Hospitality Georgetown Microtel’s law of the land

GEORGETOWN — Hospitality is the law of the land at the Microtel in Georgetown.

Ben Gray, a Sussex County boy who passed on a career in law to pursue his passion of hospitality, won’t have it any other way.

“It’s one word: people. We have an incredible team here; the best in the country,” said Mr. Gray.

Trophies and awards back that up.

Recently, the Microtel on U.S. 113 garnered the spotlight, landing not one, not two but three distinguished awards at the Wyndham Hotel Group Global Conference in Las Vegas.

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Ben Gray

First, it was named the Microtel of the Year.

“That is out of all of the Microtels both in America and internationally – over 350 properties,” said Mr. Gray. “By becoming the Microtel Hotel of the Year we were then entered in to become the Wyndham Hotel of the Year, as the Microtel representative.

In Microtel’s 30-year history, a Microtel had never won Wyndham Hotel of the Year. It had never happened. We were given that award later on that evening – the Wyndham Hotel of the Year, out of 4,500 properties worldwide.”

It got even better.

During the awards program, front desk employee Alex Willette, a rookie in the hotel/hospitality business, was presented the Front Office Employee of the Year Award.

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Front Office Employee of the Year Alex Willette.

“That is out of over 600,000 employees in the Wyndham Hotel groups,” said Mr. Gray, who nominated Mr. Willette after hearing the story of how Mr. Willette went out of his way to assist to Microtel guests with a flat tire.

At the time of his good Samaritan act, Mr. Willette had been employed at the Microtel for several months.

“No front desk experience. Alex never worked in a hotel before. He had won the employee of quarter for the Wyndham branch. That won him a trip to Vegas,” said Mr. Gray. “And the reason why is he helped two female guests after his shift which ended at 11 p.m. He went out and helped them change their tire. They were on the side of the road. They called the hotel for assistance. He said, ‘I won’t call anybody. I will help you.’

“He went out after his shift to help change the tire. He broke his finger in the process, and still continued to change the tire. Then he followed them back to the hotel and made sure they got ‘home’ safely. And then he went home,” said Mr. Gray. “I had no idea this happened until the guests approached me in tears the next day. I later found out he did all of that on his birthday. So I nominated him for the award. And he was the recipient.”

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Georgetown Microtel has garnered three prestigious awards this year, as well as a major individual award.

Georgetown’s Microtel has earned four awards this year. It was named the “Best of the Best” Microtel earlier in year, presented to the top 10 percent of Microtels worldwide.

Mr. Gray was born and raised in Seaford. After graduating from Seaford High School in 2005, he attended Methodist College in Fayettville, N.C.,

He and his wife Sydney have a son Carter. “He is 2 1/2 so our house is a lot of fun right now!” said Mr. Gray.

During a break in his double-duty job as general manager at the Georgetown Microtel and the Bellmoor Inn and Spa in Rehoboth Beach, here is this week’s Post Person To Know: Ben Gray.

Initially, you were on a career course in law?

“I majored in English with a minor in religion and paralegal studies. I was supposed to be a lawyer. I did go to law school, Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville.”

But things changed?

“After law school I found that this was not for me. I felt led into the hospitality industry. I really felt that the classroom discussions that I had in law school, the internships that I had, I really felt like God was leading me elsewhere. I was not meant for the legal profession. So I was tired of arguing in the courtroom. And started to get into hospitality.”

“Long story short, I applied for a part-time position at a Hampton Inn in Jacksonville. After the interview, I was offered a fulltime front desk position. I loved every minute of it. About six months in to that position I requested an interview with the vice president of the company. He flew in and interviewed me in Jacksonville for 2 ½ hours. I’ll never forget it, during which I told him I needed this as a career. I loved every day of the hospitality lodging business. And he said, ‘OK, good to know.’”

Indiana wants me?

“Two months later he calls me up and he said, ‘We just acquired a Hampton Inn in Shelbyville, Indiana – a Hilton property.’ He said, ‘You are the new general manager. Your plane leaves in three days.’ I went from front desk associate to general manager in eight months. Quite a ride. God is good.”

“I went to Indiana. That was 2011. I managed that hotel during the Super Bowl. It was only a 20-minute drive from the stadium. It was crazy. We did so well during that time-frame. We really turned that property around.”

The Hoosier State was not the place for family ties?

“They offered me the fulltime position but my wife and I did not want to start our lives in Shelbyville, Indiana. We went back to Florida, and I resumed my position in Florida. And was offered a position with the same management company in Auburn, N.Y. – in the Fingers Lakes, wine country. I opened up a brand new Hilton Garden Inn, a full service 5-Star restaurant. We had almost 100 employees. Quite a jump in about a year. After a year there, it was too much snow.”

Then came the homecoming?

“After about a year there I felt like I was being led back to Delaware. My wife and I moved back to Delaware. By chance Chad Moore, our owner, came across my resume through a mutual friend of ours. He calls me up and asks me to come in and talk to him. That day he offered me a position at the Bellmoor Inn and Spa in Rehoboth Beach, and that was just to start there to eventually manage this property.”

“I had already secured a management position with Grotto Pizza. I was managing Grottos in Milford, Rehoboth and Lewes when I came back to Delaware. I told him to let me know when Microtel is ready and we’ll go from there. So we met a couple times and then eventually he brought me in his office and showed me the plans, and said that if you want the job, it is yours. I said, ’Let’s do it!’ I have been GM since the start, since it opened in December 2014. I came on board in June of 2014.”

Again, Microtel’s secret is people?

“I had a pool of over 300 applicants to choose from. And from those 300 applicants we whittled it down to 20 people that work here at the Microtel. It’s a staff of 20, that’s it. That’s all it takes.”

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“Our focus primarily is on guest service and cleanliness. I’ve been with seven different hotels, and I have learned that service and cleanliness are the top two things that customers look for when they stay in an accommodation. They want to be greeted with a smile. They want to have a nice clean room. If they have that you are really making their stay.”

Microtel’s motto?

“Our motto is: ‘We will never aim to meet your expectations … we specialize in exceeding your expectations.’ Anyone can aim to meet your expectations. But it takes a special group of people to exceed them. When you walk into the Microtel in Georgetown, Delaware you want to feel like you are at home.

“We’ve had guests in the past that have compared our service to that of the Ritz Carlton, in New York City. They said they had better service with us than that at the Ritz Carlton the week prior. I have that in an email.”

“We’ve had state senators stay with us and write us, We’ve had cakes made for us, after guests leave. We’ve had housekeepers who have received tips over $100, just because of the service and the cleanliness.”

Describe the service commitment?

“We had a guest that complained about the pillows being too hard during their stay. We overheard them in the lobby. So I sent a member of our staff down to Walmart and bought two of the softest pillows we could possibly find. We propped them up in their room, with a couple items from our gift shop, wrote them a nice letter and said, ‘Please enjoy the softest pillows in the area for the rest of your stay.’ Those guests extended two more days. That is what we really try to cultivate – an environment of excellence and customer service.”

“Every room is checked three times before you hit the bed. It’s checked once by the housekeeper. Once by the executive housekeeper, and then again the day before you check in. We go in and we turn on all of the lights. We set the air conditioning to a proper temperature for the season. We make sure everything is fluffed up. We spray the room with air freshener; that way when you walk in it smells and looks like your bedroom.”

The goal is to put Georgetown and Sussex County on the map?

“It has been an exciting ride the past year and a half. It has been something that we are looking forward to exceeding over the course of the next few years that we are here. I think that what we have here is something special and something that is really going to put Georgetown and Sussex County on the map as the go-to place for accommodations.”

“Our goal is to not only boost our own reputation but to boost the reputation of Georgetown and Sussex County as a whole. I am on the board of directors for the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and I am also on the board as vice chairman of the Southern Delaware Tourism board as well. It is my goal as a member of both of those boards to increase the awareness of Sussex County, Delaware and in particular Georgetown. We want to make sure that we are on the map as much as we possibly can because we have a lot to offer here. And Microtel is only a glimpse of it.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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