Money & Career

How the hotel visionary rebranded the family business

Accent Inns caters to niche markets and promotes a culture of fun. President and CEO Mandy Farmer shares why the hotel chain was named one of the best companies to work for in B.C.

Keri Coles Photography

Keri Coles Photography

Mandy Farmer

Age 40, Victoria

President & CEO: Accent Inns

2012 revenue: $10-$15 million

Employees: 160 full-time, 25 part-time

W100 ranking: #51

(Get the complete W100 rankings of Canada’s Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs.)

When you visit an Accent Inn, you’ll see Mandy Farmer’s humorous touches everywhere — from the rubber duckies in the bathroom to the notepads beside the bed with headings like “Note to Self, Don’t Forget to Steal the Pen.”

This lighthearted visionary wasn’t supposed to be in charge. Her father started the B.C. hotel chain in 1986 and told her that none of his children were going to inherit the business. “My dad said this way we wouldn’t have any entitlement issues or pressures. It was a great gift because it allowed us to pursue our own passions and follow our own paths. Mine just happened to be hotels too!”

She took over as president and CEO in 2008. During the recession the business took a hit, and a focus group revealed the inn had the reputation of being a bottom-of-the-barrel motel chain. “At the time we were all crushed to hear this, yet we picked ourselves up off the floor and embarked on a major rebranding initiative.” The logo colours changed from red, white and blue to a friendlier yellow, orange and blue, and they rounded the font to make it softer. The tag line also changed from “Quality Where It Counts” to a call to action: “Stay Local, Stay Real.”

People skills: “We have ridiculously low levels of turnover in an industry noted for high turnover, thanks to our culture of fun. Housekeepers are encouraged to clean to music, and every location celebrates working together with bowling parties, dances and cooking contests.”

Forward thinking: The company caters to niche markets like cyclists. “We’ve installed bike-wash and mechanic stations at our hotels, complete with maps of the best biking routes — we even let people put their bikes in their rooms!”

Shining moment: “Being named one of the Best Companies to Work for in B.C. The majority of my employees are cleaning toilets every day!”