Don’t worry. He’s not a detective. Young is vice president of creative and operations for Boxport, a San Francisco-based company that sells the luxury goods, furnishings and amenities featured in many hotels. These include Kimpton Hotels, Shutters Hotel on the Beach in Santa Monica and the St. Regis Monarch Beach. Young is always on the lookout for items that are popular with guests, both legally and illegally.
“We always check with the housekeepers to find out what gets stolen, because we know that will be a good mover when people have the opportunity to buy it,” Young says, though he adds that not every thief is a discriminating consumer. “One person had taken a rolling table from his guest room and was heading down the hall with it, along with everything in his room that hadn’t been bolted down.”
Soaps, bathrobes and bar glasses have always found their way home inside the suitcases of hotel guests. Now, however, hotel guests are buying them—along with the beds, tables, artwork and even the paint they enjoyed during their stay.
“One of the Kimpton Hotels [the Monaco, in Washington, D.C.] has a lobby that’s a very vivid green, and a customer came to us and asked if we were able to sell the paint used on their walls,” Young says.
So why do guests want to take the hotel experience home? Richard Barter, corporate director of strategic sourcing for Hilton Hotels, says hotels provide opportunities for guests to try out items before they buy.
“How can you test a pillow at the store before buying it?” Barter asks. “Here, people get to experience our products and enjoy them.” That makes sense when it comes to bed and bath products. But it doesn’t explain items like the “doggie umbrella” one Kimpton guest asked Young to find.
Vivian Deuschl, corporate vice president, public relations for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, says some of the sales can be chalked up to impulse buys. Others come from guests who have had a taste of the good life and aren’t ready to let it go.
“It’s part of the phenomenon,” she says. “People really get into that luxury lifestyle while they’re here. They try our beds, our sheets, our duvets, they have the best sleep of their lives, and they want to take it home with them.”
Not surprisingly, guests seem to seek the types of products most closely associated with their hotel. At The Ritz-Carlton, it’s beds and resort wear. At Kimpton, it’s the leopard and zebra-print robes made famous by the Monaco hotels. Doubletree Hotels does a brisk business in the chocolate-chip cookies it provides during turndown service.
Hotels also differ in the availability of items for sale. At Meadowood, a Napa Valley resort, you can buy your bed—but only if you buy the whole thing: box spring, mattress and all. At Kimpton, on the other hand, almost everything is for sale.
And while many hotels have expanded into online product sales, none of the representatives interviewed believe that retail sales will ever be a large part of their business.
“I think hotels are always raising the bar for themselves in terms of creating a unique experience for their guests,” Young says. “We’re just helping them to maintain that.” For more information, check out Smart Style this issue.