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Minibars : promoting products

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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