Getting 100 Times Closer to Your Brand: Whitney Knight, Homewood Suites by Hilton
Earlier this year, Whitney Knight was promoted from director, Brand Personality, at Homewood Suites to director of Brand Management. As Director of Brand Management Whitney is responsible for the brand’s strategic initiatives and performance, supporting Homewood Suites Global Brand Leader.
They say ideas can come from anywhere, and in Whitney’s case it came from “The Bitter Southerner” podcast on “The Ways of the Waffle House,” which led her on a multi-month journey to visit 100 Hilton Homewood Suites properties (as well as some competitors). We chat with Whitney about her journey and what she learned.
Were you a fan of Waffle House before?
In the southeast of the US, Waffle Houses are ubiquitous. While they aren’t the fanciest places, they are renowned for their resiliency and the lengths they go to to serve customers. It really struck me that leadership at all levels spends so much time IN the actual restaurants. The idea is that you can’t support a business if you don’t know the business intimately. I’ve always felt this is important, but seeing a company with an intentional approach to this was inspiring.
So, inspired by Waffle House you set yourself a 100 property goal?
Yes, earlier this year I set out on a multi-month quest to visit 100 hotels - older properties, new properties, and even a grueling week staying with the direct competition.
Hang on, what did your boss say about this race to 100?
My boss, Rick Colling , the Global Brand Leader for Homewood Suites by Hilton, is one of the most inspiring people to work with, and he is so supportive! Anytime I have a wild idea, he lets me run with it. Nothing energizes him more than spending time with our hotels, so he has been more than happy to join me on parts of this quest. He’s a “walk the walk” kind of leader. Just yesterday he was helping a hotel team move a sofa and that’s a pretty routine thing for us.
And...you made it?
Today, I hit #100 in Atlanta (appropriately since it’s the home of Waffle House). To be clear, Hilton has incredible teams who certainly spend even more time on the road supporting our hotels, but I can confidently say I understand the opportunities for our brand AND all the things we have to be proud of.
What are the top 5 lessons you learned from all these visits?
Service is our signature, even if technically “limited.” Although Homewood Suites is a prototypical brand, that’s not what unites us. Our team members and their dedication to our guests is the real signature of this brand.
What’s old is new again. Homewood Suites are 34 years YOUNG. With much of the brand under renovation, it’s hard to walk into a Homewood Suites that either isn’t in the process or has recently completed it.
Back of the house is where the heart is. When I walk a property, my favorite part is the back of house. That’s how you can tell what a team is really about.
Ask meaningful questions. At Homewood, we have a practice called Big Talk that focuses on asking meaningful questions. While it helps us get to know each other on a personal level, it also helps us have candid conversations on everything from brand standards to supply chain. I am so grateful for the feedback our hotel leaders have shared. Our Thursday Night Football partnership came directly from GMs requesting additional weeknight activations and my frustration of seeing empty lobby spaces!
Know when to take someone else’s word for it, and when to experience it firsthand. This goes for the competition too. Spending a week staying across our competitive set helped me solidify what our real differentiators are.
There’s still a full quarter left in 2023, so if it’s been awhile since you spent time IN your business, there’s still time to make it a priority this year!
And we have to ask, what is YOUR Waffle House order?
My go to Waffle House order is hash browns, scattered, smothered, and covered! And...lots of coffee. 😄
Nice! Thank you, Whitney!