Country Inn & Suites is no longer the “rocking chair on the front porch” brand that you’ve known since 1989. With the ribbon cutting of the newest Country Inn & Suites in Springfield, Illinois, the brand has made a significant leap into the future with a new look and new logo mark.
“It’s a fresh look for a new generation of travelers” says Scott Meyer, Senior Vice-President, Midscale Brands, Americas. “You have to remember that when Country Inn & Suites started back in 1987, we didn’t know about the Internet or iPods. Back then, no one would have ever considered putting electrical outlets on headboards. Yet, today’s travelers demand convenient outlets…and lots of them. It was time for a refresh.”
This newest “Generation 4” design for the Country Inn & Suites was introduced to owners, franchisees and investors back in March of 2013 at their business conference in Miami. Starting with an updated, lighter logo, the brand carries forth many elements from its past, but positions them in a fresh way – hopefully appealing to a wider market segment for the coming years.
New interior and exterior materials were designed by Virgile & Stone in London. Focus groups were also used to make sure the company’s vision matched that of the travelers who frequented the brand. Carlson’s architectural and tech team here in the US then refined the design, speccing locally available materials and furnishings.
Finally, before the launch to the public at the business conference, celebrity interior designer with HGTV, Genevieve Gorder, (who is also from Minneapolis) was brought in to comment on the newest design. Extremely impressed with what Carlson’s team had put together, she helped introduce the new package at the meeting in Miami.
Also impressed with the new design were joint venture partners Leo Sand and David Swift. Having developed dozens of hotels with Carlson over some 20+ years, they liked the redesign so well, they wanted to be the first to roll it out on a new property they planned to develop right off the exit to I-55 in Springfield, Illinois.
The Springfield site had already been approved for construction by the local authorities, so it was only a matter of implementing the new style on this site which was just waiting to start. Since the site had already been determined, slight modifications needed to be made to the prototype.
“With this great location,” says David Smith, President and CEO of Smith Hospitality Group, “when we saw this new concept, we wanted to migrate to it right away. My joint-venture partner Leo and his team worked very closely with Ken and his team to revise our plans to make this work.”
Normally the veranda is located off the breakfast room, bringing the outside in and the taking the inside out. Since the site was too narrow for this arrangement, the veranda was moved to the side, and now you enter the building by passing through the veranda first. Even with chilly weather in Springfield, already people were trying out the outdoor furniture in this area.
Entering a previous Country Inn & Suites, you would have been greeted with the typical hardwood floors and fireplace in the lobby. Now, with a hint to the past, the fireplace is still there, but it’s a much more contemporary feel. The dual sided fireplace now provides an amenity to both the Living Room and the Den (new nomenclature signifying the more personal feeling you’ll experience in Gen 4.) A rack of nicely stacked firewood alongside the fireplace adds to the Living Room feel.
Woods are no longer used on the floor; but are now used on the ceilings, walls and reception desk. Same homey feeling, but updated for the latest generation of travelers.
Gone also are the wallcoverings of yesterday. Now, plain painted walls and large windows at the end of the corridors make the hallways come alive with a light, airy and more spacious feeling. Wall sconces that could quickly date a property have been replaced with high-efficiency recessed can lights.
“One of the challenges of the hospitality business” continues Meyer, “is keeping the property looking fresh. With this new design, it will be quite easy for our operators to maintain the property and by just changing a few key elements, give it a new look without spending considerable capital.”
“This is definitely a trend-setting endeavor for Carlson,” says Swift approvingly. “It’s a major commitment to update the mark and the look of hundreds of hotels.”
All the public spaces are certainly pleasant, but travelers spend far more time in their rooms than in the public areas. As you touch your card key to the lock, the room’s advantages become quickly apparent.
Springfield offers a combination of kings, king suites and double queen rooms. All feature a comfortable bedroom area with rethought furniture. Many of the focus groups said they rarely used drawers in the bedroom, fearing that they would accidentally leave something behind. With a nod to that fear, Carlson now offers both drawers in the dresser but also open shelves on both dressers and night stands. One glimpse and it’s easy to make sure you have everything.
A nice touch in Springfield is the new radios that not only serve as alarm and FM radio, but have the MP3 hookup wire for your own device and a new SoundMachine capable of playing “white-noise” backgrounds of babbling brooks, ocean waves or jungle birds.
Since a great percentage of Carlson’s guests are business travelers, there is a well thought-out desk layout with ample workspace and abundant outlets. An actual high-speed wireless network works well and is easy to connect. The rolling, posture chair is quite comfortable and will keep you focused on your task.
Next to the desk is a cabinet with concealed microwave and compact refrigerator, complete with small freezer and ice cube tray. A coffee pot and tea service are above. Need a snack or a meal? Next to the reception desk, a small retail area offers all sorts of travel essentials along with microwaveable snacks and small dinners.
The bathroom is quite spacious compared to many similar hotels I’ve visited. An especially nice touch is the hand-painted tile surround, encasing the large wood-framed mirror above the sink. Replacing the stenciling done in the old days, the tile surround is an elegant upgrade.
New chrome American Standard fixtures on both lavatory and shower are easy to operate and smart looking. A magnet-weighted shower curtain glides easily over the bowed rod and keeps water inside the tub.
The large white porcelain lavatory is mounted on top of a Parson-like table instead of a vanity cabinet. Below the tabletop is one, full-length and full- width shelf which holds a bountiful supply of soft, absorbent white towels.
The wall above the toilet features a simple, slim Mahogany wood shelf with framed art work.
Right outside the bathroom, is a full-height, hinged mirror door concealing a full-sized closet. With the door open 180 degrees, it can be used as a full-length mirror in the bathroom. And, praise the Lord, the closet is equipped with real wooden hangers that can actually be taken off the rod. Gosh, I hate those burglar-proof hangers with the little knobs on top used in so many other hotels.
But there’s more
Downstairs, there are many more ways to spend time if you prefer to not stay in your room.
A decent-sized indoor swimming pool invites you take a swim and there are ample chairs and tables available around the perimeter if you want to sit, sip or play cards.
Next door is the work-out room with two Life Cycle treadmills, an elliptical machine and a Nautilus style weight machine.
A nice-sized Meeting Room is also located on the first floor. (The number and sizes of meeting rooms change depending on the market.) The one in Springfield is presently set-up with four tables in a rectangle, easily seating 14 people. A good sized counter with sink provides ample food service space and a large flat screen TV on the wall would make for easy presentations.
The Servery is probably where most people will begin their day. Each morning, a hot breakfast is included with the room rate, and the main dish changes daily. The day I was there, we had a choice of waffles, scrambled egg mix, potatoes, sausage links, biscuits and gravy. Obviously there was also a selection of juice, cereals and the like along with a big bowl of fruit.
Feeling more and more like home, Country Inn & Suites uses real dining ware. No more cracked Styrofoam plates or plastic forks whose tines snap off when you press too hard.
In a hurry? Grab a hot drink and one of their “to-go” bags with fruit and granola bars.
The large Breakfast Room offers a number of seating options, from small single tops, to square four-seaters to a communal high-top where teams of six or eight could gather easily. Meyer mentioned that both the Breakfast Room and the meeting room are often requested as favorite meeting places for local organizations in just about all their locations.
The Den offers a place where some folks might like to relax with the “Read It & Return Lending Library,” with books for young and old. Others might want to get on one of the two PC’s and print out boarding passes. In either case, the entire family or business group can be together in comfortable surroundings, accented with the warm glow from the fireplace.
Wrapping it up
“One of the things we’ve always loved about Country is that it always portrayed the persona of a residence with a lot of bedrooms,” explains Smith. “From our experience as operators of this brand, people gravitate to the brand because before, when it was the farm-house look, it was like going to Grandma’s house, and now, it’s like going to an upscale spa with a very in-tune design, but it still maintains a very residential look with a lot of bedrooms.”
“While we changed the design of the building” adds Meyer, “what we haven’t changed is the DNA of our business, which is hospitality. Ultimately it’s the people operating the hotels that impact our guests and they are the ones who make Country Inn & Suites the success it is today.”
IF YOU GO:Country Inn & Suites 3092 Stevenson Drive Springfield, IL 62703 P 217.544.5151 F 217.544.5353 http://www.countryinns.com/springfield-hotel-il-62703/usasfil Ragan Myerscough – General Manager