Sandman preps for eastern expansion

First we'll feed them. Then we'll build them a place to stay.
That's the simple version of Vancouver-based Northland Properties' eastern expansion strategy. The company has steadily increased marketing efforts recently, as it will open two new Moxie's Classic Grill restaurants in Ontario this spring, to be followed by its Sandman Hotels, Inn and Suites banner.

First we’ll feed them. Then we’ll build them a place to stay.

That’s the simple version of Vancouver-based Northland Properties’ eastern expansion strategy. The company has steadily increased marketing efforts recently, as it will open two new Moxie’s Classic Grill restaurants in Ontario this spring, to be followed by its Sandman Hotels, Inn and Suites banner.

Northland, which is privately held by Vancouver’s Gaglardi family and which had revenue of more than $240 million last year, owns the 26-strong hotel chain in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. New locations are coming to Surrey, B.C. this year, and to Calgary and Regina in 2003. Expansion to Manitoba is on the drawing board as well.

The 36-year-old company also wants to establish a Sandman location in the Greater Toronto Area within five years. In the meantime, it’s opening two Moxie’s there: in North York in April and in Mississauga by year-end. They will join five current locations in the Ontario marketplace.

A transit and billboard campaign for the restaurants is planned through Vancouver’s Koo Creative Group, a boutique owned by Cossette Communication Group. Details aren’t available, but Northland CEO Tom Gaglardi says the company will continue to position Moxie’s to compete with the likes of Vancouver chain Earl’s Restaurants and, to a lesser degree, the Keg, which is also based in Vancouver but has locations across the country.

‘It was a corny, family casual restaurant chain when we acquired it (in 1998),’ he says, adding that expanding Moxie’s in the GTA affords Northland a chance to study the market as it prepares to acquire real estate for Sandman. ‘We’ve repositioned it into the upper tier of premium casual, quite successfully.’

Northland has paired four Moxie’s locations in Calgary, Red Deer, Vancouver and Richmond, B.C. with Sandman properties. The company bought the Denny’s franchise for Western Canada in 1991 and also operates 15 of the 25 round-the-clock diners at Sandman. Gaglardi says the branded food and beverage service offers hotel guests added value and the company a lucrative revenue stream.

While Northland’s non-hotel real estate holdings nearly sank Sandman during the 1980′s recession, it has invested $200 million in infrastructure in the past decade. ‘Our philosophy has always been at Sandman that we’d rather not spend on marketing until our product is right,’ says Gaglardi.

Gaglardi decided the product was right last fall and doubled Sandman’s media spending. He declined to disclose the budget, but said the chain will sustain the buy through spring before pausing this summer.

‘Our marketing now is not hard-sell marketing,’ Gaglardi says. ‘It’s to do with trying to make people feel good about our brand, trying to bring back some cachet and respectability and credibility.’

Advertising agency Current Crea-tive Group and The ACE Film Co., both of Vancouver, produced three 30-second TV ads for the chain. Two spots promote the StarPlus corporate travel incentive program and are running on Newsworld, CTV NewsNet and CNN in Western Canada. A third targets the family leisure market. ‘So many reasons to stay’ is the positioning line.

Full-page ads, running throughout the year in Maclean’s magazine, use the ‘Accommodating good sense’ positioning line, while a bus board campaign in Greater Vancouver touts ski and snowboard vacation packages this winter. In spring the focus turns to golf.

In January, Northland jumped on the Olympic bandwagon and signed the Canadian women’s curling team to an endorsement deal. ‘B.C. is proud of them and curling is a religion where we are on the Prairies,’ Gaglardi says.

Kelley Law and her teammates are featured in Sandman print ads. Also in the works for the team are a TV campaign and personal appearances at Sandman hotels throughout Western Canada and Moxie’s in Ontario.

All creative prominently features Sandman’s new green and gold ‘stylized S’ logo.