It is almost the end of June and we will be halfway through 2009, the year of the greatest catering challenge. Not because of food or event planning or any logistical issues. It is because of the economic climate and the fact that entertaining is controversial.
There is a particular challenge when it comes to marketing the luxury segment of the industry. In our lives, this is manifested in the efforts we make to bring and book business in the Grand Ballroom of the newly renovated Plaza Hotel, a wonderful business opportunity we, Great Performances and our joint venture partner, Delaware North Companies, signed in 2007.
What property in the world is more iconic? Where else do thousands of brides imagine having their dream wedding? What room has hosted more significant galas and socialites than the Grand Ballroom? The stars were perfectly aligned - this was the opportunity of a lifetime - to restore the fabled ballroom to is glory and return it to New York.
And so began a new experience in communication and marketing for this fledgling venture, as 2007 turned into 2008 and the world changed overnight. Perceived luxuries were a casualty.
Now we are operating a business that appears to be part of the high end of the hospitality market. What makes something a luxury product? Is it an attitude about a product or is it something in the actual product itself?
As entrepreneurs, we delight in learning new skills and conquering unique challenges. We seek adventure and hurdles to overcome in a never-ending quest to create new solutions and products and markets. We examine our own core values and mission - and share that vision as we welcome old and new customers into our venue.
And so we have embarked upon a soul-searching, word-crafting mission to redefine and reposition the space we occupy with the Grande Dame of New York City, the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel and to challenge the myth of luxury. We look for ways to shape and influence the opinions that determine whether or not a shopper becomes a buyer.
The Plaza ought not be merely viewed as a luxury event space. Though it is tempting to dismiss it as a place of wealth and opulence, our goal is to connect this generation with the traditions that it embodies. It is an historical site - not unlike a museum or a performance space. We are a timeless, beautiful, handcrafted refuge. We are a family that takes the time to really listen to our customers. Our four walls are not ordinary - they embrace our guests and create an oasis wherein emotions and dreams are shared. Our guests are nourished, attended to and cared for. And the proof is in the simple fact that they rebook, in 08 for 09, and in this year, for next year.
We seek to distinguish ourselves as a destination of value and integrity. "When it really matters", this is the place you want to be. We seek to separate ourselves from the negative implication of luxury and focus on value that comes from delivering a truly honest experience. We are discovering the generations of families that have returned to the Plaza repeatedly to celebrate life cycle events because they feel its heart and know how much we care. And we never forget that at our core - it is about hospitality. Each day we create a memorable experience. That should never be a luxury, or go out of favor and fashion.
This is the new marketing challenge: To explore the depths of ones' product and define its values. We look for just the right expression - the magic words - to give our customers comfort and permission. At the same time, we need to recognize the economic realities of our time and decide how we need to position the product price-wise, because the world has changed. We recognize the importance of delivering true value and extraordinary service - to everyone, everyday. And we wait for our consumers to give themselves permission once again to celebrate and entertain, elegantly and without guilt.
We are guardians of a real treasure. How we navigate our asset, connect with consumers, position ourselves in the marketplace will determine how we - like all businesses - survive. It requires a combination of honest and compelling marketing, solid core values, lots of luck and the ability to create a shift in perception. We are not a luxury item. We are a venue that has survived the Great Depression, 2 World Wars as well as several other wars, the aftermath of 9/11, the vicissitudes of NYC and we will weather this storm as well...because "when it really matters", this is where you will want to be.
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