How 1 Hospitality Technology Dealer Rode the Wave of 2020 and Came Out the Other Side

Hoteliers look forward to illuminating the “no” on their vacancy sign in 2021.

But technology isn’t cheap, especially when you need to buy enough to equip your 100+ room property. And when February’s uncertainty around the “novel coronavirus” gave way to clear signs of industry distress in March, KniTec knew they had to adapt.

“What a ride,” Jeff Rubin, COO of the San Clemente-based company KniTec, said when asked to describe what it’s like to be in the Hospitality Industry in 2020. With one of the most difficult years in industry history coming to a close, hoteliers and related businesses are taking a moment to reflect on the year behind to better prepare for the year ahead. KniTec is no exception. Big brands like Marriott, Hilton, and IHG rely on KniTec to provide unbiased consultation on hotel technology solutions, ranging from Samsung and LG Hospitality Televisions, to GE and Danby Appliances, alarm clocks, and more.

But technology isn’t cheap, especially when you need to buy enough to equip your 100+ room property. And when February’s uncertainty around the “novel coronavirus” gave way to clear signs of industry distress in March, KniTec knew they had to adapt.

“Spring is when the industry trade shows start. Our Marketing Director had our booth, materials, and displays boxed up and ready to ship out. Our Sales Reps had their flights and accommodations booked. We were ready. And then, one by one, we watched the trade show cancellations come in. You’d get the email “we’re still a-go!” and then a few weeks later “we’ve rescheduled!” and then a few weeks later “we regret to inform you that we’ve decided to cancel this year’s show.” That was really our first sign that COVID-19 was going to have an impact,” Jeff remembers.

KniTec, like all businesses, started to engage in some difficult conversations. “We started to map out best and worst case scenarios. What would happen if 25% of our hotel projects got delayed or cancelled? 50%? 75%?”

But in addition to making plans to reduce spending, the KniTec executive team also started to think of ways to innovate to meet changes in the industry. 

“We had to think beyond our initial panic and try to predict what our hotel customers might need next week, next month, next year. It wasn’t about being responsive to customer needs; we were really trying to predict them.” Jeff reflects. “Then, once we thought we had a product that was a fit, we had to ensure our supply chain was tight enough to deliver. We queued up our marketing and sales teams to learn about the products and execute. And then, we jumped.”

And they pivoted quickly. Within weeks, KniTec had introduced half-a-dozen new products to the hospitality industry: hand-sanitizing kiosks with digital signage, touchless body temperature readers, UV room disinfection tools, electrostatic sprayers, and more. 

But more than the additional business that those products brought in, the new products helped to keep morale up. “Interest was huge! We launched our most successful marketing campaign ever during the summer; the phones were ringing off the hook. We were quoting non-stop. I’m not sure that that category of products would sustain us forever, but they certainly kept us busy,” Jeff says.

“We were slammed, which was really a silver-lining among the chaos of the industry. You truly got the sense that everyone’s ideas were valid. And when we locked on to a good one, we didn’t hesitate to execute — no red tape.” KniTec’s Marketing Director Kayla Gephart comments. “We’ve always considered ourselves a speedboat compared to the manufacturers’ battleships; this year really solidified that perspective.”

Excitingly, hotel projects have resumed and KniTec will close out the year healthy and primed for growth in 2021. The relative success, however, wasn’t without challenges.

“To be clear, this year was difficult,” Jeff says. “We had to make a lot of critical decisions with limited information very quickly. We made mistakes. And, of course, luck definitely played a huge role. But most importantly, I am so grateful to our team members who were willing to adapt and who stuck with us through the turbulence. We’re not out of the woods yet, but I am so proud of all that we have overcome so far.”

KniTec will be celebrating their 19th anniversary on January 2, 2021.

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