Inside Design: Guests of Honor
The hospitality industry has opened its doors to brand-name amenities.By Jennifer Kwok, Managing Editor
Once, in humbler times, hotel amenities consisted of bar soap and perhaps some no-name shampoo. Not so today. Today, many hotels—as well as cruise ships and airlines—serve guests with first-class, name-brand amenities.
As hotels and brands partner up, a range of companies, including Lather, Molton Brown, Davies Gate, Portico SPA, Bath & Body Works, Aveda, Origins, and Pantene—and even luxury brands such as Hermès and Bvlgari—have established amenity programs. The airline industry has also gotten onboard. This February, Delta Air Lines paired with personal care brand Lather. Through a multiyear contract, Lather is providing amenity kits to Delta’s BusinessElite flyers. This June, H2O Plus began supplying amenity kits to United Air Lines’ first-class international travelers. And recently, Bliss launched its Shut-Eye Kit on Jet Blue.
A hotel-brand alliance is mutually beneficial. For a hotel, upscale amenities add cachet. Rory Bevins, vice president of the North American hotel and spa division for high-end brand Molton Brown, says, “If guests are already customers of our brand, they’re going to be thrilled when they walk into their hotel and see Molton Brown products. It reinforces to them that they’ve truly arrived at a luxury hotel.”
“If a hotel doesn’t use branded products, I believe the consumer naturally thinks, ‘Okay, this product is not going to be anything special,’” adds Rob Hoyt, president of Lather, which has also worked with four- and five-star hotels, including Wynn Resorts, Ian Schrager’s Gramercy Park Hotel, Hotel Angeleno in Los Angeles, and The Scottsdale Mondrian. “On the other hand, if a hotel is using branded products, guests think, ‘This hotel really did its homework. It found something very unique, something that I’ve seen before and that I’m excited to try.’”
For brands, the biggest benefit is building brand awareness. Hotels accommodate hundreds, if not thousands, of guests each day, and guests who aren’t customers of a brand can become quite familiar with it by the end of their stay. Some brands say that a hotel amenity program is the most effective sampling program there is. With a sampling program, the challenge is ensuring that consumers actually try the samples once they have brought them home. By contrast, most hotel guests tend to use the amenities in their room—repeatedly, if their hotel stay is extended.
“It’s the best marketing program in the world because people actually use the products. It’s especially hard to get consumers to sample body care products because most people already have products that they love, and they’re afraid to change,” says Bobby Berk, managing partner of Portico SPA, which has held a contract with Hyatt for five years. “We don’t really have to do any type of advertising or marketing at all for our spa products. People use our products at the hotels, and then they search us out, sometimes online using the Web site address printed on our bottles. We had a customer call the other day saying, ‘I just checked out of the Hyatt hotel. I used the lavender-citrus soap and shampoo. I want you to overnight some products to me now.’” In fact, although the Portico SPA brand started with its amenity line, due to high demand from hotel guests, this year the brand launched a full-sized retail line that will soon be available in Hyatt gift shops.
As can be expected, good packaging adds value to an amenity line. Packaging must be unisex as well as ergonomic so that guests of all ages, including seniors, can easily dispense products from small-sized containers. Packaging must also be durable in case travelers decide to take amenities back home with them.
Most importantly, however, amenity packaging should closely emulate the look of a brand’s retail packages. This is so hotel guests shopping in stores can easily recognize the brand on the shelf. “You want people to remember not only the scent, but the sight of the products,” says Portico SPA’s Berk. “You always want to make sure that your product stands out as branded product, and not just look like some generic shampoo in the shower.”
Streamlined and Unisex
A strongly branded look, as opposed to a middle-of-the-road look, doesn’t have to limit the number of hotels a line is aesthetically suited to. However, minimalist, unisex packaging often has an easier time fitting in with a range of hotels. Luckily, a number of personal care brands prefer a streamlined retail look, which easily carries over into the amenities market.
Like its retail packaging, Lather’s amenity packaging is minimalist, featuring straight-sided black caps and simple copy and art. Molton Brown also focuses on a contemporary look with sleek metal caps and clear plastic bottles. Although the brand customized its amenity bottles with decorative raised dots, the bottles still look streamlined.
“The beauty of our packaging is that it’s classic and modern,” says Bevins. “Our brand has been around for 33 years, and during that time, our packaging hasn’t changed dramatically. It’s very clean, simple, and understated, which is part of our brand philosophy. That also makes our packaging versatile, and our amenity packages work just as beautifully with very traditional interior design as they do in a modern-design bathroom.” Molton Brown’s products can be found in ultramodern establishments like The Time Hotel in Manhattan, as well as at luxury properties such as The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, VA; the upscale The Peninsula hotels; Taj hotels; the Mandarin Oriental; and The Bryant Park Hotel in Manhattan.
Streamlined packaging is also helpful when trying to achieve a unisex look that will appeal to both male and female travelers. “From a packaging perspective, women are much more willing to experiment with different-looking packages,” says Bevins. “Male travelers, however, definitely need to feel comfortable with a product, and their first experience with a product is how the packaging looks. If it looks too feminine, they’re going to be very hesitant about trying it. Obviously, the formulations and fragrances have to be unisex as well.”
Jack Davies, CEO and president of Davies Gate, agrees. He says that Davies Gate’s nature-inspired Seeds & Grains collection and its utilitarian-looking GardenMade line, which features clear bottles and silver caps, have been very successful in the amenities market, largely because the packaging looks unisex. Hotels such as the Park Hyatt, which carry the brand’s line, appreciate this versatility.
“In the retail market, we all know that we’re selling primarily to women,” says Davies. “However, in the amenities market, the usage by men and women is split 50-50, if not leaning more toward men, who may occupy more business hotels.”
Custom Versus Stock
In order to ensure that their amenity and retail packages look alike, most brands turn to custom molds. Marietta Corp., Hunter Amenities International Ltd., and Guest Supply—all leading contract manufacturers and packagers for amenities—confirm that most of their brand and hotel clients demand custom molds. Large hotel chains with private-label amenities often invest in custom tooling as well.
“Most of our customers want custom bottles and caps and packaging with a signature design element. We seldom use stock packaging,” says Teri Unsworth, vice president of marketing for Guest Supply. Guest Supply contract manufactures and packages amenity products for brands such as Bvlgari, Neutrogena, Crabtree & Evelyn, Bath & Body Works, Archive, and Suave. It also works with hotels, including Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Marriott, Hilton, and Renaissance.
Often, the sheer volume of packaging used for amenities amortizes the cost of custom tooling. “A major chain like Hyatt or Sheraton can well afford a custom package because they’re going through millions of units,” says Richard Barsky, a former employee of an amenities supply company.
Companies that prefer stock over custom packaging can rest assured that options do exist in the stock market. “Our stock vendors come up with new concepts, and there’s a variety of stock components out there,” says Lynn Zingraf, director of marketing and product development for English toiletry brand Gilchrist & Soames. Gilchrist & Soames offers to customize its packaging for hotels so that it suits a hotel’s branding precisely. Zingraf says that the split between custom and standard orders is about 50-50.
“It really just depends on the property, what its budget is, and whether it can afford, for instance, a flip-top cap versus a screw-on cap,” Zingraf continues. “Cost is always an issue, and we’ll work with a property to guide them toward options that not only fit within their budget, but that give them the cachet that they’re trying to achieve with their toiletries.”
Supplier Alpha Packaging recently introduced a new stock line of amenity bottles. In January 2005, the firm acquired the Northeast branch of Yorkbridge Packaging, which specializes in producing PET amenity containers. In total, Alpha now offers a dozen stock molds for amenity containers, mostly bottles, in addition to the numerous custom amenity bottles it produces for other companies.
Alpha often sells its stock amenity containers to the major distributors and contract packagers, who often request that Alpha make changes to an existing stock mold. To this end, Alpha uses preforms that allow the company to modify the shape of a stock container without the higher cost of completely new tooling. The shape of the container itself can be changed, while only the neck finish remains constant.
“With these preforms, our designer can build new tools in-house pretty inexpensively,” says Carol McLerran, director of marketing for Alpha.
As demand for prestige amenities grows, hotels have been more accepting of the higher costs of custom packaging, says John Hunter, president of Hunter Amenities. “Fortunately, the hospitality market really looks at amenities now as a signature of a property. I think that people are spending more on this, and not just going by the ‘I have to put some kind of shampoo in’ attitude that was more common years ago.”
For upscale brands, custom packaging means the opportunity to add high-end touches, such as more-luxurious caps, to their amenity packages.
Molton Brown, Davies Gate, and Gilchrist & Soames top their amenity bottles off with metal caps. “With the metallic finish, it’s a much more expensive cap, but it speaks to high-end luxury,” says Molton Brown’s Bevins. “We definitely see a return on the investment.”
Portico SPA uses flip-top lids, which are still considered somewhat unique in the amenities market. “It’s rare that you find amenities with flip-top lids,” says Portico’s Berk. “Most hotel amenities have a cheap screw-on lid, which guests can easily lose in the bathroom.”
Brands looking for stock flip-top caps can go to Zeller Plastik, part of Global Closure Systems. A year ago, the supplier introduced a line of stock flip-top dispensing caps designed specifically for amenity-sized bottles and tubes.
“Flip-tops are convenient for guests to use,” says Nancy Kane, marketing coordinator for Zeller Plastik. “Because amenity packages are so small, sometimes unscrewing lids can be difficult in the shower or the bathroom and they can get lost. With flip-tops, you don’t have to remove them from the bottle at all. You just flip them open. The popularity of flip-top closures in the amenities market is growing slowly but surely.” Brands like Hyatt and Colgate have already used these closures for travel-sized products.
Hotels often support adding such upscale elements. In agreement with Hyatt, Portico SPA redesigned its entire amenities line a year ago to exactly match its retail line. It added tottles, the flip-top lids, and even an amenity-sized jar for its Soothing Bath Grains. “Previously, our amenity packaging was very simple and plain,” says Berk. “But the Hyatt wanted higher-end packaging.”
“Any time our retail packages have gone through any type of enhancement, the hotel range would do the same,” says Molton Brown’s Bevins. “For instance, when we redesigned our retail caps two years ago, we also changed the caps for our hotel line. We debossed our logo around the cap so that it looks richer. The packaging now looks more high end, and it really needs to, especially in the hotel market. When you’re a luxury brand, the aesthetics of your products are very important because in a hotel, the amenities almost serve as accessories in the bathroom. They’re displayed openly, so they have to blend in beautifully with the gorgeous granite or marble countertops. They have to look like they’re part of all that luxury. And they need to directly reflect your brand position in the marketplace.”
Behind the Scenes
Before brands venture into the amenities market, it helps to understand the way the market works. The majority of brands that market amenities rely on contract manufacturers, contract packagers, and distributors—many companies offer all three services—to help produce and distribute their products. Three of the biggest contract service providers for amenities are Marietta Corp., Hunter Amenities International Ltd., and Guest Supply.
These contract firms often license a brand’s products, including formulas and package designs. They manufacture products either by licensing a brand’s formula and then manufacturing it or by using bulk product provided by a brand. They also design, produce, or outsource packaging and arrange delivery to all of the hotels using their own distribution network.
Contractors also seek out and sign the contracts with hotels, matching up the hotels and brands that make the best pairings. “We look at the demographics of a hotel’s guests. You really look at their clientele and what their buying habits are in the retail arena and then try to match them up with something that would suit their personality. We would do something more hip for a W Hotel versus a Four Seasons,” says John Hunter, president of Hunter Amenities, which works with hotels such as Hyatt, W Hotels, Westin, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Le Meridien, and Disney.
Many retail brands say they feel comfortable licensing their lines to contract service providers because these providers have a lot of experience working specifically in the amenities market. For instance, many contractors often already have in-house machinery specifically designed to fill small-sized amenity packages. In addition, contractors have a lot of contacts in the hospitality market. By letting contractors handle their amenities programs, brands are then free to focus on the retail aspect of their businesses.
“The amenities market is a very specialized field, and there are just a handful of contract companies that handle it, such as Marietta, Guest Supply, and Hunter Amenities,” says Jack Davies, CEO and president of Davies Gate, which since 2003, has licensed its amenities to Marietta. “Because Marietta is an expert in the hotel amenities field and focuses solely on this area of distribution, it brings a lot of knowledge to the table that we wouldn’t have. For example, they know when a contract between a hotel and an amenity program is due to expire and when that property is most likely going to be looking for a new amenity program. That’s the kind of thing that we don’t have the time or the resources to track.”
Often, contract service providers design the packaging for a brand’s amenity line using their own in-house designers and engineers. These designs are then proposed to the brand. “We’re presented with design boards and samples of the containers they would like to use, and then we sign off on those,” says Davies.
Bobby Berk, managing partner of Portico SPA, which works with Hunter Amenities, adds, “We can adapt the design to look exactly as we want it. Sometimes, though, we use the design exactly as they recommend it.”
Using their global network of packaging suppliers, contractors will source the packaging components for a brand. Most of the contractors we spoke to declined to mention exactly which suppliers they use. However, Hunter named a few of Hunter Amenities’ suppliers. “We use a lot of different suppliers, such as Berlin Packaging, Plastic Bottle Corp., and TricorBraun if we’re looking for stock packaging. There’s some really great stock packaging out there for amenities, but the pricing tends to be geared more toward retail. More often than not, especially with the volumes we deal with, we’re better off making our own tooling.”
Sometimes, because these contractors order packaging in large quantities, they can also get a better deal on packaging prices than independent firms can, says Jim Berklas, senior vice president of business development for Marietta Corp.’s guest amenities division. Marietta can then pass on these cost savings to its customers, which include Aveda, Origins, Davies Gate, Jergens, Vaseline, Face Stockholm, Paul Mitchell, Garden Botanika, and Procter & Gamble lines Physique, Pantene, and Herbal Essence.
Distributing product through a contractor can also be helpful. Most hotels don’t keep a lot of inventory on hand. To guard against fluctuating occupancy rates, contractors and their distributors often stock weeks’ worth of inventory in case a hotel suddenly needs more product delivered quickly.
Some brands such as Lather and Molton Brown prefer not to go through a contract provider. Instead they would rather facilitate the production and distribution of their amenity products themselves.
“We’re unique,” says Rob Hoyt, president of Lather. “We would only license our brand in very special circumstances. We like to control manufacturing ourselves, and we also distribute our products directly. At the end of the day, what we have at stake is our quality, reputation, and product.” Lather also finds its own suppliers to produce its custom packaging.
Rory Bevins, vice president of Molton Brown’s North American hotel and spa division, says, “All our products are made by us in London, and we sell direct. We maintain our own global warehouses and distribution centers. We don’t work with distributors because we’re very protective and strategic about the types of hotels we partner with, and when you turn your business over to a distributor, you lose some of that control. However, in some smaller countries where the culture makes it more conducive to working with a local distributor, we do consider this as an option.”