Ken Cruse: Co-Founder & CEO of SCP Hotels

Episode 336

Ken Cruse set out to fill a void in the boutique hotel industry, and we are sure happy he did. Soul Community Planet Hotels offers an experience that satisfies – community-based, sustainable, comfortable luxury in an affordable stay. I interviewed Ken Cruse, the Co-Founder & CEO of Soul Community Planet Hotels, and learned all about his terrific company, his years of experience working in the hospitality industry, what he believes it takes to establish a hotel brand today, and so much more. His lessons are educational. His story of building this incredible business is inspiring, and you won’t want to miss what he has to say! On this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be you just want to make sure you will get knocked down but just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everybody. It’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show and I am so excited to have my next guest. Here we have Ken Cruse, who was the co founder and CEO of soul community planet hotels, also known as SCP hotels. And I’m absolutely excited to ask him a million questions about the travel industry but also being an entrepreneur and how he got started and some of the lessons that he’s learned along the way. And if you have not visited Seoul community planet hotels, you absolutely must, must go. They are so so awesome. You really get sort of a holistic experience and being able to relax hopefully they’ve based their hotels a community based, sustainable, comfortable and affordable stays. And as I mentioned, Ken is the co founder and CEO of Sol community planet hotels with his wife as the other co founder. And prior to launching SCP Ken was the CEO of Sunstone hotel investors. Sep currently has eight properties in Colorado Springs, Redmond depot Bay, Oregon, Hilo, Hawaii and two new properties in Laguna Beach and Mendocino in and farm which I cannot wait to check that out. Since I’m sort of up in that area. They also own and manage another one in Oregon and Glen Eden beats and I look forward to hearing more about Ken’s journey and also all about the unique purpose giveback program that they have as well. So welcome, Ken.

Ken Cruse 2:25
Wow, Kara, thank you so much. It’s an honor to be here. I’m really so glad we found each other. Yeah, absolutely.

Kara Goldin 2:30
Okay, so we’re gonna start out what is holistic hospitality?

Ken Cruse 2:35
Absolutely. So, as you mentioned, my wife Pam, and I have founded soul community planet, we like to go by Sep hotels just for the shorter name back in 2018. And this was after a life spent in the industry where I worked for larger companies. As you mentioned, I was CEO of Sunstone, hotel investors a $5 billion investment trust, Pam and I both met in graduate school, but we worked together at Marriott International. So we had a great grounding in some of the most amazing companies on the planet, that comprise the hospitality industry. And hospitality globally, is around a $9 trillion economic engine. It’s a huge industry globally. And it’s a very mature industry. So over the course of you know, several decades of working in the industry, we were fortunate, again, to cross pollinate with some of the best and the brightest in the industry. But we also found out what is missing in terms of an alignment with modern consumers values and what is being offered when they go on the road. So our general viewpoint when we started, the company was great, let’s take what we’ve learned what we’re good at, or what hopefully we’re good at, at least we’ve got lessons learned about it around running hotels, and investing in hotels, and the look and feel of hotels, but then underpin that from day one, with a value system that comports very directly with our own value systems. And simplistically put, we call it the healthy kind of green, we’re focused on wellness, social good, and community building kindness is that that protocol, and then green, of course, is about the ecology, sustainability and being proactive in developing forms of regenerative travel, where people when they travel to a place to actually leave it better than it was before they came from all three of those verticals, but particularly as it relates to the ecology and the ecosystem in which these hotels exist. The reason that we formed the company in that way, again, was it comported squarely with our own core values, but it also speaks volumes to a growing in fact, a very large already component of our population, about nine out of 10 Americans identify with the label conscious consumer. And as you work your way down the age cohorts, not only do people identify with that label, but they also act on it, you know, there’s the Doobie gap that we all find in business, you know, people say certain things, but do they really act on it? And what we found is as you get to the lower age spectrum, people are absolutely saying, Look, I don’t need my bonvoy points I don’t care about By Hilton honors system, what I care about is living a conscious lifestyle. And when I travel, I want to make sure I’m staying in a place and being part of an experience that enables me to continue on my own personal journey when I’m on the road wherever that is, and that’s where soul community planet comes in. So we represent a fairly sizable and underserved niche, if you will, in a $9 trillion industry. So we saw that, geez, the total addressable market is really profound here. The big companies aren’t doing this in large part because they’re oriented around franchising, we, as you said, Own Operate and brand, all of our hotels. So we have the ability to not only underpin everything we do to that value system. But then we can also perpetuate the value system and grow it through what we call our culture cascade, so that our culture, which starts at the brand level, but flows through the management company, and is reflected and the experience that you get in the physical properties, is something that we can almost maintain a maniacal focus on. And that’s not something you can do if your company is specifically oriented around franchising, and you’re going to come up with a brand, but it has to be oriented around the lowest common denominator of the developer community. And it has to be something that a third party operator can pick up and run. We do it differently, we try to just, we’re gonna be small as a result of it, but we try to keep all elements of our ecosystem together in under one roof.

Kara Goldin 6:21
How did you get into the hotel industry? I mean, what prompted you to sort of like, what was the magnet? Well,

Ken Cruse 6:28
you know, if you think put yourself back in school, right, you go back in school, and you’re trying to figure out what you’re good at, and what you’re not good at what you like to do, and everything and, and for me, I you know, you look around the room, and then like, Okay, that’s a Rhodes Scholar, that guy’s gonna go to MIT, that person is gonna do there and you look a little one layer down and look at that group of B students are probably gonna go into real estate in some way. And then you get to the C students. And we all go into hotels, because it’s easy to understand. It’s a, it’s a straightforward business. It’s tangible, right? There’s a really physical and tangible element to the business where you’re helping people, you can get your head around the concept very easily. So for me, it was just sort of, okay, I get this, I don’t understand how to build a rocket ship, or how to do brain surgery. But I, I understand the hospitality industry, and I’m drawn to it. So there was an affinity and a, sort of a an alignment of values from day one, studied it and undergrad, worked in a hotel, right out of undergrad and learned very quickly. I’m not one of those special people who’s actually cut out to be in a hotel, serving, serving guests, it takes a really, and we’re pulling, we have 350 people on our team who are all so good at that guest experience thing, and they just have, they’re wired differently and better, frankly, than I am for that. But I got the experience of working in a hotel and learn the nuts and bolts of the business a little bit better, before going to graduate school, meeting my wife and focusing a little bit more on the finance and the investment side of things. And she focused more on the marketing and the, you know, the storytelling and the awareness building side of things. That’s what led me to, we both worked at Marriott International, and then I moved over more to the real estate side from there, but it’s sort of been this progression. From day one, I knew I wanted to work somehow in the in the travel and tourism industry. And that’s just sort of, through through trial and error more than anything is figuring out what I like to do what I’m good at and what our industry needs. I ended up more on the investment side of things. And then ultimately, you know, took us to, to where we are today with a new company that’s covering all the bases, operations, branding and and the real estate.

Kara Goldin 8:34
I read somewhere that you said that you’re really focused outside of kind of major cities, for example, you’re in Laguna, I mean, not that Laguna is in a major city, but you’re not in LA. Right. You’re you’re more focused. Do you believe that consumers today that are traveling or kind of traveling outside of major cities? Do you still see that kind of happening, or?

Ken Cruse 8:57
Yeah, I mentioned before we got on that we’re going through a strategic planning session now and one of the first elements of our annual strategic planning session is to think through the macro context. What are the what are the emerging themes that are going to shape our industry not just next year, but for many, many years to come? And first day of the strategic planning, I always go back to last year’s prognostications. What are the macro themes that are going to change our industry? And how are we aligned to capitalize on those or be protected against them. And there are several macro themes that are leading to people traveling to places that are nature based, that our wellness oriented that are away from the congested cities. A couple of years ago, it was related to just the the unfortunate stripe that was existing in some of these major urban centers. But there’s also with the closure due to the pandemic. People weren’t in the offices, business travelers weren’t traveling. And people were realizing they have a great deal of freedom that they didn’t perceive existed before the pandemic took hold. And now people have kind of embrace that and they’re not letting go of it. So people aren’t back in the offices they are working from where they want to work from. And in most cases, it’s not in the 500 room, you know, commercial grade hotel brand X box in the middle of Des Moines. It’s, you know, on the coast of Oregon or the shores of Hilo, or we’re soon to be in Costa Rica. And you know, those are the places that people are able to work from now, it’s a beautiful outcome, you know, of a otherwise very tragic, you know, pandemic, that people have this freedom that didn’t exist previously. And so we’re oriented to accommodate that. The trends in the industry support that super well, if you break down the segments of business, if you will, there’s group business, there’s business transient, we call it that’s the road warriors, who, you know, hopefully, we never get back to this where the guy that the folks who get on the plane Sunday night and take the red eye and don’t come back till Friday night, you know, hopefully that lifestyle is largely going away. But a lot of people’s identities, my very own identity, we’re somewhat tied up and that sort of a lifestyle young in your career, it’s a I’m making things happen, I gotta be on the road, I gotta be away from my family. Now, we realized, no, we don’t have to do it that way. So I think the business transient travelers come down somewhat. But what’s clearly gone up meaningfully over the course of COVID. And it’s persisting, is that leisure, or we even call it in our industry believes her business and leisure mix, where you’re getting your business done, you’re doing your work, but you’re doing it from a location that you want to be in?

Kara Goldin 11:23
Yeah, definitely. And I think that the outdoor space is, is so so key, I’d be so curious to hear when, I mean, obviously, you guys are doing a lot of amazing things location, as well as everything that you’re doing around your give back and providing an environment and, you know, it’s not the cheapest hotel in the world by any, but it’s not the most expensive either a based on any of your locations. What do you think are the most things that consumers today really want? In travel? I always think of it as the hook to get people in. But then once they get to the hotel, I mean, what what do you think are like the must haves?

Ken Cruse 12:02
Absolutely. And like there’s some fundamentals and then we’ll branch out on sort of how do we you have to address the blocking and tackling the fundamental must haves, as you said, and then do you distinguish yourself by providing something as well beyond the expectations of the guests when they come there, but the must haves, you have to have safety, security, you have to have a sense of trust that you’re going to have a very clean and and utilitarian, if not, if not much better room that at least you can get a good night’s sleep him and you can do your work and the guys from you have to come to a hotel and know that you’re getting good value for what it is that you’re paying. That’s one of the things that we’ve done differently. We’ve done so many things differently as a business. And in many cases, people are like, What are you talking about, you can’t do that you’re gonna get crucified for it. One of the things we’ve done differently is we’ve shifted over that relationship between business and consumer, where we say to the consumer, you decide the price you pay, based on the quality of your experience, you don’t pay the price up front, you we don’t tell you how you’re gonna pay $4 for this day, we’re gonna have a reference rate that’s based on market rates. And what what we believe the market is, is for those guestrooms, but the guests themselves determine the price they pay based on the quality of their experience. And it does several things all at once. It puts the onus on us to exceed that guests expectations, it completely flips over this traditional adversarial relationship of the us versus them mindset that that happens in so many different businesses you walk in, it’s like, here’s my money, I’m gonna, I’m gonna flip this thing around. And we’re gonna ask you for a tip now and do all this stuff. And it’s like this odd relationship that we have with businesses, that’s very transactional. And we flip it over to make it now we’re all part of the same team, we’re all part of the same community, we all share the same value system, that’s why you’re here. We like to call that on brand business, you care about wellness, you care about social good, you care about the environment, we sort of have this bohemian almost hippie vibe to our properties. And so when people walk in the door, they know it’s different. But then when we also say, and you’re gonna figure out how much your room was when you leave not based on what we tell you, it completely changes that relationship. And that, to me that addresses the font view as the question what are the fundamentals that people need, people need to know that they’re going to get a fair price. And what better way to ensure that people know they’re going to get a fair price by allowing them to make that decision for themselves rather than us telling them how to make that decision. The other thing that that helps is, it helps us so that people don’t leave upset, right? You’re going to the poor season, the six senses the risk, whatever it is on down through the spectrum. Inevitably, during the course of 1000s and hundreds of 1000s of guests days, something isn’t gonna go right. Having the mechanisms in place to make it easily resolved and addressed beyond the guests expectations is so important. And this this concept that I’m describing is called Fair Trade pricing. Fair Trade pricing is a very powerful mechanism. In that regard, and when you lead with that, you don’t get abuses, you just don’t get people who show up and say, Cool. I’m gonna give you a nickel for this day. And I’ll see you in two and I’m going to check out in two weeks. It doesn’t happen because that adversarial mindset set is never established in that relationship between us and the consumer. So right now it’s about 0.5% of revenues evoke some level of Fairtrade pricing. That’s, that’s pretty amazing. I think we can probably do better because we don’t have perfect fivestars scores across the board. I’ll know that Fairtrade pricing is working perfectly. When our net promoter scores are all 100. And our and our, you know, TripAdvisor scores are all perfect fives were close, we’re very close, but we’re not there all the way

Kara Goldin 15:41
is any other chain doing what you guys are doing? I’ve never heard of that. That’s wild. And yet, when you think about, you know, products, like physical goods, the company that I founded hint, I mean, you know, definitely there’s money back guarantees on products, and that your experience is going to be great, but it’s like really got me thinking, I mean, there’s so many services out there that really aren’t that in the hotel industry, or the airline industry. I mean, none of them is, is doing that. So that’s really forward of you.

Ken Cruse 16:15
Well, and it’s risky, right, and being an entrepreneur is you know, there’s so many risks that you have to take. That’s one of the beauties of of America, in general, a capitalistic, you know, mindset that we all have as risk taking is encouraged and, you know, calculated risks and measured risks are in particular encouraged versus just blindly throwing stuff up against the wall and see if it works. And by the way, we’ve done a lot of that too. But the reason I think that Fairtrade pricing works is because it’s in a context of a whole lot of other non conforming variables and elements and qualities that define an SCP hotel, versus, you know, some of the other hotels. And believe me, this is not meant to say that merits doing wrong or Hilton’s doing it wrong, or six senses is doing it. They’re all amazing companies in their own regard, we just, we found a way to kind of navigate it in our own channel in our own way. And it seems to be working quite well with with the guests who are drawn to our concept. Well,

Kara Goldin 17:10
to me, it’s, it says confidence, right? It’s it, maybe you view it as you know, risky, but I think it actually says you’re willing to bet, right? And it says a lot of confidence as a founder and CEO of a company. So you also have another really cool program, every state does good program. Can you share a little bit about that,

Ken Cruse 17:34
by all means? Yeah. And as I said a moment ago, you know, we defined the company in a way that we felt comported with our core values, what we’re reasonably good at, or at least experienced that and then what the world is asking for, you know, if you can marry up those three concepts and kind of create that Venn diagram and exist in the overlap of all three of those concepts you can do, you should be set up for better chance of success. No business is ever set up for perfect success, obviously. But you know, you help your chances of success. So for us, we looked at the broader industry and said, okay, the industry, the airlines in particular, but hotels as well, in many other industries are driven by this concept of loyalty, right. But the concept of loyalty was an innovation that was developed 3035 40 years ago, principally by the airlines, but adopted by the hotels. And it’s these points programs, you get rewards. And you know, if you’re a road warrior, in particular, or person who travels a time, you’re saying, Great, I’m going to always stay with Marriott, I’m always going to stay with Hilton. Because over the course of the year, I’m going to build up enough points, I’ll take my family to Hawaii. And well, we’ll do a trip there, what a it’s a powerful mechanism, you also get status within those hotels. And when you show up and you got to eat, we all know this, I don’t need to repeat it. But that’s powerful, right. But our view is that that’s powerful. But it’s also an innovation that’s sort of run its course, it’s prevalent, right. And in the hotels in particular, it’s not nearly as sticky as with the airlines, like I can’t play on anything other than United because I’ve been playing it for 30 years, and I have this certain thing, and I just don’t want to I don’t want to lose it. That’s powerful, where we said, we’re never going to take over the $9 trillion industry. But again, we have tons of room to maneuver. If we know that our cohort is the younger end of the spectrum that hasn’t built up to million bonvoy points, or 5 million Hilton honors points. And they do care deeply about the values that we stand for. Well, we can build and don’t take this the wrong way Marriott or Hilton, but we can build authentic loyalty through an alignment of values. And as I said earlier in the conversation, if we’re focused on enabling those conscious travelers to continue on their personal journey, when they’re on the road, and say, Hey, you can come to a place that we know over time has been impacted negatively by over tourism or in an environment where we know that there are desperate needs that businesses can address. And you’re going to help to be part of the solution. And so therefore, when you leave that destination, that destination is a tiny little bit better than what it was before you came, we all feel better about it. And the psychological loyalty that’s built from that type of a program. And we call ours every seat is good, is powerful. It’s real. It’s powerful. So and it but it’s very different from the credential base point systems that other other hotels are doing. It’s just another way for us to kind of put our money where our mouths are, so to speak, and say, Yeah, we do aspire to be better. One of the things we always lead with his, we’re never going to be anywhere near perfect. We’re always aspiring to do better and find ways to do things differently and better. I always say like, if a person lives up on a mountaintop in a yurt and makes their own clothing, I hemp and they grow their beehives, and they’re all this, they show up in our hotel, they’re gonna give us a list of 100 things that we can do better, if not 1000 things, right. So we’re not going to be at that level, although we’re always going to aspire to get to that level. But if at least we can do a few things better every time and have an authentic mindset and a culture that’s based on continual improvement. Things like every state does good, really move the needle for us in terms of just building that authentic loyalty and that appreciation for Okay, you guys are what you are, and I’m going to help you get better. I’m going to help the world get better in the process as well. I always say that, you’re probably from those, I always tell the story of the starfish, I don’t know if you’ve heard the starfish parable, it comes down to this idea. It’s basically a way to describe this reticence to do even a little bit for the good because the need is so profound. And we deal with a lot of groups who are heavily immersed in dealing with the needs, you know, we work with this group called Global optimism, for example, and for the folks who work and volunteer and global optimism are some of the least optimistic people I’ve ever met, largely because they’re dealing with such a weighty topic of global warming, and how do you do this? How do we reduce this trend on global warming? It’s, it’s a very, very weighty topic. And so because of that, a lot of people say, jeez, I can’t possibly make a difference. Right with that. Why should I even start? Well, the story of the starfish is that Laguna Beach, here, were standing here, there’s a big storm. And when one morning after this huge storm, you look up and down miles of beach, and there are all these starfish that have been washed up on shore, and a man is walking his dog and he looks up and he sees a small child, bending over, throwing something in the water, and then continuing on walks forward, bends over, throw something back into the water, the man comes up to him and the child is picking up one starfish at a time and throwing it back into the water. And the man says boy, what are you doing, look up and down the beach, you cannot possibly make a difference. Look at all the millions of starfish that have been washed up on the store shore. And the boy looks at the man and looks back down at the ground, looks back at the man picks up a starfish throws it in the water and says, Well, I made a difference for that one. And that’s what we that’s how we think about things. Each and every one of us can have a small little ripple effect, we can make a small difference in the world. And oftentimes when you do that, when you take that initiative to make a small positive difference in the world around us, it inspires others to do the same thing. And pretty soon that ripple grows into something that’s far more profound than just a ripple. And trust me, we’re not here to save the world or do the the entire save every single starfish. But at least if we take one step in the right direction every day with every decision that we make, ultimately, the difference that we make will be real. If you bring that back to the every state has good program. One of the verticals that we support is planting trees and a lot of companies plant trees, right. We’re a tiny little company, we have only been around for a couple of years. Every time I guess is at our hotel, we plant one tree through this amazing group called one tree planted. We orange with them, because they’re super scientific, they really understand, you know, where to plant, when to plant how to plant. If I went out there and did it, I would plant a tree and it would be dead a week later, I would also probably go to a place that’s, you know, forest fires, for example, or part of the natural ecosystem and plant trees there. And there’s like none of that’s part of what happens you don’t do. We go over here where manmade activity, mankind’s activities have had a negative impact. They plant trees, and they really succeed and over a 40 year life of one tree, that tree can sequester over a ton of carbon on average. Yeah, one tonne of carbon for one tree. So for every guest, we plant one tree well, even as a small company to date we’ve planted over time just giving you the notes. 104,000 trees, I’m sorry, 113,000 trees today, we haven’t even gotten started. So you know, there’ll be a million and then 100 million and a billion trees over time. That’s a lot of trees. But it starts with just planting one tree and every every or every element of SCP kind of SCP SCPs. Every state has good program goes in that in that regard.

Kara Goldin 24:34
Well, and I think that that becomes part of your brand and the consistent brand and why people want to continue coming back over and over again. Plus, it’s a great experience when when they’re there. So the pandemic was super challenging, obviously for companies in every single industry. You and I were briefly touching on the fact that I think it really challenged leaders it challenged entrepreneur errs that sort of separated the great entrepreneurs from the okay entrepreneurs, people who could pivot and kind of see around corners and make predictions, take risks, etc, I’d love to hear about, you know, an experience that you had, because obviously, you had worked for large hotels or been on boards or invested, you had seen a lot of the big ones, but this one’s your baby. It’s a lot, the whole concept of fear of failure, I’m sure, you know, hits you in the head to like, what’s going to happen? What are we going to do? Well, I’d love to hear kind of one of the things that happened along the way that sort of, you know, was challenging and how you got through it and what you took away?

Ken Cruse 25:44
Absolutely. And first off, you’re absolutely the pandemic, obviously, it’s a factor that we don’t control. But we all learn as business people, you don’t spend time worrying about factors that are outside of your control, but you sure as heck better understand the implications of that exogenous factor, and adjust course, appropriately based on the pandemic. And now you and I were talking before we got on about the contemporary recession that appears that we’re in and potentially is going to be a very deep recession. Over the next year, we’re adjusting course, based on that. The pandemic actually gave us an opportunity to gain grounds. As you mentioned, as we talked about, during the pandemic travel was curtailed significantly across the US as businesses were closed, people obviously weren’t getting on airplanes, when business in general slows down, even if you’re allowed to get on airplanes. It’s very easy to cut travel budgets. And so people weren’t traveling to those commercial hotels. But what they were doing, as we said that they’re going to places with their family where they can spend two weeks or three weeks instead of two days, and and enjoying that natural environment. So for us, we saw an opportunity to double down on those nature based properties, the Salish Shan Costa lodge in Oregon, which is just such a beautiful nature based destination on the spectacular coastline, and so on. And we realized that we’d probably, if you want to talk about a failure, and a lesson learned, I would I would touch on too, one of the things we realized is that, originally, we were oriented around vintage motels. Our Colorado Springs property is a vintage motel there’s 1000s, and 1000s of vintage motels in the US that are that are on good street corners, but haven’t been reinvented. Or maybe they’re associated with the wrong brand and a rate limited as a result. So our whole idea was we’ll do social media planning and add up to adaptive reuse of vintage motels, which works reasonably well. But we found out over time that the cost required to SCP up buy a hotel and to create the core elements that we have and and to drop in the infrastructure. We do huge solar arrays, we do water saving structures, we do also, Evie chargers, we do a living walls and all this really cool stuff. Well, it costs a lot of money to do all that there’s typically a really good ROI. But if you’re in an environment that’s highly competitive, and you’re catering mostly to people who are just there because of price, ultimately, you just can’t build the business around that. It’s very hard to achieve true economic sustainability as a result. So big failure, and I don’t mean to call Colorado Springs a failure. But it was a lesson learned for sure that we realized no, we have to go to these more boutique hotels, nature based destinations, like where I am here in Laguna Beach is a perfect example sort of nature based and, and boutique, higher price point. So we originally, as you said, came in and said let’s make it really excessively priced was the terminology that we use. We’re still very excessively priced, but it’s on the upper upscale end of the spectrum. So 300 400 $500 average daily rates versus I mean, we were just in New York, and it’s $1,100 a night and you go to some of the places that we’ve been looking at in Costa Rica, it’s $1,000 2000 $3,000 a night. So we’re still very attractively priced for the quality of the experience and the accommodations in the locations. But the lesson learned in Colorado Springs was we just can’t really succeed at that price competitive lower end of the more commoditized spectrum. But another really important lesson learned if I can, if I can share, sir, another idea. Last year when we’re at our strategic planning session, I love to throw out you know, lofty objectives and then say, Okay, let me know how it goes. And everything I thought the good ideas, or the ideas, I won’t even say they’re good, and let and then we all try to execute together. But most of that burden falls on an incredible team that we have. Last year, we established something called raise the bar. So we knew that SCP was distinguished already with what we do. But we never want to be sort of average and we never want to revert back to the mean in our industry. So we came up with some concepts that support who we are that tell her story for us, and that are very difficult for others to follow suit. One of the elements of raised the bar was full plant based menus. And we’ve been working with some some folks out of LA a woman called Lauren rash tappers, who’s incredibly talented. She’s actually coming here tonight to do a menu presentation for us and we develop this beautiful plant based menu. Lesson learned on that one, though, we rolled it out quickly, once we had the experience the look, the feel and the menu together, we rolled it out. But what we failed to do was drawing on brand business to Come Dine in those restaurants. There’s a ton of people who love that kind of dining experience that kind of food. There are way more people who, who say, No, I’m going to have a burger tonight. I want a steak, I want whatever. And there’s no judgment whatsoever against that. But when we’re trying to say, hey, try this. It’s phenomenal. And it’s really good food to somebody who wants a steak. You don’t. If somebody wants oranges, you don’t give them apples. And we we rolled that out. And we got so many letters right away from these, you know, long term loyal customers. What are you doing? You’re giving us plant, you know, rabbit food here. We need steak, we need fish, we did this. And my initial reaction to that was okay, wait a minute, we’ve gone too far, we’ve got of course correct back. And then Pam and others on the team. But also, not we don’t, we’re not talking to the right people. And if we react and modify our business based on the feedback of folks who are not on brand, then we’re going to we’re destined to fail, we’re destined absolutely to revert back to the mean. And we’re going to look just like everybody else who’s out there. So the lesson learned in that case was, you’ve got to put the proper sequencing in place, you’ve got to make sure we are selling oranges to people who want oranges and not trying to force them on people who are looking for apples. And that was a very powerful lesson, we did dial back the process in in in favor of making sure the funnel and the outreach was appropriate. To the right people are coming in. And when we get the right folks who get it are coming in, they just love it. And it’s working. Just gotta you can’t rush it to too quickly. That was a very powerful lesson.

Kara Goldin 31:40
So interesting. So last question, what is the best advice that you’ve ever received?

Ken Cruse 31:47
Oh, I love this question. Okay. And I love the way you interview too, because you just throw stuff out there too often. Here’s that here’s 20 questions, get ready for it. You’re just like the best advice that I’ve ever received. So when we first and there’s so much I could choose from but this popped in my mind immediately when it first form small community planet. If you think about our industry, I’ve been in it for a long time. My wife has been in it for a long time. We know it’s kind of an incestuous industry just like many of them are. We’re at one of our major investment conferences and a guy came up to me that I know and respect a great deal. And he comes up to me and we’ve been at this conference and everything Wow. Love your concept. Love the brand. Love it. Love it. As the hospitality industry in general. We’re always complimentary of one another. This guy’s the opposite. Ken, what the hell are you doing? The world does not need another hotel brand. There’s 170 recognized brands in the US Why on earth would you ever form a another brand in our industry. And while he wasn’t intending to give me advice, he was really intending to say, you’re an idiot. I took that as advice not only as advice, but as a challenge. The world absolutely does not need another hotel brand. The world absolutely does need better hotel brands, hotel brands that align with the values and the lifestyles and the journeys that conscious consumers are on everywhere. But they’re not being met when they get on the road. And so I just thought thought it was sort of the best advice and it was unintended advice, but it really made me as a competitive person. It really spurred me on to do even more and to prove him wrong. That in your mind, the world doesn’t need an SCP, my mind. What you just said proves that the world absolutely does need SCP. Yeah,

Kara Goldin 33:30
I think that the challenge with people who are not visionary entrepreneurs is that they’re the critics, right? They’re the doubters, I call them. So you have to be able to keep going, you’re going to hear them and then he’ll be the one that will say to you, I always knew you could do it. Right. And those are those are the ones that I love. You know, the people Yeah, I left tech to start a beverage company that was you know, really my own focus on on health and getting rid of sweeteners and my water and the number of people back when I was starting saying, I have no idea what you’re doing. This is really stupid. Why are you doing it? But now those are the people that probably half of them actually remember telling me it was a stupid idea. The others tell me Oh, I always knew that you would be successful. Right? It was pretty funny. So anyway, well, thank you so much. It was such a pleasure to talk to you, Ken. And definitely all the info for all of the hotels will be in the show notes. But you must must must get out to Seoul community planet. Like I said the website will be in there. Maybe Ken and his wife Pam will be on property somewhere to kind of share a little bit more to

Ken Cruse 34:49
Yeah, someone Absolutely. And I would like to just say to you don’t know this, but you’ve been an inspiration to me for a long time. I mentioned I heard you on how I built this a long, long time ago. and your story just stuck with me and it you pivoted from one industry to another, you created this in a very crowded, highly competitive space not distinguished not not dissimilar from what we have in the hospitality industry. And to hear your story and to know it. I mean, that’s been certainly a beacon for me for a long time. So thank you. It’s an honor to be on your podcast and it’s like a dream almost to be able to talk to you so thank

Kara Goldin 35:21
you. Wow, I didn’t even know that was coming. So that was like such a, you could be on here any time can’t so anyway, Thanks, Ken. Have a great rest of the week. Awesome. Thank you. Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. Please give us a review and feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my book undaunted, which I share my journey including founding and building hint, we are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Thanks, everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and good bye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening