Step inside Creative Lodging Solutions and your first impression is: This place is big. Capital B big. Tall ceilings. Vast fans.
Around the corner from the reception area, you'll run into a model train set that is the size of a child's bedroom. A giant travel-themed mural featuring photos of various beautiful locations covers a wall as big as an office building. The vast employee cafeteria features a bank of stainless-steel refrigerators.
And even after all that, there's still lots of room.
Creative Lodging Solutions is just finishing up its $5 million refit of the 68,000-square-foot site of the former Beaumont Kroger, 3199 Beaumont Centre Circle. The building had been vacant for four years.
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CLS president Michael Tetterton points to a thick stack of suspended cables back where the Kroger refrigerator dairy case used to be. It's the lifeblood of the travel management business's huge call center.
The CLS business model centers around taking the chore of managing business travel off companies that spent at least $250,000 a year on lodging. CLS negotiates rates, books the rooms, makes sure clients have the amenities needed and simplifies the paperwork so clients pay a single bill.
CLS pitches to clients who want to save time and money while shaving off a layer of bureaucracy.
Clients can simply pay a bill or have access to more in-depth reports on what they're spending to house employees in locations around the country.
The soaring CLS headquarters is far different from the company's earlier offices, which included an airplane hangar on Aviator Road where Tetterton had founded Home-Towne Suites.
The three top executives — Tetterton, chief culture and development officer Carolyn Hundley and chief financial officer Marsha Couch — have a long-running partnership. Tetterton and Hundley met at StudioPlus Hotels when Tetterton was overseeing operations there. When Tetterton created Home-Towne Suites he hired Hundley to run the hotels. Later, realizing he needed sophisticated accounting help for Home-Towne Suites, Tetterton hired Couch.
Tetterton describes Couch as "big deal talent" and Hundley as "the energy in the office" at Creative Lodging.
Hundley, he said, "has a lot of the background in hotel operations and sales."
It was a billing issue with a hotel client that launched Creative Lodging Solutions in 2002, Tetterton said.
He saw that, for businesses that specialized in other things, keeping abreast of business travel discounts, reservations, taxes, etc., 24-7 was a money-losing proposition. Instead, why not hire someone who knew the business and could negotiate rates, trouble-shoot hotel issues and be on call any time?
Within 90 days, however, the fledgling company's first client had gone under. Tetterton and Hundley went out to sell CLS services themselves, directly to businesses.
"We were have-nots then," Tetterton said. "We worked our butts off, seven days a week, 15 to 18 hours a day. The three of us developed a culture in the office."
The culture was to work hard but remain comfortable and playful. Tetterton wanted to install a slide from the Beaumont executive offices upstairs to the main level, but has relented.
By 2014, CLS was up to 134 employees and announced plans to lease the vacant Kroger space on Beaumont Centre Circle. It has annual revenue of more than $120 million and has won several international business awards.
CLS now employs more than 190 people and plans to hire more; it has set aside space in the new building for growth.
In 2014, CLS's top five visited markets were Linthicum, Md., (about an hour outside Washington, D.C.); Manassas, Va.,; Louisville; Blythewood, S.C., (near Columbia); and Miramar, Fla. The company booked more than 2 million traveler nights during the year.
"This building is very open to our culture — wide open," Tetterton said.