What do motel owners need to consider prior to opening? Steve Puricelli of Lake Motel has some great advice!

Steve runs small independent seasonal motel on Lake George.  He loves the hospitality business and working with the guests who have become friends over the years.  This passion is why he is so successful. Steve and his partners, Tom Puricelli and Vinnie Crocitto have maximized the revenue by building out the lake front with a floating dock, creating events for guests at the lakefront. Most interestingly, the Lake Motel has a reputation of cleanliness which he says is a major focus for the property. The motel has a secret weapon, Steve’s wife ran a high end cleaning company.  So when Covid-19 hit, Steve was one of the first lodging properties to share their extensive plans for cleaning and sanitizing the property and a social distance check-in which can be seen here.

In this interview Steve shares his thoughts on Covid-19 and what is necessary to clean and sanitize the property.  From triple sheeting for comforters to plans for the pillows, to changes needed from the communal coffee pots and how he bought thousands of disposable covers for the remote control.  To learn more, watch the interview here:

Video Transcript:

Sara: Hi, this is Sara Mannix. And we have Steve Puricelli here as my guest from the Lake Motel. And Steve, how about if you tell us a little bit about yourself.

Steve: OK, well, I’ve been in the motel business for 11 years now, thanks to Vinny Crocitto who drag me into it. I was happily retired in Florida. And Vinny decided that he wanted to buy a motel, and so I got involved with him, and my brother, Tom. Before that, it was in the venture business, venture capital business for about 20 years. And you know the motel business is unlike anything I ever experienced in the venture business.

Sara: Well, what do you think of being in the motel business?

Steve: I like it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t still be in it.

Sara: Right.

Steve: I mean, part of it I like is the guests. You know, the 99%, obviously, there was one percent that [LAUGHS] we don’t want to talk about. But the vast majority– I mean, we’ve made good friends over the years, and the same people keep coming back year after year. And you know that’s the most enjoyable part.

The other part that’s enjoyable, it’s gotten enjoyable, it’s hands-on, you know, you have to be very detail-oriented. It’s completely opposite from the venture business. You’re not in the weeds. And this business you are, so it was interesting to me to have to learn all the nuts and bolts about the business. And if you’re managing a small property like we are, it’s 41 rooms, you can’t afford to have somebody hire somebody and do everything for you. So, you know, and what else could you– I mean, you’re only in Lake George on the Lake in the middle of the summer for six months. How could you not enjoy that?

Sara: Yeah, Lake George is pretty beautiful. So tell us if– tell somebody who isn’t here what the Lake Motel is like. What’s it like?

Steve: Well, you know, we’re obviously, we’re in a resort area. So for half the year we’re closed, half-year we’re open. And so, we have a limited amount of time to make money and to become profitable, so that’s a challenge. But it’s a great location. You’re in the village, so there’s 50,000 people in the village on a given day in the summer, versus 2,000 people in the wintertime. And so, we exploit the lake. We exploit the advantage. It’s location, location, location. We exploit that. We’ve built up the lakefront. We’ve got a lot of things on the lake for people to enjoy, boating, and so forth, kayaks, paddleboards. We’ve got a floating dock, and we have barbecues on the lake, we have nightly events on the lake, on the patio overlooking the lake. We have an elevated deck that goes out over the lake. So, you know, that’s been our secret if there is a secret. It’s not really that complicated, you know, you’re on the lake. That’s why people come to your motel, and they pay extra, otherwise, they could stay across the street and look at the lake. So we exploit that advantage as much as we can.

Sara: I remember the Lake Motel before you owned it, and nothing happened. It was just, not– there was no fire pit, there were no boats, there was no floating dock, there, everything you built up and the nightly events you do there, really, you’ve created a social scene for your guests to get to know each other.

Steve: Yeah.

Sara: It’s a beautiful thing. Yeah. Yeah so.

Steve: We have a a beautiful place, so that’s good.

Sara: So what have you done to maximize revenue? Would you say, it’s all of those things that we just talked about, or is there more?

Steve: I mean, that’s pretty much it. You know, it’s like you give– I mean, everything you do you have to do– you know, you have to do a calculation. Sometimes, it’s not cut and dry. You know, like are the events really worth it? Are the extra efforts– is the extra effort we put into cleaning. I mean, normally– I mean, like most people– most hotels strive for 30 minutes of room to clean a check out. And we spend 40 minutes cleaning the room. That’s an extra 10 minutes. OK, that doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but it adds up over the summer. And is that worth it? You know, a lot of times the payback is hard to really quantify, but there’s a lot of little things you do– customer service, and so forth, and we think, pays for itself. If you look at our reviews, I mean, literally, 90% of them mentioned how clean the property is. Well, nobody talks about. I mean, when they’re on a vacation in a hotel, do you ever write in, or you ever on trip advisor, you never say, wow, places are the clean. No, you expect it to be clean. So, obviously, 90% or 80% of our people are commenting how clean it is. It’s extraordinarily clean. So does that translate into profit. I don’t know, it’s hard to really say, but we think, it does.

And it goes beyond that. It’s what everybody else is trying to do. You’ve got to– I mean labors your big expense. If you can’t control labor, forget it, you’re out of the game. So you have to– you have to hire good people. You have to supervise them properly. You have to treat them well, but not too well, and well enough. So, you know, what I’m saying, there’s a balance. But so, we think we do that well. But it’s a challenge for everybody. The motel business is very competitive.

Sara: Well, I have to agree. I have to agree that it’s working, Steve, because I’ve had some motel owners, and hotel owners and saying Lake Motel is always has no occupancy, what are they doing over there? And there is no doubt that your reviews and reputation have a huge impact on people choosing you. And so, I give you props for that.

Steve: There’s really no magic formula. I mean, other people have done it, and you’re just trying to piggyback on all the things I’ve learned from them. I mean, it’s like when I got into business, I knew nothing about running a motel. And so, Vinny is in the business his whole life. So, obviously, I was able to piggyback on everything he learned. So I learned a lot in a very short period of time because my teachers were so smart, you know?

Sara: Yeah. That’s great. So we’re talking about cleanliness. We’re unfortunately in the middle of COVID-19. Let’s take a positive outlook, and say that we do get permission to open. And people start coming to Lake George. And what are your thoughts there?

Steve: OK, it’s a good question. And look, I don’t know– I mean, I’m not– I have more questions than answers. I don’t have a crystal ball. Clearly, we’re going into uncharted territory here. It’s never happened in Lake George. I don’t think it’s ever happened anywhere a situation like this. So for us and for everybody, the biggest challenge, assuming, we can open and attract business, which I think we will. I think people have a pent up demand. I think people are going to want to travel. But I think the biggest challenge is going to be, how do you make any money? You know, I mean, we are all ready going to have a shortened season. And it’s minimum wage went up. And I don’t care how you look at it, you’re cleaning has– you’re cleaning expenses per guest are going to go up. Obviously, labor alone, the labor cost alone, minimum wage going up. It’s going to affect that. But you’re going to have to clean differently this year than you’ve ever done before. So you’re going to so it’s going to be more money, so you’ve got to find the right balance. We’re not a hospital, so we can’t sterilize rooms. You can’t afford to do that. But there has– you have to– everybody has to find a balance between cleaning the rooms well enough so that your guests and your housekeepers and your employees don’t get sick. But not so clean, not so labor-intensive, so that you’re not making any money. Because that could very easily happen, especially when you’ve got a situation where you’re not going to be full occupancy this year. So that’s going to be a challenge.

The other challenge is going to be finding people who want to clean your rooms. Anybody who’s entered Lake George knows that even when the foreign kids are here on J1 visas, it’s getting harder and harder to get kids to clean rooms. They’ve all got social. They’ve all got, you know, Facebook, and so forth. And they all communicate better than they’ve ever communicated before. And very quickly, you hire them to do a job, a housekeeper. Very quickly, they learn that they can make the same amount of money or more doing other stuff, like flipping burgers or ice cream. Or working behind the counter, collecting money, and so forth, selling t-shirts. So it’s a challenge to keep it in a normal time. It’s a challenge to keep the foreign kids in the job they were intended to– they were hired for. Now, we’ve got a probability that there’s going to be less foreign kids. Now, so is there going to be so fewer foreign kids that it doesn’t account for the decreased volume, and guess, nobody knows. My guess is, there’s going to be too few foreign kids looking for a lot of jobs. So you’re going to have to rely more on local people. I mean, there’s the only way out of it.

So how do you attract local people who want to clean a room? Why do they want to clean a room on $11.80? And there are other jobs available for them. It’s not a situation where they’re going into a room now, where they’re making the mental calculation, I might get sick, right? Guess what, I might die, and it’s not far fetched. I mean, if you think that no one in your hotel for the whole summer is going to have COVID, is going to have the disease, then it’s pretty naive. You’ve got to assume that some people there are going to have it. Because people have it, they don’t even know it. I mean, people are asymptomatic, and they can spread the disease. So anyone who looks at a housekeeping job in Lake George, or anywhere else, is going to make the mental calculation, do I really want to risk my life for $11.80 an hour. OK, so getting the housekeepers is going to be a problem.

Keeping the housekeepers healthy and safe as well as the guests, is another problem. And if you just ignore it and clean the way you’ve already cleaned, then you’re obviously going to have a much higher probability of one of your housekeepers or guests getting sick. When a housekeeper gets sick, let’s follow the logical pathway to what’s likely to happen. Well, CDC is going to get involved, or the local health authorities, right? So, you know, they’re going to try to isolate that person. They’re going to try to do research as to who that person interacted with. Not only other housekeepers but other guests. And do you think the press is going to leave this alone? So it’s going to be public knowledge. You’ve got a housekeeper that’s sick that is spreading COVID, and good luck, the rest of the summer trying to rent rooms. I mean, it’s not rocket science.

So obviously, there are reasons to try to do your best to clean these rooms thoroughly. Not the least of which is to keep your employees healthy and your guests healthy, but to avoid the public embarrassment and financial consequences of having to shut down. And that’s not unrealistic to think could happen. That’s probably would happen if you have a situation like that. And you know that the infectious nature of this disease. The ease that it spreads, the communicability of the disease makes it prudent that we take it seriously.

So, then, you get into what do we– how do we change our cleaning procedures in order to minimize the chance of guests and employees getting sick, while still focusing on the bottom line.

Sara: And I notice that you place your cleaning procedures right on your website for all your guests to see. Your new COVID practices, best practices.

Steve: Yeah, now, that’s a double-edged tour. It’s out there for everybody to see. You know, when you don’t do it, then it’s not good. So you have to be confident enough that you can implement these procedures and implement them well, in order to put them out there. So honestly, we’ve already made the calculation. If we can’t do this, then we shut down rooms. We have no extra choice, so everybody is going to have to make their own analysis and decide how they want to proceed. But if you start to get into how these rooms ought to be cleaned, I should say how they ought to do it. If you start to get into what is necessary to clean these rooms properly, to minimize the chance that COVID, that the virus will spread, it’s pretty daunting. It is certainly– you know, I mean, when I first thought about it, we did a lot of research. As I told you before, my wife had a high-end cleaning business in Orlando for 10 years. And I was involved, I helped her and soforth, and I was involved with her. So we– we’re pretty expert at cleaning, to begin with. And then, when you do a lot of research, it obviously makes you maybe too dangerous, because now, I know too much. But anyways, you know, it is pretty eye-opening when you think about all of the ways that this virus could be spread. So do you want to get into that now?

Sara: Sure.

Steve: OK, OK, good. So let’s talk about what we’ve learned. And once again, I’m not a genius. I don’t have all the answers. I’m just throwing this stuff out for people to consider. I guess, the first thing that comes to mind is the bed, the bedding, and the pillows. Now, we have been phasing in triple sheeting. Anybody who knows hotels, they know what triple sheeting is. Triple sheeting, is designed so that the gas never touches the comforter. So we made the decision we’re going to continue and completely implement triple sheeting throughout the rest of the property. We’ve been heading in that direction. We had intended to do that this year anyways, so this just makes it easier. Obviously, it’s a huge expense we would like to not have to endure, but I don’t think we have a choice because the bedding is the most likely area where this is going to be spread if it spread at all. So– but if you think about triple sheeting, you’ve got a top sheet and a bottom sheet, and you’ve got the comforters sandwiched in between the two sheets. Well, so you clean the top sheet, you clean the bottom sheet. What do you do, just leave the comforter? I mean, you know you’ve got a top sheet. It’s not an N95 mask. It’s a cotton sheet. So, you know, I mean, the germs, if somebody’s sleeping all night they’re going to go through even if they don’t physically touch the comforter then they’re going to go through that a comforter. Let’s face it, the comforters going to be affected. So do you wash the comforter every time somebody checks out, that’s a big expense, or perhaps you just dry it. Because if you dry the comforter, then you have to get the heat up to 132 degrees in order to kill the virus. So if you dry the comforter at the highest speed on your dryer, then you’re, most likely, it’s probably more effective at killing the virus than it is washing it. So it’s something you should consider.

What about the pillows? I mean, the pillows, same thing. You’ve got a pillowcase, which is cotton, so the virus goes through the cotton, goes through onto the pillow protector. Well, the pillow protector’s cotton, too. So it goes to the pillow protector onto the pillow. So do you wash your pillow? Well, you certainly– I mean, for us, it’s a pretty– you can’t just wash the pillowcase and not wash the pillow protector, that’s stupid, right? I mean, we made the decision, it’s stupid. So is that because it’s going to be infected. It’s a cloth cover, so if you wash both of those, then the pillows infected. I mean, somebody’s laying on the pillow, breathing into the pillow all night long. To think that pillows not going to become infected, is you know taking a big chance. So same thing. I think if you rotate your pillows, and dry your pillows on a high and a high heat on your dryers, I think, that would suffice to protect yourself along with with the rest of the bed.

Sara: How long have you done research on to how long the COVID virus can stay on fabric?

Steve: Yes, yes. And my recollection is that it’s 24 hours it could stay on fabric. I could be wrong. I don’t think anybody really knows. But there’s no question it can stay on fabric for some period of time. Certainly, long enough to impact somebody checking out, and somebody checking in.

Sara: The same day for sure.

Steve: Yeah. Yeah. OK. So, then you get into other things– coffee pots. Consideration certainly, has to be given to, whether or not – we have coffee in the office that’s 24 hours, or whenever open, 18 hours a day, we have we have coffee in the office. Well, we’re probably not going to do that anymore. And first of all, it is going to reduce traffic back and forth into the office. And it just– if you have coffee, you don’t have to be cleaning the coffee pot on the handle constantly. So another area you might consider saving money on is just eliminating the condiments in the coffee station. So that probably means, then we have coffee pots in all of the rooms, so that means they’re probably going to get more use. But there are going to be people who don’t drink coffee, who don’t want coffee. So what I think we’re going to do is put the coffee maker, the whole coffee maker and all the condiments in a plastic bag in one of the cabinets in the room. If people want coffee, then obviously, they take it out. And that just means you’re going to have to clean the coffee pot and sterilize it. You’re going to have to clean everything that’s associated with that coffee maker.

What else? The remote control. I mean, everybody knows that’s the dirtiest part in the room, right? That’s certainly the dirtiest object in the room. So what do you do there? You can’t just ignore it, because if somebody– and they can certainly– the virus can certainly stay on plastic surfaces for at least 24 hours, so we know that. So we were able to find a happy medium. We actually bought thousands of these plastic disposable – nobody likes to waste plastic, right? Not great for the environment, but having infected people isn’t great either, so we’ve made the decision to use plastic covers. Whenever anybody checks out, you just take the remote, and you put a new plastic cover on it. Obviously, you clean the plastic cover, and disinfect that. And so, that to me is an area where really people ought to be thinking about, this remote.

And then, you get into all of the surfaces– I mean, just cleaning the room is going to be different. You can’t just clean it anymore. You’ve got to disinfect. Well, in order to disinfect, you can’t just spray and wipe. You know the minimum amount of time you’re going to need even with the best disinfectant they have, other than pure bleach, is 45 seconds. So you’ve got to spray a surface, and then let it sit for 45 seconds, and then wipe it off. So it’s a whole different procedure. And you’re going– you know, you should consider doing, cleaning areas that perhaps weren’t as important before. If you start to think about all the objects or surfaces in the room that come into contact with the guest, you’ve talking about doorknobs, telephones, cabinet handles, light switches, lamp switches, microwave handles, refrigerator handles, cabinet handles, I guess they said that, air conditioner knobs, shower knobs, towel arm, towel bars, right? I mean, a towel, a dirty towel is going to get hung on a towel bar, right? And you’re going to put a brand new clean towel on the top of that. If you don’t clean it off, then you’re taking a risk. Obviously, sink and faucet handles, your toilet handles, your hairdryers, and your desktops, countertops, cabinet tops, and chairs. I mean, it’s exhausted. And it’s going to add time, no matter what you do, it’s going to add time.

So if you go from 40 minutes a room to 60 minute to room, how are you going to deal with that from a profit standpoint? Well, I don’t think there’s any other alternative for us. I think you’ve got to be firm with people. And stay overs normally take 20 minutes. Well, stay over just aren’t going to get clean, period. Now, most of the people, probably, don’t want cleaning people in their room in a situation like this because it exposes them to a greater degree of risk, right? So we think it’s probably not going to be that objectionable if we let our guest know upfront that if you want extra towels or your garbage needs to be empty, we’ll have extra bags, plastic bags in the room, put your towels in a plastic bag outside the room, and you garbage it in a plastic bag outside the room. We’ll give you new towels in a sterile bag and a clean back and the garbage bags. So that’s going to save you a lot of time. So hopefully, that will help to balance out the extra time it takes to clean a check-out, and your check-in, your floor check-in. And then, the money you’re saving, then stay others will help to balance that.

Now, so then, you get to outside the room. You know, the public areas, all the public doorknobs, the doorknobs to your office have to be cleaned regularly, I would think. The guests doorknobs, obviously, have to be cleaned whenever there’s a check-out. The ice machine is a big– I mean, that’s a danger area. You can clean the scoop every, periodically, but you’re never going to clean it every time somebody gets ice. After every time somebody cleans ice so– or gets ice. So I think, the best solution there is to, obviously, not only clean it regularly but have a box of sanitary wipes there, so that everyone has the option of cleaning the scoop. Now, a lot of these places don’t even have scoops. They have automatic dispenser, which is good. Unfortunately, we’ve got, and I’m sure a lot of other places have, the scoop. So if you have a box of sanitary wipes there, then the guest has the option of cleaning the scoop before they use it. And handling the scoop with the wipe, which is what I would do, of course. So that’s one area you may want to consider dealing with your ice or your ice machines.

Vending machines same thing. All your surfaces that they touch on a vending machine should be cleaned regularly. You may even want to leave a box of wipes near the vending machine. Clearly public areas, the table surfaces, and the chairs, where the handles of the chairs, they should consider disinfecting them periodically throughout the day. Barbecue grills, utensils, obviously, we clean utensils anyway when everybody– whenever anyone, after everyone uses them. But even the whole area, the picnic table, and the grill area after someone uses it, it’s got to be disinfected. I would think.

Here’s another area that’s going to be a problem– is kayaks. Kayaks and paddleboards– think about what happens when somebody goes out on a paddleboard or a raft, or what do you call it, paddle board.

Sara: Paddle board.

Steve: A paddle board or a kayak, I’m sorry. So you give them a paddle, obviously, their hands roll over the paddle. They get into the kayak, right? They touch the kayak where they get in and get out. So do you just ignore that? I mean, that’s pretty risky. How about the life jackets? You never wear a life jacket, right? So they’re putting on a life jacket, generally, don’t have shirts on. Guys don’t have shirts on, right? And so, they’re sweating, they’re perspiring and so forth all over the life jacket. How do you not clean that like jacket after every use? I mean, that’s just like a pillow protector, or a pillowcase, you know.

Sara: Will spraying it with Lysol help? Like just in the inside? Would that do it?

Steve: Yeah, yeah, I think you’re going to have to disinfect. You know, the paddle, the paddle handles, the locations on the kayak, or the paddleboard where people touch. But here’s another consideration, it’s dangerous when you’re near the lake because any disinfectant you use, it’s against the law to put that into the lake. Now, no one’s going to go down there and dump peroxide into the lake, but it kills fish. And that’s why there’s a reason you can’t use it around aquatic environment. Right? So you’re going to have to– you can’t just spray your kayak handle, and let the spray get into the lake because it’s not safe. So you’re going to have to develop a procedure where you disinfect the paddleboard handles away from the lake so that it doesn’t get into the lake. So kayaks and paddleboards, believe me, I think, they’re going to be more of a demand for water sports this summer because people can’t do other things that they would ordinarily like to do. You know, some of the other amusement parks, and so forth, Great Escape and Adirondack Extreme, and so forth. They may be closed or people may be reluctant to be exposed to crowds going to those places. So they’re going to– I think, going to want to do other things by themselves that they can do which means your kayak using your paddleboard is going to probably skyrocket. So you’ve got to consider your life jacket, your paddles, and so forth how to disinfect those properly.

We’ve already made the decision to purchase a number of hand sanitizing stations so these freestanding stations, where you’re don’t to touch. You just– they’re motion activated, so you put your hands on the stations. And that’s something people should consider. They’re really not that expensive. And I think if you have those in the public areas where people touch surfaces and so forth, and encourage them to use them, I think would be beneficial. I mean, clearly, all of the areas, public areas where people are going to touch stair rails, and stair rails, you should consider disinfecting the stair rails on a regular basis throughout the day.

And then, seating areas. We’re going to have to reorganize our seating areas. Because we have seating areas that’s just like a restaurant. No one’s going to go to restaurants right next to somebody. It’s the same thing here. We’re going to have to spread our furniture out so that there’s distance between all of the furniture areas. Do you go as far as to require guests to wear masks when they’re outside, when they’re not in their rooms, when they’re in close proximity to other people? I don’t know. I don’t know what to do there. But it’s certainly something we have to think about and talk about.

Another area that I think is important to consider, which a lot of these things we’re talking about maybe you’ve already– all these people that are looking at the video, they probably thought about most of this. Certainly, the check-in procedure can be modified so that people don’t have to physically go in the office, sign stuff, and go to the rooms from there. We’re going to change procedures so that you can check in without a visit to the office. And so, I think that’s important to consider also. Let’s see, that’s pretty much what we’ve thought through. Obviously, there’s a lot of things that I haven’t thought about that maybe other people will watch who watched the video can comment on. And other areas we can do better.

Sara: Yeah, I think this was quite a comprehensive list of things that people should be thinking about. And I think it’s a great start. And really appreciate your being a guest and sharing this information. And I think it’s great that your wife had a high-end cleaning company because that certainly is a huge advantage and insider the knowledge you have. Is there anything else that you’d like to share that we haven’t covered today?

Steve: Well I’d like to learn from all the people who might be watching the video, how they’re going to do things? So we can find out how to make some money this year.

Sara: Great. Well, hopefully, we’ll all get through this together, and survive it. And thank you so much for your time and being part of this.

Steve: Thank you for the opportunity to at least raise these issues.

Sara: Thank you.

Steve: Take care Sara.

About Sara Mannix

Sara Mannix is the CEO of Mannix Marketing, Inc., a Digital Marketing Agency headquartered in Glens Falls, NY. She founded Mannix Marketing in 1996 with a goal to get clients "found" on the web through organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The company now serves over 1500 clients worldwide and employs a team of nearly 30 specialists, still operating under the tagline "We Get You Found On The Web." This multifaceted company is an industry leader, specializing in organic SEO, Conversion Rate Optimization, SEO-friendly Website Design, Online Advertising, Social Media and more. Mannix Marketing also has one of the largest portfolios of tourism and city guides in Upstate New York. These guides, which include Albany.com, Saratoga.com, LakeGeorge.com, GlensFallsRegion.com, CliftonPark.com and Adirondack.net, reach over 10 million visitors a year. Corresponding social media profiles for the region extend this reach to millions more on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube and more.