By Harlan Butler, Innisfree Hotels Past President

Back in Topeka, in the late 1980s, the only place that was using modern hotel revenue management techniques in the United States was a place called Family Inns of America.

Before founding Innisfree Hotels in 1984, Julian MacQueen had been Vice President of that company, and there he had learned to increase rates by demand.

He taught that to me, and I brought it back to Topeka. There was a NASCAR racetrack opening that September, and our hotel was the closest hotel to the track.

So I raised rates.

As the NASCAR opening got closer and closer, I got rates higher and higher and higher.

By the opening, I had the highest rates in the whole company … and the highest in Topeka. I continued through the four-day weekend of the race.

On Monday, I was called by the Convention and Business Bureau to come to their meeting downtown at the Chamber of Commerce, where they proceeded to tell me they understood I had been gouging people for rates over the weekend, and that was bad … and what did I have to say for myself?!

(This was a huge conference table with 12 people sitting around it.)

I calmly told them:

“Ladies and gentlemen – if you go to Wisconsin in the summertime, you can buy tomatoes for 19 cents a pound. If you go back in the winter to the very same place you are going to pay two dollars and 99 cents a pound.”

“All I’m doing” I said, “is selling tomatoes.”

And guess what? They understood.

It was a revelation to them, and they didn’t ever give me any more trouble.

In the hotel business, when the weather is right or a show is in town, the rates go up.

We’re selling tomatoes just like you, folks.

– As told to Ashley Kahn Salley

Lead Storyteller, Innisfree Hotels



In order to have a great future, we must celebrate and learn from our incredible past. The Innisfree Hotels story began in Topeka, Kansas. So when the folks who were around back then start a story with ‘Back in Topeka,’ we know it’s time to listen. These are tales of the challenges, of the laughter and tears that come with building a company like ours. That’s the sentiment behind this blog series, a chronicle of days gone by at Innisfree Hotels – and a map to get us where we’re going.