Lessons from a Route 66 motel makeover

Businesses along old 2-lanes such as the Lincoln Highway often struggle to compete with chains that locate at Interstate off-ramps, but Ron Warnick reports on his Route 66 News about a non-chain motel in Barstow, California, that has found a way a pretty basic way to attract tourists. The story from the city’s Desert Dispatch notes that a simple image makeover instantly began attracting travelers who otherwise were passing by. For all those independent motels struggling in the face of brand-names that feature oodles of amenities and AAA ratings, it’s proof that business can be improved by attending to the look and cleanliness of a place.

Their current property, the Topper Motel on West Main Street, is popular with people, mostly locals, owner Ken Patel said, needing a room for more than a couple of nights. But tourists running down Route 66 passed right by and rarely stopped to rent rooms for just a night or two.

The Patels’ solution: Renovate the west side of their property, paint it the appealing color of an orange Creamsicle and slap a new name, The Sunset Inn, over the office….

Ken said problems with longer staying customers on the Topper side of the business made him consider ways to bring in shorter-staying out-of-towners. He said the rooms where people stayed for weeks or months at a time were often unkempt, dirty and negatively effected the entire appearance of his motel.

The Sunset looks like a completely different motel from the Topper sitting next to it. The rooms are crisp and clean and the parking lot features a small courtyard and desert landscaping. Day Manager Bill Snyder said the remodel has been so successful with the Sunset that there are plans to give the Topper the same treatment soon.

A story in a 1950s diner industry magazine advised owners to pave their decrepit parking lots. Many diner owners howled at the idea, saying customers were more concerned with the food that the lot. Yes, if you know a restaurant has good food, you’ll overlook the shortcomings, maybe even calling them “charming,” but for those not familiar with a place – as most travelers aren’t – they’ll pass by a run-down motel or restaurant. In the same vein, would you buy a beat-up used car or one that looked cared for?

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