Minibars change with the times. Whether they are automatic or manual, have compression or absorption cooling systems, today they consume less energy, are more attractive and, above all, sell better.
Too pricy those minibar drinks? That’s what a survey made in March 2009 by hotels.com tells us. In fact, 84% of English clients think this service is too costly. And they are not alone: 83% of Irish, 78% of French and 59% of Spanish consumers also think the prices on these products are excessive. Among these travelers, some have figured out how to parry the problem by going to neighboring shops or the mini-markets that are now a part of the new concepts of select service properties. In light of this phenomenon, some hotel groups such as Accor have opted to reduce the capacity and limited the products available. On the whole the market adopts 40-liter models - C32 at Bartech, K40 Plus at Indel B, Smartcube 40 l – which remain the best sellers by far. But in an exclusive partnership with the French hospitality leader, Dometic is realizing 15% of its sales with its RH 423 LDAG model with a capacity of 23 liters.Criticism of the prices of beverages is not new, but it still hasn’t led to the expulsion of refrigerators from hotel rooms, especially the upscale - Business segment. Clientele are still attached to this service that can prove to be very useful for families with children or to keep medicine refrigerated. According to professionals, the price has only a slight influence on this service. “For example, at one hotel where our minibars are installed the new GM has lowered the prices of beverages across the board. On a six-month period, the sales volume has not changed a bit,” underlines Sophie Longevialle, marketing manager at Bartech.There is clearly a division between two types of clientele: the detractor, who has never opened the door of a minibar and will do so only very occasionally, and the fan, who is and will remain a fervent amateur of in-room refreshment. Among these, the same survey made by hotels.com regarding mostly Leisure clientele shows that the French and Irish are good clients with minibar bills of higher than 20 euros per stay (see box). This survey reveals a few surprises about consumer habits. In fact, most French men say they drink mineral water and fruit juice – 60% in all – versus “only” 19% for beer. This is not the case on the other side of the Channel where 60% of British men have a preference for beer and dietetic snacks in equal proportions .But in order to attain such results, the hotelier can’t just stand there and watch. He must stimulate consumption. Here, Sophie Longevialle takes another example to demonstrate this need: “With another client, we left menus in half the rooms. We observed that prices had no effect on consumption, but proper information does. Sales in rooms with menus were much higher.” Thus some hoteliers animate this service by offering happy hours or developing offers around their minibars. The boutique hotel in Seattle Hotel Max has a package called “Raid the Honor Bar” that encourages clients to empty their fridge for half the price in addition to other free advantages (parking, Wifi, a T-Shirt signed Hotel Max, a VOD and an intimacy kit). The American group Kimpton makes it a part of its loyalty strategy. Members of its InTouch program may enjoy “Raid the Mini Bar”, which offers two free products for up to $10 ($15 in NYC).“Hoteliers must be aware that they must invest a minimum amount of time in this profit center, with real considerations in order to boost sales,” remarks Taoues Hamdi, sales manager of Minibar Systems for Northern France, “alongside the classics - water, beer, carbonated beverages, orange juice –the hotelier may also offer innovative snacks and boutique products that have a special appeal”. 26% of French travelers interviewed by hotels.com agree that they do not always find what they want in the minibar of their room. Considerations for developing sales must be paired with faultless internal organization. Sylvie Pyck, sales manager at Dometic, has clear-cut recommendations: “it is necessary to have someone who is dedicated to minibar management– usually the executive housekeeper – who supervises product assortments and displays. In hotels that do not have this organization, results are more haphazard.” Like at the supermarket, a broad array and a thought-out display of the offer can boost sales. This will to promote products has led to a growing trend for minibars with glass doors. “Its position is changing and the minibar is finding its way out of the closet and into the room,” observes Taoues Hamdi whose company Minibar Systems offers three models with solid, glass and part glass doors that are eye-catchers with their blue glow.Suppliers have all worked hard on the visual appeal of their refrigerators in order to make them sell better. “We launched a high-design model with a mirror glass door. Up close, one may see inside. If you step back, the door reflects light,” rejoices Stefano Collotti, sales manager of Vitrifrigo for France and Italy. “It remains a niche product since 80% of the minibars we sell have solid doors,” remarks Romano Berardi, key accounts manager for Indel B, “but we have actively worked on thermal insulation and the esthetic aspect of our glass door models. The frame has merged with the window.” Dometic, alongside the HiPro models, has also supported the development of its HiProVision range, which is entirely designed around glass doors and available in several colors: blue, red, grey, and on order. “This meets the expectations of hoteliers and architecture design studios looking for innovative products,” explains Sylvie Pyck. The supplier that has done the most with design is incontestably Bartech with its Flat Fridge minibar. Launched last year, this revolutionary product, which strangely resembles a plasma flat screen, is part of several future projects with forty or so dossiers in the finalization stages. “The Flat Fridge is present in most new pilot rooms. Because of its all-new design, this minibar almost exclusively targets new constructions or major renovations. It is also at home in executive rooms and suites,” outlines Sophie Longevialle.In addition to its radically different esthetic aspect, the Flat Fridge, available in manual and automatic models, does not end the traditional the debate between the two operating modes. The argument that favors a manual minibar is obviously its lower cost, a major argument in these times of crisis. But automatic minibar advocates are quick to highlight the lower losses on product consumption, around - 5% versus – 20% for manual minibars, as well as less time-consuming maintenance, which is a strategic element for high-capacity hotels. Thus, after launching a new manual range last year with Primo +, today Minibar Systems is promoting its Smartcube, which appeared three years ago and is at the Sheraton Roissy Charles de Gaulle. “We hope this product will experience the same growth in Europe that it did at the many high capacity properties in America,” says Taoues Hamdi, sales manager of Minibar Systems for Northern France.Another advantage of these models: automatic minibars optimize the collection of data for analyzing consumption and purchases. This aspect is further reinforced by the progressive growth of communication solutions between minibars thanks to the Zigbee protocol. Two years ago, Dometic adopted this technological progress. “Thanks to a PDA, the housekeeper no longer has to produce paper reports and may ensure minibars are filled and make the figures speak for themselves to optimize profitability,” explains Sylvie Pyck. Bartech, meanwhile, has just outfitted a 6,000-room hotel in City Center in Las Vegas with this new technology. But suppliers are looking even further ahead. “For chains that want to define a global minibar strategy, we are currently finalizing an internet system that will make it possible to view consumption at different properties at once, for example room 52 in Shanghai and room 260 in Atlanta,” explains Sophie Longevialle.All equipment that is able to provide a service while employing less personnel is welcomed. On the other hand, for investors, the additional cost continues to raise questions. With their upgradeable minibars such as the U Collection by Bartech or the Smartcube from Minibar Systems, these two suppliers allow extra time for the undecided. Prewired, their minibars are able to evolve gradually as needs grow and switch from manual to fully automatic.The other major alternative is minibars with compression or absorption cooling systems that do not evolve. Hoteliers must decide once and for all, and with full knowledge of facts. The manufacturer Dometic remains a must when it comes to producing cold through the absorption method. “Motorless, it is the quietest product,” boasts Sylvie Pyck. It is also the most oldest cooling method in the sector. “It is difficult to replace it in hoteliers’ minds,” recognizes Stefano Collotti, sales manager atVitrifrigo for France and Italy. Nonetheless, with the emergence of sustainable development policies, hoteliers might change their approach. The Italian manufacturer decided to expand its range by offering both types of cold production. Launched in 2009, its compression minibar Next is beginning to develop in Italy. “It costs between 10% and 15% more,” explains Stefano Collotti, “but the hotelier’s extra initial expense is quickly compensated for by the electricity bill.”The will of manufacturers combined with pressure to meet standards that will become increasingly demanding, absorption minibars have reduced their appetite. “Today consumption is between 0.6 and 0.8 kWh,” rejoices the sales manager at Dometic. Nonetheless it is difficult to rival in terms of performance with compression models. “Our K Plus model consumes 0.2 kWh. It is the only one in class A+,” specifies Romano Berardi, Key accounts manager at Indel B. With twenty years of experience in this production, the Italian specialist successfully silenced criticism about noise and converted groups such as Hilton and NH Hoteles by using a German compressor and creating a system that functions when the room is unoccupied. Bartech, which has also opted for compression for a long time, promotes its CESS (Computerized Energy Saving System) software to save energy and regulate the production of cold according to the time or the occupancy of the room.”
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