- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2004

It happens sometimes: a hotel guest forgets his pajamas and asks how he might get a replacement quickly; another guest craves the hotel’s downy bed pillows or the plush white terry cloth robe and wonders if she can purchase them for her home.

This has happened so often in so many places in recent years that an increasing number of hotels have set up retail programs allowing customers to buy such items on the spot or order them through a catalog.

The move underscores the old adage that any hotel of merit really is a home away from home. In this case, guests can take the hotel home with them.

Some hotels have gone into the business out of necessity to discourage outright thievery by guests. Instead of having robes and other goods mysteriously disappear from guest rooms, they post signs inviting clients to order such items — for a price — in hopes the reminder will discourage pilfering.

The retail operations have proved so popular that, in addition to the presence of in-house shops, certain hotels now offer the service on Web sites where anyone can buy brand-name goods preselected by corporate marketing departments.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. calls its current catalog the 2003 Designer Collection (a new one is planned for this year). It features upscale items of every type, including two crystal-embossed evening bags costing upward of $1,600 shown in color on the cover. The other 43 pages contain specialty items such as stuffed toys and Rosenthal china. A down travel pillow costs $25. A king-size down comforter is $250. The Ritz-Carlton logo, a blue lion crest, adorns what is described as “signature sleepwear,” the $120 one-size-only terry cotton robe.

“Quite honestly, they still take the robes,” admits Megan Weber, the Ritz corporate retail buyer, when asked if the published catalog has worked to discourage pilfering. She is in charge of choosing the catalog’s products and brands she feels guests identify with.

Most catalog items are sold to people who frequent resort locations, she notes. “In a city location, it is more a case of accommodating last-minute needs. Or a gift item for a man to bring home to a wife. And the city will sell a lot of bedding.”

“We’ve had people buy the mattress and everything that goes with the bed,” says Colleen Evans, public relations director for the Ritz-Carlton at 22nd and M streets Northwest. Clients buy everything but the frame itself, which is not for sale.

The Four Seasons Hotel at 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW last week put a discreetly labeled flier in every room pledging that “the comfort of a Four Seasons stay doesn’t have to end when you check out.” Inside, brief descriptions tout the advantages of a Posturepedic Collection Sealy mattress, cotton and goose down duvet, and “exclusive” duck down and duck feather fill pillows. (Prices, which aren’t quoted on the flier, start at $30 for aromatic candles and go up to $2,100 for a king mattress set.)

Bedding has proved the most popular purchase everywhere.

“We had no intention of selling beds, but demand led us to set up a [toll-free] number. We would get three and four requests a day,” says Nadeen Ayala, the director of corporate public relations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts, owner of Westin, Sheraton and W hotels. “Then we thought that we should get a catalog because people wanted the sheets.”

Now, all three hotel chains in the Starwood company — Westin, Sheraton and W — have a catalog of their own. Westin alone has sold well over 1,000 “Heavenly Beds” since the introduction of Starwood’s retail program in 1999. In 2003, Westin had a total of $4 million in catalog sales.

Both catalog and store items for the W Hotel line are organized in categories mirroring an average home interior: living room, bedroom and bathroom.

The latest Westin Heavenly Online Catalog advertises a white mink satin-lined earring pouch for $120. It’s probably not what the everyday consumer imagines as a necessity for the home, but, as Ms. Ayala explains, many such choices are trend-driven. Trendier hotels will offer fashion items of the moment.

This past summer, she says, the company discovered more and more people were traveling with pets and were unsure where and how to house them. The hotels decided to welcome pets wholeheartedly and then added a dog bed to its catalog.

“Now everybody wants to buy the dog bed and take it home,” says Ms. Ayala. “But you have to order it.” The 29-inch-square bed costs $225.

“I’ve fielded two or three calls a week on bedding,” says John McLarty, materials manager at the Willard Inter-Continental, 1401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW., which doesn’t have a retail program on-site. He responds to the inquiries by passing along a list of the vendors that supply such products to the hotel.

To underscore what the hotel feels is a reputation for comfort, the Do Not Disturb cards on room doors now quote from a book by former guest Charles Dickens that says “It is a far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

To date, Marriott Hotels International also has stayed away from involving itself directly in retail programs. Clients who wish to purchase beds similar to those found in many of Marriott’s 2,600 hotels are asked to call the manufacturer, Jamison Co. in Franklin, Tenn., directly on a toll-free number. A recording there describes the mattress and box spring available, with prices, and explains it takes four to six weeks for delivery.

“We do most frequently get requests for information about our mattresses,” says Dean Innerarity, public relations manager at the Park Hyatt Hotel at 24th and M streets Northwest. Guests are referred to manufacturers directly.

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