In this interview, Korina Lopez, Director of Learning and Development at Lark Hotels shares how Order.co streamlined procurement processes, helped her team work more efficiently, and freed up time for employees to focus on what really matters - their guests.
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Tell us about Lark Hotels and your role there.
Lark Hotels is a boutique hotel management company. We manage properties of all different sizes, ranging from about ten keys to as large as 95. We have properties with restaurants and bars, retail spaces. We are primarily located in New England, but we're expanding greatly throughout the country. We also have locations in Carmel, California. New Braunfels, Texas, New Orleans, Louisiana, Florida, Asheville, North Carolina — just to name a few.
I am the Director of Learning and Development and in my role, I focus on training our new team members, how we're onboarding people, how we're sharing information and how we're developing people internally that choose to work with us. It's a really exciting role that I just entered this year.
You've been with the company for over eight years now. What did your role look like when you started out at Lark Hotels?
I started as front desk with Lark Hotels. At the time, we had about five properties, so I was working front desk, checking people in, checking them out, setting up breakfast, doing all that fun stuff. And at the time, it made sense for me to be working in hospitality. It was something that I really enjoyed. And I was in college at the time. As time continued, I became an assistant manager at one of our properties. I've been a rooms division manager, a general manager, lots of different roles on the property level.
And as time went on, I wanted to be a part of the company wide success rather than just focusing on operations at one property. As a result, I stepped into a role as administrative coordinator where I was able to train people and travel to properties and help open them. I was responsible for ordering for new properties as well. And then that position sort of evolved to focusing on front office management, housekeeping, how do we streamline operations as we continue to grow.
And I was really fortunate, even during the pandemic, being able to continue working in hospitality, which so many people were not able to do. And I think our boutique locations really made it so people wanted to continue traveling to us. As a result, I worked at one of our properties as a general manager, eventually shifted back to my manager front office role, and then I created this position that I'm currently in, the Director of Learning and Development, and I've been in this position since January.
That is quite the journey. Lark Hotels joined Order.co back in June of 2022. What did your purchasing process look like a year ago, before you started purchasing on Order.co?
Purchasing was definitely a pretty siloed and difficult process to manage. So at the time, as I mentioned, I had been doing ordering for a lot of our new properties. We had spreadsheets that had products we would typically order and links, prices, vendor contact details, and all of the information that you need to track. But the challenge was having spreadsheets that constantly needed to be updated. As we continued making copies for brand new properties, managing that central hub of information could get pretty challenging, especially considering vendor pricing fluctuated pretty frequently.
It was hard to truly capture what we were purchasing and products that would be out of stock, and what would be some good substitutes for that out-of-stock product. It was a very hands-on process that could have easily been just a person's role, just making sure that we have what we need. It also required giving that information to managers and making sure that it is up to date. But sometimes they would have their preferred vendors that they would purchase from depending on the property and the location.
There were a lot of logistics that would be pretty challenging when it came to managing what ordering look like. We made the best with those spreadsheets and purchasing and submitting receipts and having all of these pieces of information all over the place. But definitely a very manual process to to keep it up-to-date.
How were you introduced to Order.co and what factors helped you decide to make the switch from manual purchasing to a software like Order.co?
I initially looked into procurement software when I first stepped into the role in 2018, and at the time we were still growing. We were looking into options to make ordering a more streamlined process, particularly as we focused on opening so many properties, not even thinking through the fact that all of these properties need to reorder products.
At the time, we weren't necessarily ready in terms of structure and the size. So we waited, and as time went on, I started thinking through ways in which we could streamline our ordering process a little bit more, particularly as I was trying to focus in on the training and development aspect of our business rather than getting caught up in the ordering process.
I was able to circle back and Order.co was a company that had come on my radar early on in the process. I sat through a demo and I was like — wow, this this process seems really user-friendly. We really appreciated sort of the interface and what that process looked like for managers and the integration of so many different vendors.
We had looked through a lot of different options because we wanted to make sure we got it right if we were going to be onboarding so many properties. And then, the team felt it was a really good fit for where we were at.
What did the onboarding process look like? How was that whole experience?
It was important to us that we didn't just roll it out all at once, because as any company knows that has rolled out a different process or system, there are going to be some holdups in the process that you learn as time goes on.
What really worked well is onboarding by phases. We had a small group of properties that we were able to push through the platform onboarding, learn the process, see what worked, what maybe wouldn't be the best fit for us and refine that process so that by the time we had 20 plus properties on the platform, everyone was well-versed, comfortable and those things that would maybe be a challenge down the line, we were able to to refine and figure out what our process was early on.
At this point we have close to 20 properties on the platform and we are still onboarding more in these phases, but we found that that's been a really successful way to manage that process and make sure that anyone who's utilizing it has exactly what they need.
What are you hearing from those properties as they're going through that onboarding process?
With adoption of any type of technology, there's always that hesitation where, you know, we have our processes. And even though our processes may not have been as refined as we would have liked, there's that concern. Managers who have been on the platform so far have really been enjoying the process because they have all of their products loaded up into the platform. In the catalog, there's other products that maybe other properties purchase, that they wouldn't necessarily have thought to purchase, and that really helps as well to almost do that cost comparison process for their property. There will be some products that are just specific to the hotel, but it does give them that insight into what other properties are purchasing as well.
I think that they're also really enjoying the fact that there are far less receipts, which I know are accounting team has also greatly appreciated, as well. Purchasing so many products through different vendors and online platforms, you have so many receipts, so many invoices to track. And as a result of loading everything into the Order.co platform, having the consolidated bill where they're able to code when they make the purchase — it's already done in the moment. They don't have to think about it towards the end of the month when they have to submit their receipts and invoices. And, it streams directly to our accounting team. It's less paperwork for them to have to do on a monthly basis. It's done for them and it's submitted in such a seamless way. And then, we also have an invoice AI software that we use. And so it feeds directly into that platform. It really eliminates a lot of the legwork in the time that both managers and the accounting team have had to put in in the past. So overall, people are excited about getting some time back in their day.
With employees that are at the properties and helping out to make sure everything's running smoothly, instead of having to spend time on that purchasing process, give me some specifics of how they’re able to have a greater impact.
From my perspective, development and training is something that we look at a lot. The hours that they would spend tracking down receipts and making these purchases and the process overall — that time can now be dedicated to focusing on training our employees, making sure that they have what they need and that they're happy, making sure that people are kind of seeing that continued development. So we're really able to focus on what that employee journey looks like.
And we’re really able to focus on the guest, enhancing their experience, making sure that they have what they need. We don't want to meet expectations. We want to go beyond expectations. So we're really able to focus in on making that guest experience memorable, which is why we're in the business. It's important to us. And so the hours that can be used with administrative tasks, while it's important if there's ways for us to cut back on time, being dedicated to that and focusing it on the people, that is really our focus is the people.
Tell us what's next for Lark Hotels. What are your plans, both in terms of expansion and also for learning and development?
Yeah, lots going on. We're always growing and expanding and it's such an exciting time to be in hospitality. You know, people were were caught up for a few years, not really doing much travel. As a result, people are really excited to get to their destinations. We have several properties opening this year. I was just mentioning we have one opening this week in Maine. We have a couple properties opening in Vermont, Asheville, North Carolina. So lots of expansion into new markets, new locations. It's a pretty exciting time when it comes to how we're focusing in on developing our portfolio.
As far as learning and development, just making sure that the way that we're bringing people in, we're focusing on those first seven days of how we train them, we welcome them. It's just as important for guests to have a wonderful experience as soon as they walk through the door. And we want our employees to feel the same exact way. We want to make sure that we're working on the resources we have, people know the expectations of their roles and continuing to develop those team members who have a passion for hospitality.