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It’s all in the marketing for hotel owner

Branding, online presence, special events, and targeted groups all in the mix

News editor

Historic Elgin Hotel owner Tammy Ensey knows she got something special when she and her husband, Jeremy, bought the property from Jim and Nancy Cloutier.

Investing heavily in renovations to the hotel, the Cloutiers created an elegant environment ripe for the Enseys’ plans for a destination hotel.

“Their piece of it in the renovation of the property was not something I would have tackled,” Tammy Ensey said. “Without the renovation, it would have been impossible. I’m glad I didn’t have to do that part.”

The hotel came with some good reviews and people who knew about it, but Ensey’s plans would take the business to a whole new level.

Ensey brought experience as a travel agent to the venture, but took advantage of a weeklong training event in Colorado promoted by Marion economic development director Randy Collett and NetWork Kansas.

“It was a huge help to go out to Destination Boot Camp,” Ensey said. “Most of what I learned wasn’t new, but it put it in a context of how I could apply it to my business.”

And with that, the Enseys decided to “scrap what was there and start again.”

That began by developing a “Historic Elgin Hotel” logo and brand that would be used consistently to create familiarity.

“It’s really important not only for your branding but also search engine optimization that your name is the same everywhere, the address is the same.”

Creating a more robust online presence was a must, Ensey said, because the business is driven by customers who aren’t local. That included a new website, and getting the hotel listed with TravelKansas and popular online travel booking sites.

“That helped awareness of people who are planning to travel to the area,” Ensey said.

Social media also was integral to Ensey’s marketing plan.

“It’s like a worm,” Ensey said. “You get a message out there, and when you start partnering with places like Wheat State Distillery and Walnut River Brewery, just by tagging them, we hit all their followers, and they ask, ‘Why are they going there?’”

The picturesque hotel sells itself through pictures posted online by patrons, Ensey said.

“There are a lot of photo opportunities at the Elgin,” she said. “If they’re a Pinterest or Instagram user, they’ll post it out there.”

Ensey has developed a growing list of subscribers to the hotel’s newsletter.

“We have a weekly email newsletter that goes out,” she said. “It’s crazy, but my list that goes out to is over 1,000 people now. People learn of something and want to get on the list. They’ve been here, or they know someone who’s stayed here.”

Last summer, Ensey enlisted photographers from Pennsylvania who specialize in bed and breakfast photography to create the images she uses to promote the hotel.

“I think that’s the one biggest mistake businesses make, that they don’t represent themselves well in their photography,” she said. “You want the pictures to speak words about what the experience is, not just a picture of a room.”

Another business mistake Ensey has worked to avoid is concentrating on one target market. She has several.

Leisure travelers between 35 and 80 years old are one group.

“They’re generally going to be someone from the Wichita and Kansas City areas, but we don’t throw out that we’re going to get people from Hutchinson, Salina, and other places nearby. One of the reasons we’re gaining that market share is that we have the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and the Flint Hills.”

Weddings are another target.

“We’ve really focused on the Wichita and Salina markets to get them to do weddings,” Ensey said. “What comes with that is that people want to book the whole place.”

Ensey also wants to attract more business travelers, and said she’s making changes to accommodate their unique needs.

The Elgin’s regular 9 a.m. breakfast wasn’t well-suited for business travelers, so Ensey created guest cards for them to use at local bakeries, and will prepare individual breakfast packs they can grab and go.

Increasing the number of family reunions held at the Elgin also is in the works, Ensey said.

Special events, like Saturday’s high tea and wine and beer-tasting nights, all accompanied by live music, bring a different mix of people to the hotel and experiences that bring them back.

When a crew from a Wichita TV station came to do a segment on the Elgin, the reporter gained Ensey some new customers.

“Stephanie Bergman called right back and booked rooms for herself and friends for our distillery event,” Ensey said.

Special events also connect the hotel to folks at home.

“It really adds to the support we get from the community here,” she said. “They love having these things to do. It’s just one more feather in our cap to say, ‘Hey, we’re here for you, too.’”

The key to repeat business is having a good experience at the hotel, and toward that end Ensey has worked hard to assemble a staff focused on customer service.

Guests can take a piece of the Elgin with them when they go by buying Historic Elgin Hotel coffee, blended and roasted in Hillsboro, mugs, and wine glasses.

“We’re building out a retail line of Elgin items with two themes,” Ensey said, “things people actually use and enjoy while staying here, and a second line we’re hoping to bring in of vintage items that go with the era of the late 1800s when the Elgin was born.”

More plans are in the works, but Ensey said all the work she’s poured into the business has been worth it.

“Clearly it’s a big risk,” she said. “You’re not next to Disney World, and you’re investing a great deal in a property and an idea. We have a great staff now and we have enough working capital. We’re getting to the point where things are successful. We’re starting to see those rewards, and that’s nice.”

Last modified April 12, 2018

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