The new owner and leadership team of Four Sisters Inns intends to continue with the management philosophy that made the company the success it is today.
REPORT FROM CALIFORNIA—Although the ownership of boutique hotel management company Four Sisters Inns has changed, staff and guests at its properties will find everything still very familiar.
Shelley Post, who founded and ran the company for years, is moving to the role of senior consultant after Four Sisters was acquired by former VP Tamara Mims and CFO Joni Costa. Mims, who started with the company in 2002, is now president of Four Sisters Inns; and Costa, who joined in 1987, has retained her position as CFO.
The company’s roots
It started when Post’s parents purchased the Green Gables Inn and moved her family from their home in Pasadena up to the Monterey Peninsula,* Post said. Though the property previously had operated as an inn, it then served as a family home for two adults, four daughters and a dog.
After a number of years living there, the family was contacted by the city of Pacific Grove and informed that there was a business license associated with the property, and to retain the license, some taxes associated with the business would have to be reported.
Post’s father, a mortgage banker at the time, decided to rent out a few rooms during summers.
“All the kids moved into one room, and we rented out a few rooms for a month one summer,” Post said. “That was really the beginning of Four Sisters.”
From there, the company expanded, Post said. Her father purchased the Gosby House in downtown Pacific Grove and remodeled it, adding guestrooms onto the building. He later sold his mortgage banking business in 1980, moving into real estate. He purchased small properties in San Francisco, Carmel and in Yountville, she said.
In 1988, Post was contacted by a company that wanted to develop a small property in Orange County, and thus began her career in third-party management. While there, she applied the knowledge and expertise she had gained over the years to help with the hotel’s design and layout, she said.
When her father passed away in 2005, the family decided to sell off ownership of its properties while retaining management over them, Post said.
“From a public perspective, there was no change because we’ve operated them,” she said.
Over the years, Post operated a number of hotels in addition to those owned by her family, but her company’s focus now is third-party management. All of its 18 properties now are in California, though over the years its portfolio has included hotels in Colorado and Washington as well.
One of Post’s sisters worked with her for a while, focusing on marketing, but hasn’t been with the company for about 25 years now, she said. Her other two sisters helped during summer breaks while attending college, but they were never full-time employees.
“One of the things I often say to new managers is it’s a really good sign when a guest asks you if you are one of the four sisters,” she said. “It exemplifies you are embracing the spirit of someone who owns the property, and your concern and care for the guest and the hotel is shining through. Or, you’ll get asked if you’re a husband or brother who didn’t make it into the name.”
An evolving company
Fifteen years ago, Mims applied for a marketing job with Four Sisters Inns. All of the hotels were still on a paper system, she said, and it needed to bring in computers and move to a PMS software system.
“It wasn’t planned out this way, but organically I was involved in helping decide which software and trained us all on the backend of this thing,” she said. “Rolling out the PMS at the hotels was one of the best things for me. In marketing, we were rarely engaging with a lot of the hotels departments, but I was at the hotels weeks at a time. I got to work with them to see how operations are handled.”
It was a bonding experience, she said, and she became more involved in the operations. Over time, there were conversations about a succession plan, she said, and she realized there were areas she would need to get involved in for those plans to come to fruition. She headed up taking over management of another hotel, she said, and generally increased her involvement with the company.
Since acquiring the company and taking on the role of president, Mims said everyone is focused on making this a smooth transition.
The company is interested in bringing in new technology, she said, such as automated surveys instead of mail-in comment cards. It will improve the efficiency in human resources and the new employee onboarding process, she said.
“We’ve also been looking into things like finding software to better manage social media,” she said. “Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter—we’ve been doing those individually manually. We think we can integrate software to better help us undertake that initiative.”
The company will evaluate additions to the management portfolio as they come up, Mims said, but at the moment, it’s focused on its current properties. Any new property will have to fit in the collection and the company’s management philosophy, she said.
Selecting properties that fit with the collection is incredibly important, Post said.
“The philosophy was never growth for the sake of growth,” she said.
When choosing people to run her hotels, Post said her goal was, regardless of their background, to find the people who would embody the spirit and culture of the organization and are truly service-oriented people who love hosting guests. Each property is unique, she said, and it’s important that managers embrace and love their unique hotels.
“My management philosophy has been it’s important they feel as if it is their own little property,” she said. “It makes a difference in work ethic. There’s a (feeling) people get (at) a property that somebody cares about.”
That approach has contributed to some long-serving employees in the organization, such as Mims and Costa, she said.
With smaller hotels, it’s necessary to be involved in the details, being on property and knowing what is going on, Mims said. It makes the owners’ investment successful and produces the desired results, she said.
“I can’t tell you how many times me, Shelley, the marketing department and managers dove into revenue management,” she said. “Having the president involved in the small details of day-to-day management is critical.”
*Correction, 30 March 2018: This story has been updated with the correct spelling of the Monterey Peninsula.