Hotel owner HayMax Capital and its management arm, HayMax Hotels, have focused on highlighting the communities where their properties are located, especially with their latest, the Hotel Ketchum.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—With the purchase and repositioning of the Hotel Ketchum in Ketchum, Idaho, HayMax Capital and its management arm, HayMax Hotels, have further increased their footprint in the independent hotel space.
Brothers Aaron and Michael Brown founded HayMax Capital in 2003 and moved into the hospitality space by acquiring two independent properties in Aspen, the Hotel Aspen in 2003 and the Molly Gibson Lodge in 2007, said Jeff Bay, managing director at HayMax Hotels. The company purchased the properties independent of each other and operated them separately for a number of years, he said.
Aspen has a rich mining heritage, he said, and the Molly Gibson Lodge is named after one of the most famous silver mines in the area. Upon purchasing the hotel, the company decided to keep the name to maintain its legacy and have a genuine connection with guests rather than coming up with a prefabricated approach.
In 2009, the company began to operate both hotels under one management umbrella. HayMax Hotels formally started when HayMax Capital purchased the Mount House Lodge in 2014 and operated it for about a year before it demolished the property and developed two luxury homes on the site.
HayMax’s newest property, the Hotel Ketchum, was previously a branded chain hotel, Bay said, and the company purposefully wanted to move from that into a unique, individualized property. Each of HayMax’s hotels was created with their own unique personality, he said, because the company wanted to embrace what makes the hotels’ geographic locations special, Bay said.
“We felt having a more genuine and connected experience with guests and being able to provide them with experiences that are unique and drafted to meet their needs was an area we could be successful in,” he said.
Michael Brown came to know the Ketchum area through his wife when the two were engaged, Bay said. He fell in love with the community and its combination of the arts, culture and outdoor recreation, he said. When the opportunity arose to purchase the Tamarack Lodge in 2015, the company took it.
Ketchum is the town nearest the well-known ski resort city of Sun Valley, drawing in tourists and outdoor enthusiasts from all over. Ketchum itself was originally a mining and sheep herding town before the area became known for its skiing, Bay said.
“When most people think about Sun Valley, they think about the mountains,” he said. “Ketchum is the town located here with the infrastructure, restaurants, stores and retail and community that serves the ski resorts.”
Ketchum was an attractive new location because it was similar to the environment in Aspen where HayMax already owned and operated two hotels, Bay said. When the company came on to the Ketchum hotel scene, they felt there wasn’t a property there that spoke to the genuineness of the area that represented a casual approach to enjoying Ketchum and the Sun Valley area.
There are wonderful upscale and chain properties, he said, but HayMax felt there was a demand for a dynamic hotel experience that was affordable but upscale.
“We found an undiscovered or underexposed location with the opportunity to come into its own,” he said. “There has been some recognition of Ketchum as a special place for the same reasons people would go to Aspen for.”
HayMax Capital isn’t actively looking for properties to acquire, Bay said, but if an opportunity presented itself, the company would consider it.
“We want to make the existing properties the strongest and best they can be in their own markets,” he said. “We’re continually looking at making improvements to the properties we currently own and operate. We have some forward-looking improvement plans and redevelopment plans for our properties in Aspen. We want to make sure we’re executing at the highest level without overextending ourselves beyond our ability to give the best service.”
Building Hotel Ketchum
When transforming the property that would become the Hotel Ketchum, they stripped it to the bare walls and rebuilt it, Bay said. The core building was still standing, but they redesigned the exterior architecture, replaced antiquated wood walkways with perforated steel beams, added LED lighting inside and out and redid the pool and spa areas. All of the guestrooms were reimagined, he said.
“We’re really trying to use a unique blend of locally-sourced art and design teams to create an affordable lodging experience with great amenities located in a town,” he said.
The property itself takes up a full city block, he said, and has 58 guestrooms with several retail and food-and-beverage components nearby. It also one of the few liquor licenses in the area.
“We are kind of curating an opportunity for guests to have a place to stay but experience unique retail and culinary options as well,” he said.
The company also plans to build a coffee shop, called Sheep Town Coffee, on property as well, he said.
Bay said the key to HayMax Hotels’ management style and overall success is its dynamic, hands on approach. All members of the management team are well versed in the different aspects of hotel operations, he said, and while they might wear a specific hat, each person has the knowledge of and ability to step in and assist in any area of the hotel.
“We created a dynamic and strategically strong team environment, and it’s allowed us to operate at a margin that’s more profitable,” he said. “We don’t need the depth and breadth of a staff of a similar sized hotel operation might require.”
The staff comprises hoteliers with years of experience managing hospitality operations, he said. This has allowed the company to use this their talents to manage multiple hotels in multiple locations without having a multilayered management structure, he said.
“We can operate efficiently and make decisions rapidly,” he said. “We’re in touch constantly with the properties we own and operate. We’re passionate about the properties we manage. All of us are committed to operating hotels in attractive areas while living and being part of those communities and giving back.”