Commerce: A passion for the Northwoods hospitality industry
Gale “Buck” Drossart will soon mark his 26th anniversary as general manager at The Pointe Hotel and Suites in Minocqua, but he doesn’t give the impression of a man who plans to leave anytime soon. In fact, the congenial Drossart seems to be quite happy right where he is.
“The thing I enjoy most about it is it changes every day,” he says of his job. He enjoys interacting with visitors to this area and the variety that his job offers. “It’s not one of those positions where you get up every morning and do the same thing day in and day out.”
Drossart’s enthusiasm for his job and his passion for the hospitality industry haven’t gone unnoticed. In 2007, he received the Innkeeper of the Year award from the Wisconsin Innkeepers Association (along with a special commendation from then-Governor Jim Doyle). Last May, the American Hotel & Lodging Association presented him with the State Leadership Award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
His dedication to the industry extends well beyond the perimeters of The Pointe. After serving many years as a board member and holding different officer positions with the Wisconsin Hotel & Lodging Association, in 2013 he was appointed as that organization’s chairman of the board, an event he describes as “one of the highlights” of his career. He has also served for many years on the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce where he has begun his third year as president. That’s quite a share of accolades for someone who expected to take a different path in life.
“My grandmother owned the Lake Tomahawk Motel and Cottages on Tomahawk Lake, so at a young age I was exposed to the hospitality industry,” Drossart recalls, noting that he didn’t expect to end up in the hospitality business himself. Instead, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse with a degree in therapeutic recreation. He took a job as a recreation director at a 700-acre condominium RV resort in Illinois, but soon was promoted to general manager.
He held that position for four years, and then fate stepped in. Drossart and his wife brought their young daughter to Woodruff for her baptism and while they were in town, they visited The Pointe. During that visit he found out that The Pointe Hotel would be interviewing for the position of general manager. A few interviews later, he landed the job and is now as much as part of the place as the Northwoods décor and the views of Lake Minocqua. Many of the guests, one might expect, are part of the place, too. For Drossart, repeat guests have “become part of the Pointe’s family. I’ve seen kids go from babies to 26-year-olds,” he says.
Trip Advisor awarded The Pointe Hotel and Suites its Certificate of Excellence in 2013 and named it the No. 1 guest rated hotel among Minocqua lodging properties. The Pointe, however, isn’t a typical hotel. Instead, it follows a different business model.
“It’s basically an all-condo hotel,” Drossart explains. “Every one of our units is privately owned.” Studio, one- and two-bedroom units with kitchens or kitchenettes are available. There are 69 unit owners and a board of directors. When they aren’t occupying their units, owners who wish to do so have the option of participating in The Pointe’s managed hotel rental program. In exchange for making the unit available to accommodate vacationers and business travelers, lodging revenues for the unit are returned to the owner. Drossart manages both the hotel rental program and the owners’ association. “It’s not a real common management scheme for up here,” he notes, adding that this type of plan is found more in the Door County area. “We’re full ownership, where a lot of the other ones are time share.”
Vacationers have been drawn to the Northwoods for a long time, and they will continue to be. As Drossart puts it, “People are coming to get away from suits and ties,” and that need for relaxation will always be there. But a few years ago, the Great Recession took a bite out of many travelers’ discretionary income and, consequently, the hospitality industry.
Drossart, however, is optimistic. “I think the industry as a whole is on the comeback,” he says, adding that although he can’t speak for all hospitality properties, he does have the impression that the industry is seeing a slow, but consistent, recovery.
So how does a resort hotel get through tough economic times? Buck Drossart’s formula for success, it turns out, is a combination of belief in time-tested values and an embrace of rapidly changing technology.
“Don’t stop marketing yourself,” he says. It’s his first piece of advice, and he offers it with no hesitation. “You need to keep your name and your property out there in front of people. You need to fine-tune who your market is and go after that market.
“You really need to be up on what resources people use to make their decisions while traveling,” he continues. Although print media, radio and television remain important resources, iPads, Smartphones and laptops are now in the mix. Fast access to information about lodging and customer reviews are key components of the way travelers make their decisions when they’re looking for lodging. In addition to advertising, utilizing technology is important in gaining and keeping customer recognition.
“I never sit on my laurels thinking my marketing plan will be the same for a long time,” Drossart explains. “You have to keep up with that on a daily basis because it can change quickly, especially with today’s technology.”
Buck Drossart’s formula for success doesn’t end with dedicated advertising and a great marketing plan. It takes more to keep those positive customer reviews flowing and guests coming back every year. In spite of all the recognition he has gained for his work, he’s well aware that he hasn’t done it alone.
“I have a superior long-term hospitality team,” he says, noting that having a great team also makes work more fun. Hire good people, he says, empower them and then get out of their way. “My crew is built in that manner. If the customer sees a fun environment and sees that everybody cares about the property and cares about them, it builds success.” Also, as a manager, he is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get involved with his team’s work. “You have to lead by example; your team will respect you and respond more favorably if you understand their plight and help, rather than just give orders.”
The Pointe employs about 20 people during the fall through spring seasons and from mid-June through Sept. 1, 30 to 32 employees. “We have a pretty solid year-round base of employees,” Drossart says, adding that several managers at The Pointe have worked there for 10 to 16 years. “As for those employees who have been with us for a shorter time period, unselfishly the senior team members take them under their wing and develop them into excellent team members.”
Of top-notch employees, he says, “They’re the ones who make you look good. If you don’t have their buy-in, if you don’t have their ownership, it’s not going to work. They’re the ones that are on the front line; listen to them, respect what they have to say and value their input, as it can be a vital ingredient in your property’s success story. If it’s important to them, it’s most likely going to be important to your guests.”
Even with an exemplary team to help him, Buck Drossart’s job requires that he log a lot of hours. “Strength in your family and their support are huge,” he says. “I think in any business you’re in, family is really a number one consideration.”
Managing a property like The Pointe and doing so successfully in spite of economic challenges appears complicated, but Buck Drossart’s approach is pretty basic –and it appears to have worked well.
“Have fun at what you do, do it to the best of your ability,” he says. “Treat your guests the way you would want to be treated. With every opportunity, go up and above with your service. Exceed, don’t just meet, expectations.”
For more information about The Pointe Hotel and Suites, log on to thepointeresort.com.