By Nancy Marshall, The PR Maven® 

This Hospitality Pro Has ‘A Lot of Bosses’ (AKA, His Customers) — Here’s Why That’s Important

  • Stay on top of best practices for engaging with potential customers of all ages to cultivate a multigenerational community.
  • “The real secret to management is people management,” says Karl Strand, general manager of Sugarloaf. Learn what you can about psychology to help keep your team as motivated as possible.
  • Seek feedback from customers whenever possible, even if the effect is that you have “a lot of bosses.” Good word of mouth is the most important kind of marketing.

While many kids and teens find themselves instinctively pulling away from their parents as they try to figure out who they are and what they want to do with their lives, it can work the other way too. For some, it’s those formative family experiences from childhood that deeply impact a career path. This was Karl Strand’s story.

Karl — who is now the general manager of beloved Maine resort and ski mountain Sugarloaf —  shares the way his parents influenced his interest in the hospitality industry on Episode 104 of The PR Maven Podcast. “When I was young, we used to go to restaurants all the time. My parents would love to seek out restaurants where we lived and they loved to travel, so I enjoyed that.”

Karl’s early exposure to travel and dining led him to study business and hospitality at Bryant University and to a management trainee program with the Westin Hotel in Maui. He traveled around Europe for a year and then attended the Culinary Institute of America, after which he went to work for famed chef Daniel Boulud in New York City.

Following his time in New York, Karl went to work at a gourmet food store in Connecticut while starting his family — and moving further north got him closer to the career he’d really be passionate about.

This Hospitality Pro Has ‘A Lot of Bosses’ (AKA, His Customers) — Here’s Why That’s ImportantWorking on passion: Serve a community and brand that means something to you

Karl was familiar with Sugarloaf thanks to an annual trip he took there with his high school buddies. “I’ve always been infatuated with [it],” he says.

Sugarloaf became a family affair as Karl’s kids got older. The Strands enjoyed vacations there and both of Karl’s sons learned to ski on the mountain.

“I just had a connection to it,” he says.

When an opportunity came up for Karl to take a job at Sunday River — Sugarloaf’s sister resort — in 2004, it seemed like the perfect way to marry his hospitality experience and his love for Sugarloaf. Over the decade and a half since then, Karl has played key roles at both Sugarloaf and Sunday River, which has taught him a lot about how to steward a brand and experience that means so much to so many.

1. Engage with the biggest cheerleaders for your brand — even if their feedback is tough

Karl’s family isn’t the only one with a connection to the Sugarloaf resort. The property has played host to thousands of guests over the years, many of whom have strong opinions about how things should be run.

“I have a lot of bosses,” Karl says. “But I think it’s awesome. The passion there is great.”

While it can be a challenge to juggle so much feedback, Karl looks at it as an opportunity to improve operations at Sugarloaf. After all, the people who critique are often the people who care.

“I listen to everybody that comes along,” Karl says. “Some ideas are great ideas and some are marginal. I try to listen to everybody because there is a passion there and you want to embrace everybody’s ideas.”

2. Practice interacting with customers and community members across generations

Because of the multigenerational nature of Sugarloaf’s customer base, Karl and his team have learned to meet their guests where they are from a marketing perspective. They use a variety of outreach methods to ensure that older generations still feel at home at the resort, while newer travelers see it as exciting and cutting edge.

“Obviously, the younger generation is using apps and social media and that keeps changing all the time,” Karl says. “Our marketing team is devoted to trying to not only put our message out there, but to engage with everybody that’s using these different kinds of social media.”

Other elements of Sugarloaf and Sunday River are also getting higher-tech. Skiers at both mountains can now access RFID ticketing, which allows them to purchase a lift ticket online, bypassing the need for a ticket window.

3. Manage your brand by effectively managing people

After years of working in the hospitality business, Karl says he believes “the real secret to management is people management, understanding how to motivate them.”

Over the years, he’s taken opportunities to take psychology courses to learn more about “what makes people tick, what drives them.”

He also takes pride in understanding the specific functions performed by various members of his team. “I can manage those people better, because if I don’t really know what they’re doing, I can’t manage them and I don’t get that respect,” he says.

Combine that with a deep understanding of your brand and the nuts and bolts of your industry and you’re setting yourself up for success.

4. Ask the right questions when seeking customer feedback

One of the tools Karl and his team use to ensure that they have a strong handle on what’s happening at Sugarloaf as the brand and resort evolves is an extensive survey, which is sent automatically to guests after they depart.

“We look at them every week,” Karl says of the surveys. “We track them. Basically, the one thing we look at is [the question]: would you recommend Sugarloaf to your friends? It goes back to basic marketing. Word of mouth is the strongest marketing you have.”

Continuing to ask guests that question — and actually paying attention to the way people answer it — has helped resort leadership ensure that Sugarloaf remains a place where families can make memories together, much like the memories that first connected Karl to the property.

“We have our challenges — it gets a little cold sometimes and the wind can blow,” he says. “But through it all, [guests] still love coming here, which is amazing.”

This is based on episode 104 of The PR Maven® Podcast, a podcast hosted by Nancy Marshall. Weekly interviews feature industry leaders, top executives, media personalities and online influencers to give listeners a peek into the world of public relations, marketing and personal branding. Subscribe through Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.