The Coeur D’Alene Resort AT A GLANCE
On the 4th of July, the sun had set in northern Idaho over Lake Coeur d’Alene. Rick Powers, Food & Beverage Director for The Coeur d’Alene Resort, had gathered with other managers in a private room overlooking the lake at Beverly’s, the signature restaurant on the seventh floor of the property’s 18-story hotel.
It had been another long, peak-season day directing the resort’s six-restaurant, $21 million F&B operation. Powers had certainly earned the right to enjoy the night’s special fireworks display over the lake. But his eye kept wandering to the scene—or actually lack of one—directly below at another of the property’s restaurants, Dockside.
Normally the resort’s busiest eatery, Dockside serves well over 2,000 meals a day. But that night, all Powers saw was missed opportunity.
“[Dockside’s outdoor seating area] is probably one of the best places for viewing fireworks,” Powers recalls. “But here it was the 4th of July, and no one was there. That got us to thinking about what we could do to generate some traffic to that spot for that kind of special event.”
The next time there were pyrotechnics over the lake, Dockside was packed. The Coeur d’Alene F&B team had partnered with Absolut vodka for an “Under the Stars” promotion, complete with ice luges and sculptures. “We sold 400 tickets at $30 a person,” says Powers. “It generated incredible revenue that never existed before.”
Sink or Swim
Making money from nothing has been a recurring theme at Coeur d’Alene, ever since newspaper publisher Duane Hagadone and his partners acquired an old timber mill in 1986 and announced plans to build a resort and golf course that would make the world beat a path to the property.
|Twenty years after its opening, the resort is “still in the process of being discovered,” General Manager Bill Reagan feels.|
Not everyone bought into that vision. Coeur d’Alene was a depressed mining and lumber town of barely 20,000, and 30 minutes from what could charitably be called the nearest “major” airport, in Spokane, Wash. Forbes magazine, in fact, wondered at the time about the wisdom of building “the most lavishly appointed hotel in the Pacific Northwest…in the middle of nowhere.”
Eyebrows rose even higher five years later, when the resort’s golf course opened, featuring the famous “floating 14th green” with a programmable mooring system, so its location can be changed day to day within a 100-yard range. Even Hagadone himself has since admitted that “if I’d known how incredibly difficult it was going to be just to build a floating green, I may not have attempted it.”
Twenty years later, there’s little scoffing or skepticism. Golf play at Coeur d’Alene is compared to Pebble Beach or Bandon Dunes, and the resort’s hotel, restaurants and meeting facilities are mentioned in the same breath as The Broadmoor or The Greenbrier. As with those renowned destinations in out-of-the-way locations, few visitors to Coeur d’Alene come away thinking it will be a while before they’ll want to make the trip again.
“Our pride and joy is that repeat business from the groups that come here is now over 50 percent. But, we, of course, still want to take that higher, and see no reason why we can’t,” says General Manager Bill Reagan.
In fact, as the battle for resort dollars moves deeper into the post-9/11 and beyond-the-golf-boom eras, Reagan and his staff feel they are entrenched with many built-in advantages, and not only because Coeur d’Alene celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with a $20 million renovation that included a new $10 million spa.
“We’re still in the process of being discovered,” Reagan says. “As the importance of family recreation continues to grow, we’re in a great position to capture business like multi-generation travel, which has really taken off.
|Food & Beverage Director Rick Powers doesn’t let the great views from his restaurants—including the newly remodeled Beverly’s—distract him from looking for new opportunities.|
“We’re entering a huge period of wealth transference, but where older people don’t want to just hand their money down,” he explains. “We see more grandparents looking to take their kids and grandkids to places like ours for family reunions. We’ve seen some groups take as many as 30 rooms for nearly a week. For them, this is the perfect place, with golf and restaurants and the spa for the older people, and more active recreation on the lake for the younger ones.
“We’re still pretty much a seven-month operation at best, so there are big opportunities for us to build off-season occupancy,” Reagan adds. “At the same time, we can do a lot more to balance things out with local customers, too.”
Celebration of Work
With that “simple” mission in front of them—finding new ways to bring in more dollars from more people from more places at more times of the year—it’s understandable why Coeur d’Alene management isn’t spending much time this year watching fireworks, or doing anything else to toast the resort’s anniversary and accomplishments to date.
Even if they were so inclined, the now 74-year-old Duane Hagadone wouldn’t let them. A self-termed perfectionist, Hagadone describes his current “semi-retirement” this way: “I’m still in the office by 8:00 A.M., six days a week. If I get home before 7:30 at night, my wife will ask me if I’m feeling OK. And, I save Sundays for walking around my properties and making sure things are up to snuff.”
You can forgive Coeur d’Alene management for thinking that every day is Sunday, because going to “the office” for Hagadone and his partners (son Brad and Jerry Jaeger) means being continually on site to work directly with each department head and review their operations on a need-to-know-everything, no-detail-is-too-small, how-can-we-do-things-better basis.
“[Duane] doesn’t just want new ideas,” says Rick Powers. “He wants ideas that can improve things by at least 25 percent.”
With those ambitious marching orders, here are some of the ways the Coeur d’Alene team is positioning itself to advance its status among elite resort destinations
in the next 20 years and beyond:
Food & Beverage—With $21 million in F&B revenues now representing about half the resort’s total business, Powers jokes that he’s lobbying for the property to be renamed “The Coeur d’Alene Restaurants, Resort & Spa.” While he won’t hold his breath for that change, he’ll continue to look for ways to improve and expand a mix that now includes (in addition to Beverly’s and Dockside) unique Italian, pan-Asian and crabhouse concepts—plus, of course, a floating restaurant.
For all of these eateries, the F&B staff has spared no effort or expense in researching successful concepts in San Francisco or Chicago, and then finding ways to transfer them to Coeur d’Alene. “Every time, we’ve been told we don’t have the critical mass here to support what’s worked in the big cities,” says Powers.
Drawing on connections built through his association as a long-time officer in Distinguished Restaurants of North America, Powers and his team have forged ahead to create their own unique versions of big-city success stories like P. F. Chang’s or Spaghetti Eddie’s. The key in all cases has been making sure the concept is positioned to draw local interest as much as resort-related traffic. Some of the restaurants, in fact, are located off property in Coeur d’Alene, within easy walking distance of the hotel.
“Having downtown right outside our front door is huge,” notes Bill Reagan. “The resort guests always want to go ‘where the locals go,’ and the townspeople like to feel they can have full use of the resort. With restaurants both in town and on property, we have all sides covered.”
According to Powers, locals now account for about 35 percent of the business at Beverly’s, 40 percent at Dockside, and “it’s 50-50 everywhere else.”
All of Coeur d’Alene’s restaurants are managed as individual profit centers, with independent GMs and staff. Powers and the resort’s Executive Chef, Rod Jessick, serve in consulting roles, constantly looking for ways to not only improve menus and boost traffic, but also create operating efficiencies and cost savings.
|Executive Chef Rod Jessick cooks up time-and money-saving ideas for the resort’s restaurant opeations.|
While leading a tour of some of the property’s kitchens, Jessick points out many ways equipment has been repositioned more efficiently and operations have been enhanced. For example, he points to a special area where mobile carts have been set up, in advance, for specific events.
“We put the right number of chafers or heat lamps and whatever else is needed on each cart, and then it’s shrink-wrapped and rolled into position,” Jessick says. “When it’s time to set up a particular buffet, we can just tell someone to go grab ‘cart one.’ ”
Jessick also shows off a special freezer that has been set up in a remote corner of the loading dock for ice carvings (“there are just too many accidents when you put these in your regular freezers,” he notes), and a cart set aside specifically for storing punchbowls, chafers and other stainless-steel pieces in special fleece covers.
“I was tired of seeing expensive pieces get dented or scratched, and then spending so much on rebuffing,” he explains. “So, I had our seamstress make these covers, and then I set up this special storage area. Now when you take one, you leave the cover lying in its place. When you return the piece, the cover is there to put back on. It’s probably saved us $30,000 to $50,000 in refinishing, and allowed us to keep some of these pieces for all 20 years.”
Spa—Berni Campbell began working at the resort as a 16-year-old restaurant hostess. Like many employees who contributed in the early years to the property’s success, she has been promoted into a management position. In Campbell’s case, the reward—and responsibility—is especially great. She’s now the director of the new 15,000-sq.-ft., two-story spa that opened this summer within the hotel.
The goal in building the new spa was to “bring the Northwest indoors,” Campbell says. Like everything else on the property, it now makes the most of the lake views, and offers another attraction for locals. The new spa’s most elaborate features, such as a $100,000 shower that distributes water through 18 heads simultaneously onto six body zones, will probably only appeal to the same type of resort guest who can afford the hotel’s private-butler suite (at $5,000 a night).
|Spa Director Berni Campbell sees revenues soaring—even from guests who don’t use the $100,000 shower.|
But, Campbell says, “We strongly believe that in the end, it will be the locals who carry us through.”
General Manager Reagan even goes so far as to say that “We don’t see why the revenues from the spa can’t eventually attract enough business to overtake what we get from golf.”
Golf—Head Pro Bob Nuttelman and PGA Professional Andy Mackimmie accept the realities of today’s golf world. While annual rounds once exceeded 30,000, when the buzz surrounding Coeur d’Alene was at its highest, they don’t expect a return to that level. This year, rounds are expected to come in at about 22,000.
That certainly doesn’t mean that opportunities don’t still exist to boost golf-related revenues at the resort. In addition to looking for ways to increase rates during peak seasson and create a greater feeling of “exclusivity,” Nuttelman thinks more can be done in the pro shop and by improving F&B sales at the on-course restaurant (where a chef from Beverly’s has been moved, to upgrade the menu and atmosphere).
|Bob Nuttelman’s golf staff now looks to retail and F&B to stretch revenues.|
Largely through the efforts of the resort’s Tournament Director, Jeff Kreis, who was given special responsibility to focus on retail sales to groups, pro shop sales have “gone through the roof” this year, Nuttelman reports.
|As if the famous “floating 14th” (above) didn’t pose enough course maintenance challenges of its own, the Coeur D’Alene grounds crew, headed by Superintendent Kevin Hicks (below), is not allowed on any part of the course during play, leading to a unique day/night shift setup.|
“We’ve also gotten better about using [POS data] to match what we’re selling in the store to the type of customers and golfers we have during various parts of the seasons,” he adds. “You just can’t sell the $110 shirts to the type of people who play here [during reduced-rate periods].”
e Maintenance—While change will continue on the golf side, one thing that will stay constant is how the course is maintained. When Superintendent Kevin Hicks came to Coeur d’Alene from Arizona three years ago, he inherited some unique requirements, above and beyond the small matter of what he terms “the logistical challenge” of transporting crew and equipment by boat each day to tend to the floating green.
“[Duane Hagadone] has always been emphatic that he does not want maintenance to interrupt course play, and that guests who play here at 3:00 P.M. should have the same experie nce as those who play at 8:00 A.M.,” Hicks says. “In all cases, that means no player should see anyone from the grounds crew during their rounds.”
Keeping the course in its pristine condition, therefore, calls for “covert maintenance” in split shifts—one that starts in the morning a few holes ahead of the first group of players, and another that maintains a similar distance behind the last group of the afternoon.
“It’s a system that’s probably not used in more than a dozen courses around the country, although it seems to be gaining interest. I’ve taken more calls in the last year than ever before from other courses that are looking to adopt it,” says Hicks. “Most other superintendents, when I describe it to them, say it just can’t be done. But, yes, while it extends my hours and those of our people overall, it’s just something you have to accept as part of providing one of the truly unique golf experiences in the world.”
Much More Than Potatoes
With all of these continuing efforts within each department, it’s not surprising to hear J. J. Jaeger, the resort’s Director of Sales & Marketing, say that his job is only getting easier.
“With a world-class spa now to go with a course that offers as good a golf experience as anywhere in the country, it’s definitely easier to convince groups that this can be a unique and memorable place,” Jaeger says. “I think we’ve finally helped change the perception of what this area is all about. I don’t hear ‘Hmm, Idaho—isn’t that just a big potato field ’ nearly as much anymore.”
|The resort’s ownership (left to right, Jerry Jaeger, Duane Hagadone and Duane’s son Brad) interacts daily with department heads to foster an atmosphere of continuous improvement.|
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