The Interview: Brigette Breitenbach talks branding in the hospitality industry

Learn more about:

Brigette Breitenbach
President, B&Co.
218 S. Second St., Milwaukee
Employees: 10 (eight full-time and two contract employees)

Brigette Breitenbach’s Milwaukee-based branding agency B&Co. serves clients primarily in the hospitality and real estate industries. Its very first client was the Iron Horse Hotel, located in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood. Breitenbach is also a part-owner of the hotel. While B&Co. has clients in Milwaukee, most of its projects are outside Wisconsin, including as far away as Greece. Clients range in size from a 17-room property to 1 million-square-foot developments. Known for 11 years as Company B, it recently underwent a rebranding of its own. Breitenbach spoke recently with BizTimes reporter Alex Zank about the company’s history, the hospitality business and how that industry is shaping up in Milwaukee.

How did B&Co. get started?

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“I previously had a marketing and PR firm, and along came a hotel developer. It turned out to be the Iron Horse Hotel and we started working on the branding of that property. We had never done a hotel before, and that project sucked me in in a variety of ways. It started to get me curious about the hotel industry, and while I was getting more into it, my business partner at the time was getting more nervous. After 12 years of having that business, we decided to amicably part ways.”

What were the reasons for the rebrand?

“I remember putting (the company) together quickly and my attorney said, ‘What are you going to call it?’ And I kind of said to him, ‘Let’s call it Company B for now and I’ll change it later.’ It took me a decade, because you never make yourself your client very easily … What I wanted to do is flip the narrative on our name. Company B tended to sound like Company Brigette, and I didn’t want that and that’s not really what it is. We have a team of professionals. And so, B&Co. was our sort of way to put ‘B’ in branding first.”

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Where do you see the hospitality industry headed?

“I really believe consumers today are looking for experiences. And that sounds a little trite, but I think it’s true. If you ask younger consumers, and also older and retired consumers, what they want to spend money on are experiences, not necessarily stuff. Hotels deliver that. I think if what you want to do is just find an inexpensive room to sleep in and explore a city, that’s fine. But you have this group of consumers today that want the hotel experience itself to be memorable. When you go to a lot of different markets, you see the same hotel brands market after market. And that’s not necessarily reflective of an experiential stay. And so, I think where the industry is going is people are recognizing you’ve got to be able to deliver something that is truly unique to consumers who are looking for that. They want to find places to spend their travel dollars that they can then talk about later.”

“I think this industry is going to continue to put pressure on hotels to deliver that experience, and it’s done through guest services, the way properties look and feel — there’s a lot of sameness in the industry right now, so I think the hotels that are outperforming are the ones that are really, truly unique.”

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What unique opportunities will the 2020 Democratic National Convention offer hotels?

“The DNC is going to shine a spotlight on the city as a whole, but our brand of hospitality is really what will shine. Midwesterners are great at hospitality. We hear it all the time from clients around the country. I believe our friendliness (and) our genuine nature is what DNC attendees and the media will be talking about.”

Can you talk more about your work on the Iron Horse hotel?

“For us, the Iron Horse was baptism by fire. We had to not only figure out hotel branding and marketing for one client, but we had to do it at a time when there was no budget. We were at one point when the hotel opened, ‘You have no advertising budget. Everything you do right now just has to be guerilla marketing, grassroots.’ I remember turning to my client at the time and I said, ‘We’re going to start a Facebook page.’ And we were challenged by the hotel management company. They said, ‘You know what, the jury is still out on that. We’re not sure we want to get into social media.’ And we said we have no money, we’re going to figure this out. So, we had to figure out digital marketing, we had to figure out branding a bar within a hotel, we had to figure out how to get Milwaukeeans to come to the hotel that weren’t staying there.”

“That hotel taught us so much. And we got into it to the point where we thought, OK, if we can do this with almost no budget and the hotel is successful – and they were, they were out-of-the box successful. For the first couple of years, we were kind of the talk of the industry. And that gave us credibility to reach out to other hotels in other markets. It also taught us what was important in hospitality branding, that we didn’t need to spend a ton of money on advertising and things like that. It really came down to, are you connecting with your guests?”

How do you grow your client base to land projects such as a new resort in Greece?

“That’s a great example of how our developing relationships with our clients tend to evolve into new projects. That particular project came to us through a management company, Shaner (Hotels). We worked on a number of projects for them: Daytona (Beach, Florida), Pennsylvania, the Bahamas, and they hired us for Greece. When I think about our clients, even those that create independent hotel experiences, a developer will likely do another hotel. And management companies will certainly manage more hotels. So, we think of our clients as not necessarily the hotel, but the company that hired us. That generally allows some opportunity for new projects from that client. So, repeat business has been really important for us.”

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