When the U.K.’s Premier Inn wanted to design a new hotel to met the services expectations of its guests and the cost requirements of city center properties, it literally took a room to customers to get their input.
As Simon Ewins, Premier Inn’s Chief Operating Officer, explained:
“We actually built a room, put it on a lorry, and went around to major cities.”
Unlike a typical crowdsourcing campaign or contest however, the innovation project, begun in 2011, started with two certainties: The room dimensions, which were based on the company’s deep experience (and came to 11.4 sq. meters), and a cost “envelope” that provided a framework that would inform what was possible, or, as Ewins put it, “keep us honest.”
“We asked guests what would make the room attractive,” he explained. The company learned that location was paramount, as was making the room as tech-enabled as possible. It also got a lot of feedback on what constituted fresh design, down to materials, fabrics, and lighting. It was important that the company tasked a blended team of operational and “Oxford and Cambridge” experts to vet the feedback, too.
From there, it wrote a brief and challenged its supply chain to come up with solutions — focused on the concept as well as the contract specs — which freed some vendors to go beyond the remit to propose integrated solutions, like moving storage from cabinets to under the beds, or using more expensive materials that would allow for easy, and therefore more cost-efficient care and replacement. It got lighting solutions that created more latitude with the “space” dominated by the physical objects and fixtures in the room.
“Then, we rebuilt it, and took it back to those guests,” said Ewins, noting that they got more feedback, but that the overriding consensus was that the company had they’d given them what they’d asked for. Interestingly, some of the thinking was fed back into its Premier brand.
Five real rooms in a London location came next at the Premier Inn at Kings Cross, so that guests could interact with the real thing, and the team could start iterating based on usage data. The design changed almost a dozen times before the first location, branded hub, was opened on St Martin’s Lane in the heart of London’s Covent Garden in 2014.
The company now has four locations across London and Edinburgh and will open the fifth in London later this year, and is now taking costs out of its development process, as would any product manufacturer. The hotels have hit the ground running, and are trading with high occupancy levels of around 90%.
The entire process was bootstrapped, according to Ewins.
“I’m a fundamental believer that innovation reframes people’s perspectives.”
“So those employees who participated in blue sky sessions on hub couldn’t help but start questioning the status quo when they got back to their day jobs,” he said.
“It’s meant that we have taken learnings from hub and applied them to the mother brand, Premier Inn. So when we launched the Premier Inn brand in Germany earlier this year, with our first hotel in Frankfurt, we used elements of the hub design and development process.”
Though anyone who walks into the newest hub property might not see any difference between the first (and, arguably, should see a consistent brand presentation anyway), the company is still crowdsourcing the concept.
“I do think of hotel rooms as a combination of hardware and software, so we’re subtly designing boxes that can be more fluid over the lifetime of the asset,” Ewins said. “This project has enabled us to think about new learnings and adjustments every time we open a new hotel, to make sure the product is relevant.”
“It’s a framework that tells us we can change, and gives us the confidence to do it more often.”