When hotelier Chip Conley is looking for a new business idea, he
goes shopping - for magazines. The 39-year-old is making a name for
himself in the US hospitality industry with a string of trendy boutique
hotels in San Francisco, each inspired by a title on the newsstand.
There’s the Phoenix, based on Rolling Stone magazine, with its young,
music-minded staff, late night parties and a clientele of mostly rock
bands. There’s the New Yorker-inspired Hotel Rex, with its book-lined
lobby and poetry readings. And there’s the Nob Hill Lambourne, which
lays on free vitamins and yoga videos for guests, serves algae shakes
for breakfast, and models itself on Men’s Health.
Lately, Conley and his team at Joie de Vivre Hospitality have had their
heads buried in the pages of Wired, the inspiration for two new hotels
in Silicon Valley, due to open this summer. To attract the region’s
techie clientele, there will be executive toys in every room, midnight
snacks for late-night workers, relaxation lounges and laptop connections
by the pool.
Once they have found a property on which to build their hotel, Conley
and his staff come up with a set of words to define their hotel and its
projected clientele. Conley believes the days of defining customers by
demographics are over. Instead, he talks about ’psychographics’.
’Magazines are a window into the soul of our customers,’ he says.
’Demographics is about what’s happening on the outside. Psychographics
is what’s happening inside - your values, your beliefs. People want to
be spoken to on an emotional level. At Phoenix, the demographics are of
a 28-year-old tattooed musician from LA. But the psychographics are
related to the five words which define the Phoenix: adventurous,
irreverent, funky, cool and fun.’
Customers could be 70, he says, but if they fit the psychographics,
they’ll like the hotel. Conley believes consumers are driven more by
memorable experiences than material things. ’Ten years ago you might
have gone back to the office on a Monday and said ’I bought a Jaguar
this weekend’. Today, what is status-providing is saying that you had an
experience, be it a pampering or working on a volunteer programme.’
Formerly in commercial real estate, Conley launched his company 13 years
ago with some borrowed money and a run-down building that became the
The group now runs 15 boutique hotels, five restaurants and bars and a
day spa in San Francisco, and an upmarket camping resort further down
At the company’s modest head offices in San Francisco, next to a
reception area strewn with more than the usual number of glossy
magazines, is Joie de Vivre’s creative services department.
This houses five members of staff, who are responsible for everything
from hotel concept to web site development, PR, marketing and graphic
design. ’What makes us different is that the group which takes the lead
in creating the hotel is ultimately going to have to go out and do the
PR. It’s a logical link, but nobody else does it,’ says Conley.
Nor, you imagine, do many other firms offer the sort of in-house
training of Joie de Vivre. There are the requisite classes in
management, computer skills and profit and loss analysis. And then there
are the life-balancing seminars, acting classes and reading clubs.
All very Californian, you might think, but it seems to work - Joie de
Vivre’s sales quadrupled in four years to dollars 40m (pounds 24m) in
Future plans include a bay-front hotel in San Francisco with loft
suites, modelled around Metropolitan Home magazine, as well as a
nationwide chain of boutique motels inspired by Martha Stewart
Conley admits there are only so many magazines he would use as a
springboard - ’we wouldn’t do a Playboy mansion and Family Circle
wouldn’t do’ - but adds that there is no chance of running out of ideas
yet: ’At some point, we will exhaust our options, but we aren’t there
yet. Go look at the magazine rack.’