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Spokane’s Stay Alfred taking on hotels, Airbnb – and growing

Founder Jordan Allen, right, stands with many of the staff of Stay Alfred, an Internet business aimed at offering urban condos and apartments for short-term lodging. Photographed Friday, April 29, 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Founder Jordan Allen, right, stands with many of the staff of Stay Alfred, an Internet business aimed at offering urban condos and apartments for short-term lodging. Photographed Friday, April 29, 2016. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Jordan Allen uses a hybrid definition for Stay Alfred, a 5-year-old Spokane company he founded: “We’re kind of the intersection of the hotel industry, high-end apartment industry and vacation rental industry.”

In about a dozen major cities across the United States, Stay Alfred customers can book downtown condominium-style units that cross a hotel feel with a vacation rental appeal, Allen said. By year-end, the company expects to have 415 rentals in 14 cities from Seattle to Boston, up from 11 cities and 307 units now.

Stay Alfred projects its revenue at $32 million this year, rising from $13.5 million in 2015.

“We’ve doubled our revenue every year for the last four years, and we’re on track to do that this year,” said Allen, 33, a former Army captain.

About 250,000 guests are expected to stay in its units this year, based on company projections. That compares with a head count of 110,000 guests during 2015, Allen said, and Stay Alfred has received 98 percent positive feedback on TripAdvisor.

The company, based at 123 E. Sprague Ave., holds long-term commercial leases for unit blocks in upscale apartment buildings. It decorates, stocks and stages each unit the same nationwide, and it offers customers keypad entry along with homey comforts like two bedrooms and a full kitchen, Allen said.

“The difference in our product is our stay is the same anywhere,” Allen said. “We’re adding the hotel consistency to the rental experience.”

Or another analogy he uses: a Starbucks effect for quality rentals. Within walking distances of downtown attractions and dining, rooms get hotel-style cleanings prior to guests’ arrival.

Because Stay Alfred controls its inventory, Allen said, the company differs from vacation rental choices such as VRBO, started by property owners self-managing second homes, and Airbnb, for listing and booking a range of accommodations.

“We don’t have daily cleaning and towel service, but we also don’t have clothes in the closet, food in the fridge or a bunch of kids toys,” he said.

So-called extended-stay or vacation-stay lodging like that offered by Stay Alfred is gaining market share and posing serious competition, according to a faculty member with Washington State University’s School of Hospitality Business Management.

Jenni Sandstrom, who worked in the hotel industry, tracks lodging trends for the WSU hospitality courses she teaches. She said Stay Alfred does fall somewhere between the categories of hotel and rental lodging.

“They cross over each a bit,” Sandstrom said. “As a hybrid, it’s a threat to hotels and to vacation rentals.”

And people who operate hotels in urban cores need to take the emerging vacation rental concept seriously, she added.

“There are a lot of hoteliers if you ask them if they think Airbnb and Stay Alfred are a threat, they say ‘No.’ I think that’s a mistake,” she said. “They are competition, and as a downtown hotelier, I think you need to reconsider that.”

Stay Alfred keeps adding units. Rentals now are in Seattle, Portland, Denver, Boston, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Antonio and Washington, D.C. Spokane isn’t currently on the list, but Allen said he hopes it will be later.

Its 10,000-square-foot headquarters is in a former motorcycle shop, redecorated with open, high-ceiling spaces, a mezzanine, and large break lounge. Stay Alfred’s 62 employees include 54 in Spokane. Others are rental-area managers, and it pays about 300 full-time contract workers as cleaners at sites.

A West Valley High School graduate, Allen said he’s determined to keep the company’s headquarters in Spokane. He’s president and CEO while his wife, Nancy Allen, 34, is CFO and legal counsel. They met in Seattle, and she transferred to Gonzaga to finish law school.

Nancy Allen said Stay Alfred gives families affordable choices in places like San Diego. “They can all stay together, do laundry, share meals.”

Clients make reservations on Stay Alfred’s website or online through Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway or FlipKey. Allen said families are the most typical guests, comprising about 83 percent of its customers. Others are corporate groups or people visiting family and attractions.

Guests aren’t always on vacation, Allen added. “They’re visiting kids at UW, or going to have a medical treatment in Boston. Short-term rental is kind of a term we can use. That’s one of our struggles. We’re way more than a vacation product.”

Allen said the first time he saw high-rise, upscale apartment buildings in downtown cores, it opened his eyes to a new way for people to travel. He got the idea when stationed in Afghanistan, while his brother was in Iraq. They got coordinated leave time and searched for Denver accommodations to house family and friends.

Someone suggested a vacation rental, and Allen booked a high-end condo.

“It was the same price as the nearby hotels. It blew me away,” Allen said. “My dad got to sleep in his own room because he snores. We got to hang out just like you would in your own living room.”

Allen started the business in June 2011 in Spokane with a partner, blending names to get Stay Alfred. Allen later bought out the partner. The first rentals were at downtown Spokane’s Madison Hotel Apartments, but the focus later shifted to upscale units in major cities.

Today, he said, Stay Alfred rates are priced comparatively to a four-star hotel, starting at $109 and reaching $1,000 during big events, like Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

“Generally, the price is under $300,” he said. “Our typical two-bedroom sleeps five.”

Stay Alfred also offers add-on amenities such as extra cleaning service for longer stays. Depending on the sites, parking might be available for a small fee. People can get room access information via smartphones, emails or printouts.

Allen said a next phase will add guest services to order grocery delivery, airport pickup and guided city tours.

Having a downtown Spokane office has proved optimal for employees, Allen added. Many work in marketing, sales and customer service. Others handle accounting, IT development and site arrangements.

“We had the opportunity to move anywhere, but we wanted to call Spokane home.”



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