Chris Cranford of Prosper Hotels

    We Spoke to Chris Cranford of Prosper Hotels on How to Rebuild in the Post COVID Economy

    As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Cranford from Prosper Hotels.

    Chris Cranford is the Founder and Managing Partner for Prosper Hotels. Prosper Hotels engages with hotels, management companies, and hotel owners to help their teams implement revenue generating strategies that have led to faster pandemic recoveries in performance for their clients.

    Before creating this company, Chris led various performance initiatives with record-breaking results in his 12 years with Hilton. Chris previously served as the Vice President & Commercial Director for Hilton’s full-service hotels. In this role, Chris directly supported the Heads of Full Service brands and other senior leaders by developing and integrating performance strategies for above property sales, revenue management, brand marketing, and loyalty tactics across all segments of business for Hilton, Doubletree, Signia, Canopy, Curio, and Tapestry. Chris previously served as the Head of Revenue Management for Greater China, and the Head of the Revenue Management Center in Asia Pacific.

    After 6 exciting years of working around the world, Chris and his family are thrilled to be back in their home state of Texas. In his spare time, Chris enjoys an occasional game of golf and investing in real estate.

    Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

    Funny enough, I never intended on getting into the hospitality industry — the industry found me! In college, I was determined to become an attorney and was fortunate enough to be paying my own way through school. Working in hotels was a natural fit because they never close! I could work odd hours to be both a full-time employee and pay my way through school as a full-time student. I started my hospitality career at the age of 19 working the front desk at a Holiday Inn in Lubbock, Texas. By the time I was nearing graduation, I had been promoted to a role where I was leading teams across multiple hotels. The hospitality program at Texas Tech University offered practicum classes at our hotels, and I was helping teach operations and revenue management to students, even as a student myself.

    It was through this experience that I realized the incredible gift that had been given to me by some great, early mentors that believed in me. I had clarity at such an early age that my true passion is helping others. Whether it was making a guest experience memorable or working with a team member to live their best life while making an incredible impact on the business world. The next twenty years of my career included building out one of the largest revenue management offices in the world, living overseas as a country head of revenue management, leading the commercial efforts for all full-service brands at Hilton, and building a company together with some of the most talented leaders I know in the industry. Looking back through it all, the one focus that has never changed in my career since my days as a front desk clerk has been helping others.

    Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

    I’m not sure this is a funny mistake, but it is one that clearly stuck with me throughout my career. Early on in leading a team, I had someone that struggled in their role. They did just enough with the day-to-day activities to fly under the radar and mostly stay out of trouble. But they weren’t having success in the projects they were working on or getting positive attention from others for their work. I tried my best to coach this person on the specific aspects of their role while always standing up to others that this person was giving it their best. At the time, I thought it was my job to always have the back of my team, no matter what, and work with them until they got it right. With this person, it finally reached a point where their ultimate potential in the role had really come into question. It was not until then that I thought of giving this person exposure to a project that was completely different from their role. And wouldn’t you know it, they knocked it out of the park and never looked back. Not only did this person receive several promotions in a very short time, but they started contributing to the business in a very meaningful way, both personally and professionally.

    I think that many leaders early in their career have a reluctance to face confrontation with struggling team members when things aren’t going well. They can be quick to come to the conclusion that someone may not be a fit for the organization or only focus on improving someone’s weaknesses. In both cases, leaders run the risk of losing untapped potential that would help businesses thrive in ways unimagined.

    I often think back to my experience with this individual and how I should have moved faster in tapping into their natural strengths. The potential for one’s success and the growth of your business can only be limited by your own imagination as a leader. Just because a role or project may not exist, never miss the chance to leverage the best skill sets your team members have to offer.

    Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

    For sure — the idea that an organization’s potential for success can only be limited by your own imagination as a leader is something that I also learned through the book “The 10X Rule”, by Grant Cardone. I recall a time where our team had just smashed our goals, achieving business metrics that had never been reached before. Even though we thought we had accomplished something we thought wasn’t possible, a senior leader in the company pulled me aside and gave me this book. He told me that he thought we really had the potential to do even better. At the time, I was a bit shocked, as we had just accomplished something that had never been done before. However, after reading the book, thinking differently on our goals and how we could get there, we put actions in place to achieve them. And the next year, our team achieved business metrics that were 4X times better than the prior record-setting year (with some room for improvement to get to 10X). I have since carried this experience with me in my approach to every role I have had by thinking beyond the status quo and finding a different approach to desired objectives. Since this time, I have not worked with a team that hasn’t set new records for the metrics they were responsible for. To this day, I am forever grateful to that senior leader that pushed me to think and achieve bigger than I could imagine by giving me this book.

    Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?

    We launched our business last year at a time when the hospitality industry was brought to a grinding halt. Substantial layoffs had occurred across the corporate, management company, and hotel landscape. Remaining resources had become so stretched that helping recovery efforts for individual hotels were made very difficult. Many hotels, owners, management companies and team members were facing terrifying financial uncertainty. Fears and a scarcity mindset were rampant. Many decided to leave the industry altogether and may never return.

    On the surface, a solution to me seemed almost too simple. There was now a plethora of very senior revenue management talent available with the firepower needed to directly support individual hotels in ways never available before in the market. This talent undoubtedly would help hotels to faster recoveries if organized in a manner that challenges the status quo and is centric to the needs of owners and management companies. We just needed to find a cost-effective process to connect this senior talent directly to management companies and owners that were financially stretched. So we got to work…. We interviewed many hotel owners and management companies to understand their pain points and what was desperately wanted in the market.

    I have been fortunate enough to have been in a supervisory role for well over 1,000 revenue managers in my career, so we pulled together some of the most talented and experienced people we knew across the industry to deliver a business model based on the feedback we received from hotel owners. Not only did this team deliver on the needs for hotel owners, but they were able to rewrite the script on revenue management philosophies and processes that have led to faster recoveries for our clients.

    Even though it seemed like the world was falling apart, my purpose remained as clear and simple as it always has — to help others. Hotel owners, management companies, and team members had all just been decimated by the impact of the pandemic and I felt strongly that my experiences in life had given me the opportunity to pull together the unique resources needed to find these solutions. And I’m happy to say our business is thriving!

    Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?

    I would say our number one principle in running a business is providing value to our clients.

    As an example, I am always skeptical of any company that requires a long-term contract. Why is this needed if you do what your business model is designed to do? If you lose a client because they are not seeing the benefits, take that as an opportunity to improve your business model instead of locking clients into a longer-term relationship that ultimately damages your company’s credibility. Throughout our journey, I have stayed committed to the belief in our team and their talents. I have stayed committed to the satisfaction of our clients. To prove that, we offer month-to-month service agreements. We believe that if we are not helping hotels with a solid return with their already stretched dollars, then they should not be locked into spending those dollars on us.

    While I am super proud and grateful for the growth and outstanding revenue improvements for our clients, I am most proud to say that we have not had a single client leave us. Even with month-to-month agreements in place.

    Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

    I will always be grateful for the people and experiences that helped shape my career and made me the person that I am today. I’ve worked and traveled the world with my family in tow, but we always looked forward to the day where we could return home to be closer to our families. The impact of Covid-19 helped me realize that life is short, and it was time to reunite with our family back home.

    However, our return home was met with challenges. Eight days after arriving back in Texas, my mother-in-law died in a tragic car accident. We finally were able to return home after all these years and this? This was not supposed to happen. My nine-year-old son was also the new kid in school for the 4th time in his life. On top of struggling with these changes, he was now dealing with the loss of his “Nana”. As any husband or parent knows, watching your family struggle when things are beyond your control is heart-breaking.

    With these challenges at home, there was one other small obstacle — I was in the middle of launching a company during a global pandemic. Not just any company, but a company tasked with helping our clients recover from unprecedented declines in revenue with no end in sight.

    While this was very intimidating, I felt strongly that my own adversities in life had finally culminated in ways to give me the strength and courage to overcome these hardships and fears, and to be a source of strength for our team and our clients. While it is difficult to understand and process hardships when they happen, I look at these adversities as an opportunity to make us all stronger in the future.

    Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

    One of the biggest challenges we have seen are fear-based reactions toward hotel pricing in the markets we support. It seems that deployed revenue optimization strategies often defy conventional wisdom when there are opportunities to push rate or capture an unfair proportion of demand within specific booking windows. We have come to realize that much of this problem stems from a lack of resources for many hotels. Hotel teams are often too stretched or inexperienced to take on some of the more time-consuming or granular tasks it takes to be able to take advantage of these opportunities. As a result, there are many hotels falling short of their revenue potential.

    Knowing this to be the case, our team rethought the approach to revenue management and built new processes to quickly identify these gaps in the market and confidently deploy strategies to capture lost business opportunities from others’ mistakes in the market.

    Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?

    Understand what we can and cannot control. Even for the things we cannot control, if you understand the worst possible scenario, it usually isn’t as bad as what you make it out to be in your head. I stayed committed to the belief in my family and team that we are doing the right things for the right reasons. If we all approach life one day at a time, be kind to everyone, and give more than we ever expect to receive — everything seems to work itself out in the long-run.

    Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?

    Fear-based decisions will continue to persist, and many hotels are currently and will continue to be slow to react. Current teams in place have been stretched beyond capacity for some time. Understandably, there is a reluctance to bring back pre-pandemic payroll expenses. I would bet that we’ll begin to see much higher turnover rates, as fatigue and extended salary constraints have been a concern for many team members. Even those hotels that have started recruiting talent back have been met with a more diluted talent pool, as many had given up on searching for jobs and decided many months ago to leave the industry altogether.

    While this sounds like impending doom in finding talent for some, I actually believe this will force companies to adapt and become much more efficient with their resources than they were before the pandemic. I believe companies that try to go back to their old organizational structures and way of doing things will miss out on a real opportunity to improve margins AND get better at managing revenues. Companies now have a unique opportunity to lean more into the technology advancements at their disposal with a more concentrated talent pool. This technology has the potential to replace much of the labor-intensive, manual processes that previously existed. To ensure companies can successfully transition, revenue management talent will need to be well versed in understanding systems functionality and shift their efforts into the recalibration of these systems, rather than ignore the outputs and manage pricing manually. The approach for many revenue managers before the pandemic was the inverse. They were inclined to ignore recommendations and fight the system rather than fully leveraging the system’s capabilities. It is important to understand that manual controls will become increasingly harder to implement as technology advances, but honestly that can be a great thing for your revenues and payroll expenses if leveraged correctly. Human influence can never match the cost efficiency nor the revenue potential offered by processing vast amounts of data to manage millions of pricing decisions on a daily basis. However the key to leveraging these systems is to find the talent willing to work to get the systems operating well. Obviously, this requires an effective change management process, which can be difficult to implement if there is little buy-in with your team.

    During the height of the pandemic, our company doubled down by acquiring the best talent we could find at a time when it seemed everyone was in scarcity mode. We were very selective in our recruiting efforts to ensure we landed the most senior talent available that had vast experience in working with these systems. We are well positioned as demand is now returning and many companies are looking for experts to manage the complexity of their systems.

    How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?

    The pandemic forced many companies and leaders to think differently about what is possible, and we’re seeing that play out in our business. I previously mentioned leveraging technology to be able to accomplish more with the day-to-day revenue management processes for hotels, but technology enabled working remotely as an option for many positions.

    Many leaders that were previously reluctant to allow any remote working have now moved past this thinking. Those that have worked through the challenges that remote working can introduce and found success with this practice now have a much more significant upside to their recruiting potential. Instead of finding the best candidate willing to live in-market, you now open up the opportunity and potential for better candidates that can work from anywhere.

    In our business, we are focused on securing the best experience and talent regardless of where they live. We are doing this because, in turn, this talent can offer the best available support for our clients. Our team is made up of individuals that are well established and aren’t able to pick and move to a centralized location. So far, the feedback received from our clients is that the level of experience, strategy, and services are significantly better than they’ve been able to find anywhere else, so I only see remote positions becoming more prevalent if companies want to remain competitive in acquiring talent.

    Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?

    Stay the course — Listen to our clients to really understand and act on their evolving needs, be flexible, and continue driving performance and our value proposition by hiring only the best.

    Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?

    Don’t rely on the ways you’ve always done things. Take the opportunity to rebuild your business to be more efficient. Review your organization and look for cost-effective alternatives that help your team find new ways of driving performance. We’ve found that most companies are rebuilding their revenue management teams in three ways:

    Businesses that have revenue management teams in place and are scaling.

    One of the most difficult challenges in this scenario is balancing the overhead and performance risk. These companies must time new hires perfectly to avoid a negative impact on profitability or stretch their teams to the point where there is a negative impact to performance or burnout. I would advise these companies to deleverage these risks by outsourcing coverage until they reach a point that they are 100% comfortable in making the commitment of bringing on the added expenses of a full-time position. The other benefit to outsourcing these coverage needs is that you can leverage a “champion challenger” strategy to introduce new ideas and strategies as a way of improving the existing team’s performance. Without a “champion challenger” strategy, your business solely relies on the ideas and innovations within your team. Take the opportunity to introduce new perspectives into your business for stronger performance in the long term.

    Businesses that had a revenue management team in place and now the day-to-day tasks are being handled by someone unfamiliar with the discipline or has other day-to-day responsibilities:

    Similar to the companies with teams already in place, the timing of bringing the first revenue manager back and introducing more overhead risk is a concern for owners. This is especially the case if there is a perception that this function is currently being covered, and there is a visible savings on the Profit & Loss statements. Unfortunately, the greater and far less visible impact to the bottom line for these businesses is how much revenue opportunity the hotels are losing to competitors with experienced support in place. While it is impossible to know what the impact of a dedicated revenue manager would be to justify the overhead risk, I would recommend that you begin to test as quickly as possible. Again, outsourcing support for a period of a few months will give you a clear indication of the opportunities and help guide your decision.

    Businesses that are stretched financially and have never been able to commit to a full-time revenue management position.

    I can certainly understand the costs and headaches associated with attracting, training, and retaining talent for any owner. However, I am most concerned for the businesses that have never had adequate revenue management support if the industry experts are correct in saying it will be a few years before demand fully returns. According to Statista, occupancy rates and demand in the United States from 2013–19 were the strongest we’ve seen in the last twenty years, and maybe ever. As a result, even the operators with inadequate revenue management support had moderate success as strong demand compressed business into their hotels with little effort. The environment we’re facing today is much different, and all the big players in the industry are aggressively fighting to steal business that could otherwise be at your hotel. I am worried that the false sense of security from past results will cause many of these owners to stay idle and wait for demand to return. The runway needed before demand fully returns is anyone’s guess, but these owners run the greatest risk of losing their investment. Obviously, our company could help, but I care more about making sure these owners survive the lasting effects of the pandemic. Please know that there are cost effective solutions available to you. Solutions that don’t require long term contracts and are willing to prove a return on investment with shorter term contracts. Don’t let the mindset of controlling every expense ruin the potential revenue gains that could extend your runway. Having an expert build the strategies and push the buttons for you is well worth the investment.

    Whatever your situation, take this opportunity to rebuild in a smart and efficient way. Evolve your processes and business model to meet the changing needs of your clients and guests. If you do these things, your business will be stronger than it was before the pandemic.

    Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

    “What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains immortal.”

    – Albert Pine

    I’ve always believed that the truest measure of success is what people say about you five years after you leave an organization. By then, people won’t remember your individual accomplishments or feel an obligation to say good things about you. They’ll remember how you made them feel and what things perpetuated well beyond your involvement in the business. The legacy you leave behind can only be accomplished by helping others to achieve their best life and harnessing their potential in ways that break the mold. To all the struggling leaders and business owners out there — look at every adversity as a means to become stronger, and use this strength to ultimately help others. Living this life lesson has returned to me more than I could have ever asked for.

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