Lark Hotels, a management group for small luxury and boutique hotels, was growing quickly due to their reputation for expertise in the segment, ownership mentality, and innovative ideas.
However, while driving a strong ROI to their 50+ destination properties, behind the scenes they were challenged by a slow and tedious accounting system that required operational workarounds, additional staff-hours, and obscured visibility into their financials.
After seeking a new solution with Hotel Investor Apps, ERP & Accounting Software, everything changed. The time savings, visibility, and automations that came out of the partnership were transformational.
Not only that – but some things that Lark Hotels did not expect started to change as well. Employees who had been overburdened with manual processes started contributing at a higher level due to the time savings from the reduction in manual processes. Lark was able to elevate job roles and see increased productivity, creativity, and empowerment in their employees. This is the story of how it happened and the results they experienced.
Setting the Stage for Change
Lark Hotels is well known for their unmatched expertise with curated boutique hotels of 125 rooms or less, and their sophistication in making boutique hotel ownership profitable.
They offer a turn-key development and management solution with a full suite of services ranging from site selection and deal evaluation into branding, interior design, technology, and management. With its roots in the Northeast, Lark Hotels operates in 12 states and continues to grow the 50+ hotel portfolio in other destination locations, such as Asheville, North Carolina, and the California coast.
Innovative Concepts & Design
One of Lark Hotels’ distinguishing features is the innovative brand concepting and design that goes into each property. Each property has a story that they work to bring to life through graphic identity and interior design.
Their fresh design has gotten recognition from publications such as Architectural Digest, Vogue, and Elle Decor. On the hospitality side, they keep winning awards and praise from Conde Nast Traveler, TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice, Hospitality Design magazine, and many more.
The innovative design and marketing enables their properties to thrive in a competitive marketplace. Scot Hopps, VP of Operations for Lark, explains:
“The voice of the individual properties and the style of the properties is what we’re able to bring out. And I think that’s why people resonate with Lark.
They like the imagery, the voice, and then the reality matching the expectation. When guests show up, they find real people who are excited. They find a crisp, clean design that has broken the mold of maybe the traditional hotel or B&B feel. But without losing the sense of place or the personality.
A Lark property in Kennebunkport, Maine is so different from one on Cape Cod. Yet there’s a common thread you would notice between them. We want you to feel like you’re in coastal Maine. And we want you to feel like you’re in Falmouth on the Cape. Not like you could be anywhere, in any of those spots.”
On the management side, they are fully ROI focused. Lark successfully drives 70% direct bookings through their own website, minimizing commissions to third party booking engines. They also work to take most of the directly operational aspects off of the properties so that the hotels can be run sustainably with small staff on site.
“The owner of our company holds us to the same standard, whether it’s a property that he owns or a property that somebody else owns. We’re always looking through the lens of what the NOI is and how do we affect it through our operations? How do we affect it through our top line? What does the picture need to be?” – Scot Hopps, VP of Operations, Lark Hotels
It was this lens that helped them look at their back office challenges head-on.
While externally delivering great results to their owners through management, property renovations and repositionings, and driving ROI; internally, Lark was working doubletime to make up for the problems and deficiencies with their back-office accounting software. Some of their challenges included:
Challenge 1: Lack of Visibility
With limited users allowed in the accounting system, the necessary details and insights were not readily accessible to all stakeholders. This slowed down management’s decision-making and was a hurdle to their ROI focus.
“As somebody who’s trying to oversee the actual operation of each of the properties, without the visibility of financial performance on a timely basis that’s clean and that I can make direct connections with, it becomes very challenging.” – Scot Hopps, VP of Operations, Lark Hotels
Challenge 2: Operational Workarounds
The deficiencies in the accounting system required the teams to do extra work to get the information they needed.
“We wound up creating lots of tools and workarounds just simply to have the information on what we’re spending. What’s our cost per occupied room for labor? How do we plan ahead? All of that.”
Challenge 3: Extra Staffing
Similarly, the manual processes, slowness, inefficiencies and workarounds meant extra labor.
“The only way to keep up and scale with our growth was by adding more people, and adding more people, and adding more people – and essentially that undermined exactly what we wanted to be doing as a management group. If that’s it, we’re just hiring all the on-property staff and putting them in one room. That’s not what we wanted to do.”
Therefore, Lark Hotels knew that it was unsustainable to continue with an accounting software that couldn’t keep up with their needs and embarked on a journey to upgrade into a system that would serve their aims – not slow them down.
The Solution – Transformation with HIA
In their search for a new back office solution, Lark Hotels came upon Hotel Investor Apps (HIA), ERP & Accounting Software. Though not familiar with an ERP platform, they were impressed with the functionality.
“As soon as HIA started explaining the platform and what an ERP could do, and showed some of the outputs, and the dashboards, and the visibility, instantly I was like, ‘This is what we need.'” – Scot Hopps, VP of Operations, Lark Hotels
Together HIA and Lark Hotels worked to onboard and switch over the 50-hotel portfolio and to put processes in place so that Lark Hotels could say goodbye to their previous accounting system challenges.
Some of these new improved processes with HIA included:
Increased Access & Visibility
One of the first things HIA did was to give Lark unlimited users, so that employees across the portfolio and corporate office could all access the financial system. This meant 100+ employees were immediately in the system, accessing real-time performance data on a property and portfolio level, according to their user roles. This was a huge contrast to the prior system, where only a handful of employees could access financials.
“It felt like the other software was almost like a black box that no one was allowed to touch and only these very highly selected individuals got to look inside it and nobody else could have a password. HIA is the exact opposite.” – Scot Hopps, VP of Operations, Lark Hotels
HIA set up Lark Hotels with full reporting and dashboards, giving them direct insights into trends and performance at both a property and a portfolio-level. This meant that Lark Hotels had automatic imports of PMS and POS data and could replace manual entry with automations. Additionally, HIA offered automatic scheduling and sends of the daily report, so that all key players could stay in the know.
Added Custom Integrations
At Lark’s request HIA built a new integration for Clock PMS, completing the integration quickly in 8 weeks – an integration that the prior accounting software provider had kept promising but never delivered on.
HIA also built a custom integration for Lightspeed POS, to automatically import F&B revenue, taxes, payments, and additional items.
Additionally, HIA set up Lark Hotels with automated Accounts Payable through the Factura.ai integration to automate invoice processing and code directly into HIA. This was another automation that enabled time-savings for the Lark accounting staff.
Another requirement of Lark’s was scalability. As a fast-growing management company, the ability to add new hotels easily to the system was a must. Lark Hotels appreciated HIA’s ERP structure that was built for unlimited users, unlimited properties, and with features such as the ability to duplicate templates for fast set up of new entities. These systems provided the foundation Lark was looking for to future-proof their business.
The Impact – Transformation and Empowerment
With HIA’s advanced ERP & Accounting software, Lark Hotels was able to both streamline and enhance their processes. The impact of these changes has reverberated throughout the organization.
Specific results from implementing the HIA software include:
Increased Speed and Efficiency
As a true-cloud based software with 99.98% uptime, HIA did not need any additional connections, there was nothing to download, and speeds for everyday items were much faster. The advanced system also made processes fast and simple, such as reclassifying expenses.
“I just found HIA to be super easy to figure out and it also allows us to clean things up easily. Being able to make changes quickly is tremendous. Something that could have been hours of work before and it’s now scaled down to five minutes and 30 seconds, it’s great.” – Scot Hopps, VP of Operations, Lark Hotels
It’s not just the automations pulling data into the reports that have made a big difference for Lark, but also the improved flexibility, accuracy, and speed of reporting.
“The reports that we now generate with a couple of clicks and in 3-5 seconds, before would have taken minutes for each one. And so, five reports every month, times 50 properties, but I need to re-run them 3-4 times because they catch something, change something, or update something. I mean that’s the difference of two minutes each and when you multiply it – that’s like every user having that much more time. That was a big improvement.”
Lark Hotels enjoys multiple integrations including Factura.ai, which enables them to automate Accounts Payable.
“The Factura integration has been great. As soon as an invoice is approved, it goes into HIA. So we’re seeing that in real-time expenses and mid month.” – Scot Hopps, VP of Operations, Lark Hotels
Also, the custom integrations that HIA built for Clock PMS and Lightspeed POS, and its overall ability to integrate closely with other software, has given them a new perspective on integrations.
“HIA’s ability to operate together with other platforms has been really important and the fact that we can pull data, even if it’s to an Excel sheet and download it, has been critical.
HIA has also forced us to assess other tools that we’re using and say, ‘Why doesn’t this really easily engage with everything else?’ So we now have that lens that we look through now.”
More Engaged Employees
With the time savings from the automations, imports, and workflows, employees are no longer caught up in tedious data entry, and can turn their minds to address business problems.
“Almost all of a sudden we’re seeing proactive questions that I think were missed before, or that nobody had the time or the desire to take on, like ‘Are we overpaying?’, ‘Why is there a large variance?’, ‘Why is there something missing?’ Whether it’s the regional managers, or the ownership, they’re going to ask these questions. But when those questions are being asked much earlier in the process, it’s really valuable.“ – Scot Hopps, VP of Operations, Lark Hotels
Restructured Job Roles
With less manual processes and more proactive employees, management has been able to promote employees to more oversight positions.
“I think the best example of how HIA has been transformative is that we have been able to restructure. Before we were using HIA, we were just adding people – we just needed to add hours.
And what’s changed? It’s that some of those people we added in that capacity, have actually elevated their roles, two of which are now Assistant Controllers in the department. Rather than everybody essentially doing all pretty much the same work, now we’re able to layer levels of oversight and specialization.
And that helps the individual who’s growing up within our organization. That allows them to teach and train back within the team. That allows them to look with a little bit of distance and higher purpose and audit the information, to look for opportunities to improve our organizational structure and training.
Now when somebody joins our accounting team, they see that they might have a progression to other roles without leaving the company. And I can see the direct connection between these two pieces, and that is HIA.”
Set Up for Continued Improvement
In addition to the scalability that HIA provides, Lark has the confidence of working with a partner dedicated to continual growth and improvement.
“I think just experiencing HIA’s commitment to continually improve and respond to requests – it’s an openness from that perspective. We didn’t see that changing, or coming up to speed fast enough, from our prior accounting software.” – Scot Hopps, VP of Operations, Lark Hotels
The Lark Hotels and HIA partnership has enabled Lark to get the increased efficiencies and visibility they needed for better ROI, and even more, has enabled them to restructure their organization by empowering employees to be more engaged and proactive.
Scot Hopps sums up the transformative impact:
“There’s a lot that I can say that HIA has improved, and it’s getting us to where we need to be. I think we are substantially better on behalf of the teams that we support, because of the visibility, the accessibility, the speed, and just the accuracy of the information.
HIA has put us in a dramatically better position as a group. And I think it’s going to lead to a lot more value in the eyes of the owners that hire us.
I feel really excited about HIA because I’ve been sold on, or attempted to be sold on, plenty of things and then it’s just like, smoke and mirrors. When a product lives up to that and more, it’s just really great.”