistic goals,” says Rodocker. “Not what I would like them to be, but what I think is achievable.”

The targets are a mix of individual and team goals. The rewards are bonuses. “It has created a lot of excitement and good morale here,” says Rodocker, “even at a time like this.”

In addition to goals, Silver Resorts recently set up some new marketing approaches to focus more on perks for customers. For example, it added a free afternoon appetizer and continental breakfast for BridgeWalk guests. Those types of moves are more common in chain hotels, not independent island resorts.

Another approach was to work with some local businesses to give guests discounts on activities such as bike rentals and mini-golf.

And last summer the company partnered with the Artists Guild of Anna Maria Island to boost the restaurant side of the business. The arrangement was to have an artist a week come in and paint pictures during dinner Thursdays through Sundays, with the ability to sell the work to customers. The partnership developed a buzz-like following on the island and plans are in the works to do it again this summer.

“It gives [the artists] an outlet to sell their work,” says Sun House General manager Chris Fielder. “And it ties us to the local community.”

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