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Travaglini Enterprises Follows Its Founder’s Lead

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NILES, Ohio — Sixteen years ago, Mark McHale and his boss, the late Raymond Travaglini, were touring a site along state Route 46 across from the Eastwood Mall. That’s where Travaglini Enterprises was constructing a new Holiday Inn Express.

As the two approached what McHale remembers as a “wall of dirt” at the rear of the property, Travaglini asked what should be done with this aspect of the development. “I thought maybe we’d put a little waterfall back here, something small like that,” McHale answered.

Three days later, Travaglini had a backhoe and crew of 10 digging out the entire side of the large hill, creating the foundations of what would become an elaborate outdoor stone patio – complete with a small waterfall, pond, and beautiful landscaping punctuated with classical statues. “He had a real vision as to what people wanted,” McHale says of Travaglini. “He was very innovative in everything he did.”

Nearly eight years after Travaglini’s death, the attention he devoted to detail and his interests remain evident throughout the hotel that stands there today – now ranked the No. 1 Holiday Inn Express among the 2,100 hotels in the brand across North America. Travaglini Enterprises also owns two other Holiday Inn Expresses in West Middlesex and Meadville, Pa.

McHale, today executive vice president of Travaglini Enterprises, says the Holiday Inn Express Youngstown-Warren has been ranked the No. 1 hotel in the brand the past 10 years. “When this hotel wasn’t ranked No. 1, the West Middlesex hotel was,” he reports.

That hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Sharon-Hermitage, is ranked No. 2 in the brand for the 2015-2016 year and Meadville is ranked 12th. “It’s pretty remarkable considering our market, that these hotels are performing the way they have against all of the competition in places like New York and Chicago.”

Travaglini Enterprises, based in Meadville, Pa., today operates the three hotels, as well as other interests such as service stations and car washes throughout the region.

The nucleus of the business began in a pizza shop in Greenville, Pa., McHale says, and then Travaglini purchased a Kroger’s supermarket in Conneaut Lake. From there, he worked for a water softening company and then began investing in the Perkins restaurant franchise.

“At one time, he had 30 Perkins restaurants,” McHale relates, plus diverse commercial developments such as condominiums, apartments and nightclubs.

“We moved away from the Perkins about seven years ago, when they were sold, and became focused as a hotel company.”

In 2008, Travaglini emerged as the successful bidder for the assets of the MetroPlex in Liberty Township for $2.7 million, but shortly afterward he died unexpectedly and the sale never closed. “We had a plan. He would’ve turned it around,” McHale says.

Raymond Travaglini’s two daughters, Kimberly Kern and Kristine Pesho, and his daughter-in-law, Carla Travaglini, operate the privately owned company.

Three years after Raymond’s death, his son, Alan, who had taken over the company, also died. “They’ve had to deal with a lot over the last seven years,” McHale says.

The company today intends to build on the assets that it has and is monitoring the region’s hotel market. “There’s been a lot of building going on here, which is somewhat of concern to me,” McHale notes. “There’s been some aggressive growth.”

He points to the new Courtyard by Marriot hotel in Canfield, a Residence Inn that recently opened its doors at the Eastwood Mall and a new Comfort Suites in Liberty Township.

Some of this building results from efforts to replace aging hotels and inns that have closed such as the MetroPlex and Ramada Inn in Liberty, McHale says.

Other developments were fueled by speculation related to oil and gas exploration in Ohio’s Utica shale, a market that has since collapsed. Plus, with interest rates still low and credit loosened since the Great Recession, new projects are more apt to be financed at a lower cost in growing markets.

Moreover, the trend today is to develop smaller, leaner operations that still allow guests to enjoy a first-class experience, McHale says. “All of Holiday Inn’s growth is in its Express segment,” he says.

“It’s a smaller footprint, and I could run these with between 26 and 28 people. When I did full-service, I dealt with staffs of 300. The trend is toward a more boutique hotel.”

Holiday Inn Express Youngstown-Warren has 81 rooms and employs 27. In recent years, the company has spent $1.8 million on renovations to meet the brand’s standards. “When you buy a major franchise, you buy a license agreement for 10 years,” he says. At the end of the term, it’s common for the franchise to agree to new standards such as remodeling and upgrades to meet the brand’s image. These improvements consisted of new carpet, wall vinyl, new furniture, televisions, an internet upgrade, new lighting and signage, and new façades.

“We basically took everything to the drywall and started over. You have to adapt with the times and change to be competitive. This hotel has always performed well, and it’s a business decision if you feel that you’re in a good market,” McHale says.

He credits the staff’s ability to make personal connections with the guests and contribute ideas that help the business run efficiently. “We allow them to come up with ideas,” he says.

The ideas have ranged from new hors d’oeuvres to complimentary reading eyeglasses. “We distinguish ourselves in how we keep our people. It’s difficult to find committed and qualified people in our industry,” McHale says,

Jennifer Reddinger, general manager of the Youngstown-Warren hotel, says the key to maintaining a strong staff is treating your employees with respect and listening to their suggestions. “It all comes from there,” she says. “Here, everybody is on the same page.”

So far, the strategy has worked. The annual turnover rate at the Youngstown-Warren hotel is about 30%, McHale reports. Average turnover in the industry is 300%. “Our employees are some of the best paid in the industry,” he points out.

The front desk associate, Olivia Grove, has been with the hotel since the day it opened 15 years ago. “I love it,” she says. “I’ve met so many people and guests.”

Grove says travelers from all over the world – Australia, China, Japan, Mexico – have stayed at the hotel. In addition, there is a steady stream of regulars who remain loyal. “We’ve watched their kids grow up and go to college,” she adds.

Still, McHale doesn’t pull his punches when it comes to the challenges the industry faces or about being No. 1 in the brand. Being the very first isn’t a license to relax, he states, especially as the market in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys becomes increasingly competitive.

“We’re doing OK,” he says. “We’re not setting the world on fire, but we’re exceeding our fair market share in occupancy and average daily rate, and in this current environment, that’s a good thing. You have to be consistently at the top of your game.”

Pictured: Mark McHale stands in front of a portrait of Raymond Travaglini, the founder of Travaglini Enterprises.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.