THE MAIN LOBBY at the Heidel House overlooks Big Green Lake. The hotel, restaurants and spa have gone under the management of Marcus Hotels and Resorts, a division of The Marcus Corp. submitted photo
Ownership stays the same, but Marcus promises greater breadth of expertise
by Aaron Becker
The iconic Heidel House can hang up a sign:
Under New Management
Marcus Hotels and Resorts, a division of The Marcus Corp., has taken over the management of the Heidel House Resort and Spa in Green Lake.
The deal was announced in May. It includes not just the hotel itself, but the three Heidel House restaurants and the spa across the street.
The resort along the shore of Big Green Lake is owned by the Fiore Companies Inc., based in Madison. Fiore maintains full ownership.
Running a resort such as the Heidel House is nothing new for the Marcus Corp., which claims Ripon as its birthplace with the historic movie theater.
The Marcus Corp. portfolio now has 19 hotels and resorts nationwide and more than 600 screens around the Midwest.
Leadership from Marcus and Fiore didn’t share many details on changes or improvements, but all agreed the Heidel House’s employees will have the opportunity to continue working there.
“Basically, we have offered continued employment to all current associates … The GM [general manager], all the way down,” said Chris Anderson, the senior vice president of Marcus Hotels and Resorts.
He noted discussions were in the works for some time.
“This was more than a year [in the making],” Anderson said. “This was not a decision that was made lightly on either side, Fiore or Marcus. We wanted to get to know one another … We choose our partners pretty wisely, and Fiore does the same.”
Stacy Nemeth, chief operating officer of Fiore, noted Marcus’ “tremendous depth and experience in this market.”
In contrast, the Heidel House had been Fiore’s lone hotel.
“Our company is pretty broadly diversified, and this is our only hotel in our portfolio, and we thought that the hotel should really benefit from more expertise in the actual hospitality industry,” Nemeth said. “We’ve been talking with Marcus in somewhat generalities for over a year. When we started looking at the future of the Heidel House, we thought Marcus was really uniquely qualified to help us take the hotel to the next level, with their experience that they’ve had with other properties in Wisconsin.”
It’s not fully clear what, if anything, will change on a day-to-day basis at the Heidel House this summer.
Anderson noted there may be some new faces, along with corporate involvement.
“We manage our properties pretty hands-on,” Anderson said. “All of our hotels in Wisconsin see us a lot … For us, we’re really wanting to get in there and evaluate and see what opportunities exist for us to really make some marked improvement on service and basic guest offerings — creating more amenities for them in packages, and water sports and things like that … I think we can really bring the entire property to the next level.
“We’ve got seasoned associates that are going to be there, helping our new Marcus family members understand the culture of ‘people pleasing people.’ We’ll bring standard operating procedures, that kind of thing … All of that, really, to make sure that we have the consistent and high-touch service that our customers have come to expect from a Marcus-owned or managed property.”
Nemeth, meanwhile, expects changes to be implemented over time.
“Everyone left Fiore employment yesterday and became Marcus employees today [May 15],” she said. “On property, there won’t be a tremendous, immediate change. In the future, I think the Marcus methods of hospitality — they have kind of their own program called ‘The Marcus Way’ for customer service and the way that they do things — [will become more visible], so things will get implemented over time.
“The name stays the same; the logo stays the same; the employees are still there,” she said.
The Heidel House is known for its amenities statewide and beyond, but like others in the hospitality industry, it has struggled with staff turnover.
Anderson acknowledge this challenge and noted the Marcus Corp. will seek to smooth the bumps. He left the door open for Heidel House employees to be shifted into areas where their strongest skills lie.
“Now the associates up there will see that what they do at that hotel can be career-oriented, so that there’s more rungs on the ladder now — that they can do cross-training, they can relocate to other properties,” he said. “We’re big into having our associates cross-train — not only brands but disciplines as well, so you may be front office at the Heidel House and then you may go do sales at the Hilton Milwaukee … It’s actually transitional training that we do, and it really makes everybody in a better place mentally while they’re working.
“Perfect example is food and beverage. Getting a chef of real quality is somewhat difficult in Green Lake, versus Chicago or Milwaukee, because they tend to want to be in urban areas. But the [new] chef there is from our Hilton Madison property … So he does have a backbone of Marcus culture in him.”
Nemeth indicated the biggest benefit to the Heidel House will be in the realm of marketing and sales, but she acknowledged the experience of Marcus will be “a definite benefit” in addressing the turnover challenge.
“The hospitality industry in general has a tremendous amount of turnover,” Nemeth said. “It’s a pretty challenging work environment, which is why we cherish our good employees, because it is a 24-7 operation — never shuts down. So I wouldn’t say that the turnover was anything unusual. It certainly does make it easier when you have a larger organization like Marcus, where they have more people to pull from, and more people in their ranks … There are people being groomed for higher levels.”
Over time, the Heidel House will benefit the most from the Marcus touch in marketing and sales, Nemeth said.
“The No. 1 thing that Marcus brings to the table is a much broader marketing and sales reach, because of the breadth of their experience in the market and their sheer number of properties in the state of Wisconsin,” Nemeth said. “They have a much broader reach to the customer than we individually have … Over time, I think they will bring a much greater sense of marketing and advertising to the property.”
Bigger changes could come as time goes by, Anderson noted.
“There’s no immediate renovation, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not plans in the future to change some things, which will be very exciting for the new guests, but I think probably right off the bat, they’ll just see some marketing and promotion things that will look similar to some of our other properties,” Anderson said. “Probably a lot of promotions and packaging that we do at Grand Geneva Resort will be similar up here. I think it will attract a new base of customer, and I think the customers that go there now will have some confidence and security that service is just like it is at many of the other Marcus hotels.”
There are no current plans for staff reductions or staff changes at the Heidel House, Nemeth emphasized.
“Obviously, when huge transitions [take place], there may be people who decide that this is not the place for them, but right now the plan is that we have a great staff and we hope that everyone sees us through the transition and that they’ll enjoy their new opportunities,” Nemeth said.
Marcus has seven other hotels and multiple movie theaters in Wisconsin, including its first and oldest theater in Ripon.
It was founded by the late Ben Marcus in 1935.
Anderson noted it’s neat to see the company return for a greater level of influence in the Ripon-Green Lake area.
“The whole birth of this company started right there at that theater [in downtown Ripon], so it’s pretty cool, 79 years later, that we’re back doing business in that area,” Anderson said.