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Econo Lodge is an economy motel chain based in the United States and Canada. Econo Lodge is the second largest brand in the Choice Hotels system. It is one of the best known brands in its category and aims to provide affordable rooms to budget travelers. Econo Lodge properties contain a minimum of 40 guest rooms and are often located near highways or highway access. All hotels provide a free breakfast. While most of the properties are conversions, Choice Hotels plans to add more new-construction properties to the Econo Lodge brand.
As of August 2006, there are 823 Econo Lodge hotels open in the United States and 46 under development. Internationally, there are a further 42 hotels open and 4 under development.
The idea was begun by Norfolk, Virginia developer Vernon Myers and his son, Vernon Jr. in 1969 as Econo-Travel. They were intent on creating a new business category - the discount business hotel. They worked in the same office building as Lloyd Tarbutton, a Norfolk businessman, who was also investigating the idea. Myers Jr. had drawn up a prototype for the motel, and was intent on selling the plans for $2,000. The initial motel had 48 rooms, a small lobby and a small manager’s apartment. Myers had been trying to get investors interested in this, to no avail.
Tarbutton still took on the project, finding investors and money, and doing extensive market research to see if the concept would work. The company simplified the costs of a hotel room and created many innovations now standard in the industry. For instance, most hotels at the time had beds on legs. They put the mattresses on boxes, so maids would not have to clean underneath and customers wouldn’t lose belongings. Telephone switchboards were automatic, maid closets were close to rooms and managers could shut off electricity to empty rooms. Later, Tarbutton even dared to try out an extreme innovation—an early non-smoking room. The chain’s mascot in the early days was “Sandy,” a girl in a short Scotch skirt and tam.
The initial hotel, still operating at 865 Military Highway in Norfolk, was built for $275,000, and was profitable within 21 days. It sold rooms for $7 single, $9 double and $11 for four. Today, that hotel is owned by Hampton, Virginia based Allen Management, which owns 13 Econo Lodges across Virginia. Investor Lou Allen got involved in the Econo-Travel business early on as one of the first franchisees, building a motel on Mercury Boulevard in Hampton and later acquiring the original.
Tarbutton sold the chain in 1983 for $36,000,000. He had 309 locations. He had begun to change the name on all locations to Econo Lodge in the latter 1970s. The brand went through ups and downs and a number of owners after the initial founders sold out. Between its founding and growth, tensions grew between the company and franchisees. It fell into the hands of investor Paul Wallace, whose fund bought the brand, refurbished it, mended relations with franchisees and then sold it to what is now Choice Hotels International in 1990. It is the more upscale of Choice Hotels' economy brands, as its sister brand, Rodeway Inn, typically has less amenities and features at its properties.
A new Econo Lodge logo was unveiled at the 2007 Choice Hotels International Convention which was created by Kevin Bradt, Division President, Economy Market Brands, Choice Hotels. “For nearly 40 years, the Econo Lodge logo has served as a familiar beacon for travelers as they have driven our nation’s highways,” said Bradt, “Econo Lodge was born from innovation, and by moving back to our roots through innovation – and this new look better reflects today’s nearly 900 Econo Lodge hotels and our bath, breakfast and wireless internet offerings".
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