February 2009 – It may not have been Gail Myer’s proudest moment, wearing a chicken costume on the busy 76 Strip, heart of Branson, Missouri’s entertainment district. The October 2007 performance was certainly not the hotel VP’s most dignified public appearance.
Ironically, Myer’s humbling street performance did, indeed, reflect a kind of pride – pride in the Myer Hotels team for their exceptional work in offering world class hospitality in the family’s five hotels in the city (www.myerhotels.com).
Myer set the stunt in motion when he challenged managers of Myer hotels to earn the highest service honors from their respective chains. If they did so, he promised, he would stand alongside the city’s busiest street dressed in the most outlandish chicken suit he could find.
All five hotels took the challenge and earned Best Western and Comfort Inns recognition that put Myer franchises at the top of their class. The Myer family has been in the hotel business for 40 years, beginning with Carroll and Janice, and continuing with their sons Gail and Chris. Award-winning hospitality has become a family tradition.
“Although the awards are wonderful,” said Gail, “the thing I am most pleased with is the fact our team members grasp the heart of what makes such honors achievable. They understand that this business is all about service, that true leaders can only lead by serving others.”
Carroll and Janice left their Iowa farm in 1967 to buy the Elms Motel in O’Neill, Nebraska. They had 21 rooms and rented them for $6 a night. After a short time, they sold the Elms and returned to farming, but the hotel bug had bitten them hard, so they soon went back to the hospitality business. Since 1969, it’s been their work, their passion, their way of life. After stays in Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and Arkansas, they settled in Branson in 1983.
For the Myers, the concept of true service is deeply rooted in their Christian faith. The corporate mission statement says unashamedly, “Christian values and ethics guide all of the decisions and efforts at Myer Hotels.”
“That was a given from day one,” said Janice, “as our lives are lived on Christian values and principles.” Gail, vice president of operations, and Chris, vice president of sales and marketing, carry on the same strong values established by their parents. So when the Myers talk about operating by the book, it’s the Bible to which they refer.
The Myers apply those values in every part of life – with hotel guests, with their personnel – whom they call their team, with peers in the industry and with their involvement in community affairs. They do it because they see their business as an opportunity God has given them.
“Modeling Christian principles in our business has been a true joy,” said Gail. “As a company, we are anxious to discuss our real purpose in business – to serve others and be good stewards of the hotels that God has entrusted us with.”
“Even if someone is not a Christian, they know when they’re getting hired here that it’s a Christian organization,” said Chris. “We don’t force it on them, but they know.”
As business leaders, the Myers see their responsibility to be role models in serving others. Gail’s chicken stunt was ostensibly for laughs, but it epitomizes management’s commitment to serve those who work for them. In addition, the Myers begin all managers’ meetings, Christmas parties and company picnics with prayer.
“Our company newsletter relates many articles back to Scriptural blessing and principles,” Gail said. The Myers are personally very involved in community causes, and they urge employees to do likewise. For example, last November, Myer team members from all five hotels contributed to a food drive for Christian Action Ministries, a group that feeds more than 4,300 families in Taney County, were Branson is located.
“We open the Bibles that the Gideons place at our hotels, and put a traveler’s prayer in each one,” said Gail.
“When guests walk through our doors, we don’t know what’s going through their minds, what’s happened to them,” said Chris. “We’ve got to understand that they may have severe problems somewhere else. If they pick up the Bible in the room and find Christ, what better thing could happen?”
Chris said the great majority of their guests appreciate the Bible’s prominent display. “Every once in awhile, we’ll get somebody who says, ‘Not everybody’s a Christian!’ or something like that. But when I hear that kind of thing, I just smile to myself and think, ‘Good, it had an impact on them.’”
Ironically, the Myers make the Bible the centerpiece of a hotel room at a time when the American Hotel and Lodging Association says use of religious materials in rooms at luxury hotels has dropped by 18% since 2001. Chris said there’s also a trend among many hotel chains to offer a lengthy list of religious materials that a guest may request. Not surprisingly, those hotels are being applauded by the secular media for their diversity.
At the heart of the Myers’ desire to honor and serve guests is their commitment to excellence – innovation, updated facilities and luxury at reasonable rates. In 2008 alone, they added luxury bedding packages, updated phone services, granite counter tops, enhanced accessibility for the handicapped and more.
But numbers may speak louder than words. Since 1993, Myer Hotels have received more than 75 national awards. Their Comfort Inn & Suites Branson Meadows was one of three finalists (among 1,360 inns) for 2008 Comfort Inn of the Year, after having been ranked #1 in the Comfort Brand ranking system for months on end. The Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce recognized the hotel as 2008 Small Business of the Year.
“Practicing true hospitality is critical,” Chris said. “We try to create a positive and professional environment, to create that culture of excellence. We want to do our best to take care of our guests.”
For the Myers, being a good corporate citizen first means just doing the right thing in customer relations. “Be honest with your customer,” Chris said. “In the corporate world today, we see a lot of people trying to get by with stuff. My theory has always been if I take care of the customer, then the customer will take care of me.”
Secondly, he cited being involved in the community. Branson Mayor Raeanne Presley called the Myer family one of the city’s great treasures. “While their 25 years in the Branson hospitality industry are recognized and celebrated, they have always gone above and beyond by focusing on the true health of our Branson community,” she said.
She pointed out that both Chris and Gail have long been active on various community boards and committees, e.g. the Branson school board and the Ozark Technical College advisory board. In a recent ballot initiative that sought to expand the reach of Missouri casinos, Chris played an integral role in a campaign to keep casinos out of Branson.
“I worked really hard from the local perspective,” Chris said. “We want to play the role of maintaining what Branson is – God and family and apple pie. We want to keep it a family-friendly destination.”
Steve Scherer, general manager at Branson’s Grand Victorian Hotel, said the Myers are an exception to the rule in the hotel business these days in that most hotels are owned by large corporations. But he said he likes the Myers’ operational style.
“They have a lot of integrity, they’re very family-oriented and community oriented,” Scherer said. “And they give back to the community – Boys and Girls Clubs, K-Life [a youth mentoring and discipleship ministry], Chamber of Commerce. They’re a strong Christian family. They’re good to their employees. Branson is lucky to have people of that caliber.”
While the Myers see it as critical that they apply their faith every day among employees and hotel guests and in the community, their faith never takes a vacation. When it comes to practicing his faith in the larger world, Chris sees himself as a seed planter, taking advantage of opportunities to talk about his faith to people he meets along the way.
“I travel a lot and have opportunities to sit next to people on planes,” he said. “I look at that as a mission field. Sometimes, I’m sitting next to someone for two or three hours on a plane.”
He’s in the hotel business and he travels a lot himself, but Chris Myer’s heart is clearly in Branson and he is committed to helping Branson hold onto its clean image. “There have been people who wanted to come to Branson and change it – entertainers or businesses such as gambling,” he said. “Those are the kind of things you really have to watch. The challenge is keeping Branson a family-friendly place.”
For the Myer family, there’s no better way to do that than to run their business by the open Book.
Myer Hotels, Branson, Missouri
www.myerhotels.com • 800-FUN-STAY
• Best Western Center Pointe Inn
• Best Western Music Capital Inn
• Comfort Inn & Suites Branson Meadows
• Comfort Inn at Thousand Hills
• Comfort Inn West