Sybaris says its romantic getaway concept remains unique and, after 30 years, the company is poised for serious growth. –Joanna Miller
When Ken Knudson and his wife redecorated their home bedroom in July 1974 with a custom-built bedroom set from Larry DeAngelis’s store, Unique Interiors in Schaumburg, Il. He says their friends couldn’t stop talking about how jealous they were.
Every one of my wife’s girlfriends said the same thing: I wish I had one of those hidden from my kids and my in-laws," Knudson recalls. It was then that he realized that the potential for a romantic getaway geared toward married couples.
At the time, Knudson had several businesses underway, including 10 karate schools, a sporting goods import business, a hot dog stand and three garment manufacturing plants. To pursue his new vision, he sold them all and, he says, put all his eggs in one basket.
The first Sybaris opened in Downers Grove, Il., in April 1975 and the company has slowly grown ever since. There are now five Sybaris locations. It is only now, Knudson says, that the brand is ready to expand beyond the Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Chicago suburbs into markets around the country.
It has been a slow, steady growth," he explains. We created something that had never been done before. It was a single purpose piece of real estate. That, coupled with the fact that it was a brand-new concept, made it difficult to finance, and that stagnated the growth for a while.
We did it with total commitment and found different ways to raise money," he adds. No matter what, we kept growing. When you grow in that manner, you learn the product thoroughly."
The company has received approval for a new location in the northeast Cincinnati area and a unit in Kansas City suburbs is currently in the licensing approval process. Knudson says it plans to enter the Detroit, St Louis, Minneapolis, Cleveland and Philadelphia markets within the next 6 years.
"When we created the concept, our goal was to have 50 locations throughout the United States, and that hasn’t changed-we just didn’t know it would take us 30 years to get ready to do it," he says. Luckily, we have a concept that is unique, it makes it unreasonable for others to compete with us."
As the company prepares to enter new markets, Knudson says he has not found another brand that compares to Sybaris in any location. "No one has really come up with something quite like ours," he says. "People have said that there are similar things in California or Colorado, but they are totally different. We have a business plan to cater to married couples in major metropolitan areas for primarily one evening or one afternoon getaways celebrating anniversaries and birthdays."
Sybaris rooms offer a wide range of amenities, which can include in-room hot tubs, fireplaces, steam rooms and swimming pools. Knudson says he is always looking for ways to improve the experience.
"We just negotiated a deal with Sharper Image to have Sharper Image massage chairs in every room," he explains. That creates a much higher enjoyment that is on par with a full-service resort. Another concept is in the entertainment field. We are negotiating a deal with XM satellite radio. We’re testing it in our Downers Grove location, and it has been received exceptionally well."
The company’s attention to detail, Knudson says, keeps customers coming back. He estimates that 50 percent of business is repeat clients, many of whom come as often as once a month. The concept, he says, is to allow guests to leave all their troubles and responsibilities of real life behind when they enter their rooms.
Our romantic getaways revolve around all the triggers of romance," he emphasizes. The universal romance triggers would be a tropical Island with warm blue water, magnificent sunsets and a roaring fire. So we have a swimming pool in their bed-room, a fire place, palm trees, Hawaiian sunsets on the walls and walk-in steam rooms. There is a phenomenon that if you owned it and had it in your home, it becomes a burden.
When you visit the Sybaris, there is no sense of responsibility," he continues. You don’t have to worry about anything. There are no phones or other connections to the outside world. It’s just you and your significant other it’s about understanding how important that other person is to you and a chance to say, ‘I love you.'"
To ensure the experience is perfect, Knudson says, the company trains employees to meet tough standards. Training is done through the company’s intranet with online manuals and followed up with daily inspection and more training.
We have a policy that each room has to pass a filter before a customer walks through the door-it has to be absolutely perfect," Knudson explains. The water has to be flawless. We’ve learned more about water and taking care of water than resort or public swimming pool. When we deliver a room we deliver a perfect romantic experience, every time."