Wichita-based LodgeWorks opening new hotels

06/02/2014 6:44 PM

06/02/2014 6:45 PM

LodgeWorks has hit the business reset button again – surprising even for the longtime partners who have run the Wichita-based hotel company for decades.

The company’s partners trace its origin to the 1980s Residence Inn extended-stay hotel chain founded by Wichita entrepreneur Jack DeBoer. Since then, the company has developed more than 100 hotels under a variety of brands. Over the years, the company has bought, built and sold scores of hotels and has created several brands, including Residence Inn, Summerfield Suites, Hotel Sierra and Avia.

But their 2011 deal felt different. The partners and investors who owned the company sold the bulk of the LodgeWorks hotels at the time, 20 of them, to Hyatt. About half of the executives went to work for Hyatt. Some staff members were let go.

Most of those who left expected to finish their careers with Hyatt. But they found Hyatt to be big and corporate – not a perfect fit for those coming from a more entrepreneurial culture.

And Hyatt didn’t buy all of the assets. LodgeWorks remained intact in Wichita, owning just eight hotels. The question left hanging was: Sell what’s left or restart growth?

Slowly, most members of the old team started filtering back. Their old investors were still interested in building hotels.

“We decided we like being entrepreneurs more than being in the corporate world,” said Don Marvin, executive vice president of development and construction, who’s been with the company for 28 years.

There was still a nucleus to build on, plus one intriguing piece: land in midtown Manhattan in New York City that LodgeWorks had been in the early stages of developing when the 2011 sale went through.

“That was enough to create a phoenix rising from the ashes,” said Cheryl Gilliam, the company’s senior vice president of marketing and brands, who’s been with the company for 24 years.

It wasn’t the first time the company had changed course.

LodgeWorks founder and current CEO Rolf Ruhfus was a foreign exchange student from Germany hosted by DeBoer in the 1960s. He joined DeBoer’s Residence Inn chain as president in the mid-1980s. After that was sold, Ruhfus and many of LodgeWorks’ managers launched Summerfield Suites in 1988 and later Sierra Suites.

Summerfield Suites was sold to Wyndham International in 1998, but when Wyndham decided not to focus on Sierra Suites, Ruhfus and others formed LodgeWorks to buy back the Sierra Suites hotels. Hyatt subsequently bought the Summerfield brand. LodgeWorks operated Sierra Suites, later called Hotel Sierra. It also developed another brand, Avia, and became a franchisee and manager of other brands of hotels.

Today, the LodgeWorks remains in Wichita, 8100 E. 22nd St., Building 500. It has built hotels as franchisees for Hyatt, Hilton and Starwood.

But the partners are particularly excited about their own new brand of boutique hotels, called Archer. They opened the first Archer at that midtown Manhattan space at 45 W. 38th St. last week. They have announced plans for two more, at the Domain in Austin and in downtown Napa, Calif.

Today, LodgeWorks has nine hotels, with two under construction and four in advanced stages of development.

LodgeWorks officials compare themselves – with a shrug and a laugh – to authors who don’t know how to end a book. But it has worked, and they’re pretty happy with what they’re doing.

“When you’ve worked together that long, there’s a high degree of trust,” said president Mike Daood, who’s been with the company for 17 years. “There’s passion for being entrepreneurial, for being visionary within the brand.”

“It’s the job of a lifetime,” Gilliam said.

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