When people choose a place to stay on a business trip, close proximity to where they are doing business is an important feature. For suppliers coming in to do business with Wal-Mart Stores, South Walton Suites provides the proximity they need and the amenities that makes their stay efficient and comfortable.
Just a stone’s throw from the Wal-Mart Home Office on South Walton Boulevard in Bentonville, the suites were built with the supplier community in mind, General Manager Tricia Heckathorn said.
“It’s perfect for suppliers,” she said.
Owned by the Walton Suites LLC, with principal partners being listed as Don Heckathorn with Heckathorn Construction and Bill Lazenby with Lazenby Real Estate, the Suites opened in April 2006. The original plan was to offer long-term stays for suppliers and others moving to the area to work with or for Wal-Mart who do not have a permanent home purchased yet. Within nine months, there were so many requests for nightly stays that the management changed the price structure to include nightly, weekly and monthly rates.
The second and third floors feature 56 suites that offer private sleeping space to allow for small meetings and social gatherings in the main living area. The first floor features several businesses that Suites guests would find of interest including Li’s Home Cooking Chinese Restaurant, Re-Juve.me, Accents Salon and Spa, and the Suite’s own bar, Executive Escapes. There are several conference/meeting rooms, a courtyard, complimentary business center complete with a postage and shipping center, and office space for rent. Amenities include housekeeping, car service, free breakfast, on-site IT professional, and no additional utility and data costs for long-term stays.
Because the facility offers both street level office space and upper level living quarters, it’s quite common for new suppliers to live and work at the facility for extended periods of time.
ACCOLADES AND GROWTH
The small staff — there are eight people on staff including housekeeping, bartender and office staff — have developed a reputation in the supplier community as offering the perfect place to stay or to meet. Besides offering living space, the conference rooms are frequently rented for meetings, especially those wanting to attract the supplier community. Rob Farinholt is in charge of the First Thursdays Retail Connection (formerly known as MBAH) and the group meets the first Thursday of every month at the Suites.
“Tricia Heckathorn gets networking the way you would expect from a privately owned business,” he said. “The training facility that she donates is tremendous, and in trade our (networking group) participants refer business to her hotel and commercial space, and also patronize the Executive Escapes Lounge that is right next to the meeting room. It is a wonderfully symbiotic relationship and the partnership truly is a witness to the kind of open networking we have envisioned for the group from the beginning.”
Jennifer Mitchell from Nature’s Path Foods agreed.
“I really enjoy the location of (South Walton Suites). It’s right across from Walmart’s Home Office and a large supplier population is officing or nearby on a daily basis,” she said. “I also love the atmosphere. Being close to the bar and the ‘mood lighting’ make the creation of new connections that much easier and laid-back. Tricia Heckathorn is fabulous to work with, and does everything she can to ensure our events go off without a hitch.”
Heckathorn said that while there are a growing number of leisure guests visiting the Suites, the majority of the visitors are from the business community. The usage has been on a steady climb:
• Conference and banquet room sales have more than quadrupled since 2008.
• Office space sales have more than doubled since 2008.
• Between 2009 and 2010 sales for the whole building went up 21%
• In 2011, when the economy thus supplier travel were in rapid decline, the sales only decreased 1%.
• In 2012, sales went up 14% from 2011.
“So far for 2013 it looks likes sales will increase by at least 12%,” Hawthorn said. “So for the most part each year our sales have been increasing.” Hawthorn added that they usually average a 95% occupancy rate and rarely go below 90%, even during slower periods. Even though the Suites do cater to the local supplier community, other businesses outside of retail also find the meeting space valuable.
“The location is awesome as it has easy access for many of our attendees and future attendees. It has everything in one place, food, beverages and a comfortable meeting space,” said Christy Fournier, broker with Keller William Real Estate.
Because the Suites are not part of a chain with established management training, much of what Heckathorn learned as assistant general manager and now general manager was through her own efforts. She’s successfully grown the Suites and even worked to add online booking opportunities. Any time the economy makes a turn or if Wal-Mart makes changes, it can affect their business, she agreed.
Although the potential threats to success are real, the business continues to draw in the traffic needed to justify expansion.
There is not much geographical room for growth, but the Suites are expanding in other ways through more businesses showing interest and making some changes in the suites. Some of the changes include redecorating the suites and refreshing the bar and patio, she said.