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Roger Bloss Cover Story April 2012


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An in depth look at how one guy started with a long shot idea and turned it into one of the most successful hotel companies in the world.

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Roger Bloss Cover Story April 2012

  1. 1. Cover Story The Regular GuyVantage Founder Roger Bloss shares his experiences during hislong journey in hospitality, what he learned and how he and agroup of visionaries created an innovative franchising model From L to R: Lexington Collection Brand President Bill Hanley, Vantage COO & CFO Bernie Moyle, Vantage Founder Roger Bloss, and Vantage Marketing Director Peter FrantzD uring the 2011 AAHOA An- By Jonathan Springston, said. “I took that piece of paper and nual Convention & Trade I got rid of everything everybody AAHOA Lodging Business Show in Las Vegas, Vantage dislikes. Then I put what every-Hospitality Group announced the body needs on the left but whateveropening of property number 1,000, middle of a piece of paper. Every- I put, I wanted to make sure it wascementing the company’s position thing on the left, you want it to be the very best [and] wanted to do itas one of the largest hotel brands in the best. Everything on the right, with a superior attitude.”the world. you want to get rid of it,” Bloss said Bloss figured he could call When Vantage launched over during an interview in December his friends, each of whom woulda decade ago, no one, not even during the Vantage Conference in contribute one property to the newFounder, President and CEO Roger Las Vegas. brand. But he soon found out thatBloss, could have imagined the suc- “When the Internet became a re- things don’t always go as planned.cess the company would have. ality, that’s when a light bulb went “Guess how many people gave “In the old days, when you had off and I realized you didn’t need me properties? Zero. I found out inan idea, you put a line down the 250 properties to be a brand,” he a hurry that friendship has no cor-APRIL 2012 AAHOA Lodging Business 35
  2. 2. Cover Storyrelation to money,” he said. “That to work as the night auditor, where percent agreement.was a real eye-opener. I had to put he soon discovered some serious “We had a deal but that wouldmy money and my vision to work discrepancies in the finances. mean you make more than theand I had to go out and sell it.” When Bloss first approached the president of this company,” Bloss owners about missing money, they recalled his boss telling him. “He A Hard Worker blew him off. When the discrepan- tosses me keys to a Jaguar but thatBloss is no stranger to hard work, cies grew larger, Bloss offered the wasn’t enough. He said ‘if you canlanding his first job at age 13. One owners his resignation, explaining improve on $8 million, I’ll go dou-of 10 children, Bloss described his he wasn’t comfortable with the situ- ble or nothing.’”father as possessing an “old school, ation. The next year, the propertyGerman, hard-working ethic.” “One says fine, the other asks to raked in $10 million and again, the “My Dad believed that at the me to prove it. I showed them and bosses didn’t honor the agreement.age of 13, you became a man and they said ‘wow,’” Bloss recalled. Instead, they offered Bloss thethat you had responsibilities,” ”The next day, [the owners] said the chance to own a rundown propertyBloss said. “You want school [manager] is gone and asked if I can in Hollywood, Fla. next to The Dip-clothes? Go buy them.” run the hotel until they could find lomat Hotel. Luckily, Bloss had a friend someone to run it. I said I can do Bloss took over, renovated thewhose father owned an independ- that and they never replaced me.” property, branded it as a Ramada,ent hotel called the Marlin Beach After several years with the and eventually sold his stake in theHotel in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Every- Executive House, Bloss was offered hotel, walking away at age 23 withday after school, Bloss would board the chance to manage a 300 room $500,000 in cash. He decided not toa small Boston Whaler boat and ocean-front property in Ft. Lauder- go back to work “until all the mon-travel to the hotel via the Inter- dale that had never seen a profit. ey was gone,” buying a Corvette forcoastal Waterway. Promised 5 percent of whatever himself, a house for his mother and “Whatever they needed that profit the hotel managed to make, traveled the – clean the pool, fill the Coke Bloss rose to the challenge, earning When he was down to $35,000,machine, do the dishes - I was a $8 million in profit the first year. Bloss decided to take a jobhard worker and I was anxious and Bloss received a bump with Forte Hotels, whereeager,” he said. in salary but the owners he met Bill Hanley, who During his junior year of high wouldn’t honor the 5 now serves as the groupschool, Bloss attended a new president of Vantage’shotel vocational school. After Lexington Collection.graduating at 17, Bloss Forte set up Bloss inhelped open the 200 room Dallas and chargedExecutive House in Ft. him with fixing an ag-Lauderdale, the first all- ing property.suites property in the Forte executivesUnited States. told him if the property Built by the Team- turned into a success,sters Union and run by Bloss could pick“New York union mafia- any jobtype guys,” Bloss went Long-time friends and business partners Moyle and Bloss36 AAHOA Lodging Business APRIL 2012
  3. 3. Cover Storywithin the company he wanted.Sure enough, the property becamea hit and Bloss moved to El Cajon,Calif. to become, first, the vice pres-ident of Franchise Services for Trav-elodge, and later, the vice presidentof Franchise Development. When Wyndham bought thecompany, Bloss moved to Clevelandto become the president of Knight’sInn. “When Wyndham boughtKnight’s Inn, I went to Wyndhamand that really opened my eyes.That’s when light bulbs started go-ing off,” Bloss said. “That’s whenI said ‘I can do a better job thanthis.’” “A Hair-Brained Scheme”One Thanksgiving, Bloss and hiswife traveled to Santa Barbara,Calif. to spend the holidays withfamily. It turned out to be a for-tuitous event. In attendance werea group of owners looking to taketheir Motel 6 properties in a differ-ent direction. Bloss crafted a business plan forthe properties and presented it tothe group at Christmas, who imme-diately offered Bloss 15 properties. Vantage executives celebrate propertyHe jumped at the opportunity but 1,000 during the 2011 AAHOA Annualneeded money fast. Convention in Las Vegas Bernie Moyle, an attorneywhom Bloss had known since col- “I go to AAHOA for the first Bloss refers to his company as “thelege, was part of an investment club Trade Show and I put up this giant un-franchise.”with Bloss. chalkboard,” Bloss said. “I tell at- “I’d like to say it’s everything “I called [Moyle] and asked to tendees about the concept and ask but a franchise because to me, acash out the investment,” Bloss re- people to put their names on the franchise is mandated, restrictive,called. “I said ‘I have this idea that’s board. It created a little buzz. That’s contractually obligated, and fis-way out there. I’ve got this hair- how I got it kicked off.” cally high-priced,” he said. “It’s abrained scheme that has no chance Bloss and Moyle, along with contract telling you what you gottaof working.’ He says, ‘just take all other founding partners Gene Kor- do, how you gotta do it and whenthe money and if it works, great. doban (Director of Industry Affairs, you gotta do it.”If not, that’s fine too.’ That’s how Director of Membership Develop- Bloss prides himself on beingBernie and I became partners.” ment) and Peter Frantz (Marketing available to all Vantage members, Bloss and his partners started the Director) added properties, grow- holding a live web cast everyVantage Hospitality Group (formal- ing the company at a healthy pace. Wednesday where members can askly Cal-Vegas, Limited) in 1996 and Bloss’ bold vision became questions and present concerns.acquired their first hotel. The vision known as the Freestyle Brand Af- “We hold the Vantage Academywas to develop a national hotel chain filiation Model, offering hoteliers around the country and I go to a lotbased on an innovative membership a voice and a vote in the brand’s of those,” Bloss said. “Any of ourmodel. The group continued build- direction, including setting the fees members and potential membersing the company’s infrastructure, members pay to the brand; low, flat can come on and I talk to people.resources and programs. fees; short-term contracts; and no They can ask anything they want.” During the AAHOA Conven- liquidated damages. On certain occasions, memberstion in 1999, Vantage launched will bring issues to the attentionBest Value Inn Brand Membership, “The Un-Franchise” of Vantage executives that had notwhich became America’s Best Value The Vantage model has earned the previously been considered. ForInn. company many industry awards. example, Bloss remembers whenAPRIL 2012 AAHOA Lodging Business 37
  4. 4. Cover StoryBloss always enjoys spending time As a result, Bloss has never beenwith ordinary Vantage members sued. It’s a process Bloss and other executives strive to keep open and friendly. “If I push you, you’re going to push back,” Bloss said. “But I could say, ‘lets get a beer and hang out.’ There’s a big difference in how you do things.” Employee Satisfaction While it offers much to its members to be happy about, Vantage is also consistently rated as a top company for internal employee satisfaction. In 2011, Florida Trend named Van- tage one of “The Top 100 Compa- nies To Work For ” in Florida for the second straight year. Bloss attributes such satisfac- tion to the numerous opportunities to “rise through the ranks” and the work-life balance Vantage execu- tives strive for.a member floated the notion there “I made it clear I was disap- “I’m not a human re-were bad properties in the system pointed. I wanted to get rid of sources guy, I’m a humanin need of elimination. The ensu- bedspreads. I’m going to stand nature guy. We give theing discussion resulted in a policy behind your vote but I gotta people all the latitudethat calls for the elimination of the tell you I don’t believe it was they need. We allowbottom 10 percent of properties the right decision. It’s going to them all the creativityperforming poorly in quality assur- be on the ballot until I get it,” they have,” he said.ance. he said. “It’s my job to educate “As a Dad, I want With members who feel com- [members] and motivate to be at myfortable raising concerns and them.”executives who facilitate honest Any disputeeducation about important issues, between membersVantage has a voting process of and the companywhich Bloss is proud. When asked goes through theif members get a vote wrong or advisory board,don’t vote the way executives were where “we livehoping, Bloss quipped, “It’s never and die by theira wrong decision decision.”when the membersvote.” However, Bloss wasdisappointed over a measure thatdidn’t pass in 2009 on the issue ofmaking all Vantage properties non-smoking. “I put it on the ballot the nextyear and one member stands upand says, ‘didn’t you get our mes-sage last year? We don’t want to bea non-smoking hotel chain. Whyis it on the ballot,’” Bloss recalled.“I’m a smoker [but] my job is toinform you about consumer habitsand what the competition is doing.” Bloss during the Bloss also wanted to eliminate Opening Generalbedspreads in 2010 but members Session of the 2011voted it down. Vantage Conference38 AAHOA Lodging Business APRIL 2012
  5. 5. Cover Storykid’s soccer game or piano recital. stay loyal to Vantage. driven financially to become [rich].”And those things happen at three or “You can call your boss and say Despite the industry accolades,four in the afternoon. So we said, ‘if I’m taking my kids to Disney World Bloss insists that what he has doneyou have the right work ethic, you today. If I call them because I need with the Vantage model is nothingshould be there.’” them, they’ll pick up the phone be- extraordinary. “I believe that if your life at cause they’re not hiding from me,” “I didn’t create penicillin or puthome and family is good, that’s Bloss said. “The next day, I’ll ask a man on the moon. All I did wasgoing to translate back to work and how the day was at Disney World.” take a dirty wall and put a freshvice versa,” he added. “Let people coat of paint on it,” he said. “I’mwork to live, not live to work.” The Regular Guy not this genius guy. I’m just this Vantage compares itself to other Bloss noted Vantage brings in 15 guy with a lot of experience and ancompanies of similar size each year cents on the dollar in profit, much attitude that says I’m not gonna letand pays employees based on a lower than other brands, but it anything get in my way.”comparable scale. doesn’t bother him. At the end Bloss believes having a passion “I never overpay or underpay,” of the day, Bloss isn’t in it for the and being a good listener with noBloss said. “There are incentives money. fear will take entrepreneurs any-by corporate performances and we “I don’t want to be a guy that where they want to go.give bonuses based on perform- walks on a stage, gives a speech and “You have to go with your gut.ance.” walks onto a corporate jet. It’s not If I had a dollar for everybody that Employees each month rate me, it’s not my style,” he said. “You told me it wouldn’t work, I couldVantage executives on a scale get to a point in your life where you retire,” he said. “I can’t wait to getfrom one to 10, with any score ask how many cars do you need in downstairs [and] see everybody.under eight coming to Bloss’ at- your driveway? How many bed- You gotta love what you do. If youtention. With competitive salary, rooms can you go in you’ve never don’t, it shows. Nobody can tell youbonuses and time off, employees been in before? We’ve never been there’s not love in my eyes.” The Vantage team raises a glass to a milestone achievementAPRIL 2012 AAHOA Lodging Business 39