Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

March 4, 2013

BUSINESS: Customers come first at extended stay hotel

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Officials believe affordable rates, good vibes between customers and staff and regular "getting to know you" events sponsored by management will continue to keep Extend-a-Suites, 1407 E Rusk St, high on the list of popular extended-stay motels in Cherokee County.

Maintaining such a motel is kind of a learning curve for all involved. The very term “extended stay” is extremely subjective and can vary from town to town. Motels in some municipalities refer to their service as “extended stay” but charge high, daily rates. Motels in other cities have slightly lower rates that are still too high to afford to stay indefinitely.

Then there is the Extend-a-Suites facility, whose personnel strive to keep it both affordable and helpful to customers. Weekly stays are $255, while daily rates vary according to industry standards.

The motel is well-liked by truckers and pipeliners who are either passing through the area or looking for an ideal place to stay long-term.

“We have a really good rapport with our customers,” explained Justina Dafft, day manager. “Our good business relationships come from the fact we and our customers genuinely like each other. Sometimes our customers call us just to chat.”

Garon Rayburn, owner, celebrated his first anniversary of owning the motel this month. For continuity's sake, he kept the facility's old sign with its previous name, “HomePlace Inn And Suites,” when he bought it. His only alteration was to add an Extend-A-Suites banner to impose his own branding but keep the previous logo for returning customers to recognize.

Rayburn, who explains on his LinkedIn.com profile that he is also a real estate investor, comes highly recommended. The Better Business Bureau has awarded his Oklahoma City-based company an “A-Plus” rating.

Rayburn said he purchased this motel – which the previous owner used to house Lon Morris students in 2010 — because it holds a lot of promise.

 Rayburn said this motel attracted his attention when he was seeking a property to purchase.

“I was in Oklahoma City looking at motels in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and New Mexico, and this was the one that appealed to me the most,” he said.

After purchasing the facility about a year ago, Rayburn took his new staff of eight and worked with them to implement his longevity plan. This consisted of connected with customers in a positive way to keep their long-term business.

Of the nearly 90 rooms at the motel, between 50 and 60 stay occupied, with the difference being rented out, officials said.

Rayburn said he sponsors a series of cookouts, “getting to know you” events with food such as chili and a variety of other introductions to get to know his long-term customers better.

Recently, his employees briefly tried a breakfast initiative in the same vein.

Speaking of food, Rayburn is hoping to find someone who can come in and start a restaurant on the Extend-A-Suite property.

He said he prefers not to do it himself because the business of a restaurant is vastly different than that of a motel and very distracting. But he hopes a good, committed restaurateur might come in and make something of it.

“I think a restaurant with a good plan that serves, for instance, good breakfast and buffalo wild wings would do really well here,” the owner  said.

Motel representatives under Rayburn's guidance continues to renovate rooms to keep them as comfortable and contemporary as possible.

As part of the service, cable television is free to customers.

Many of the residents are known to bring their own smaller grills and prepare their own food on the upstairs or downstairs walkway, fostering a sense of community and friendliness.

It's an atmosphere that motel management hopes to keep indefinitely.

Motel employees stay vigilant for wrongdoers or illegal activity so as to protect the residents from any harm.

“We want people who come here to get what they're looking for,” Rayburn said. “Our No. 1 priority is our customers.”