For years, Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons have vied for the top spot in J.D. Power's annual ranking of hotel guest satisfaction. But one lesser-known, nonluxury brand, Drury Hotels, has followed quietly in their shadows, coming in third behind the luxury giants for 2018 while topping its sector for a record 13 years straight.

Drury scored 895 on a scale of 1,000 in the 2018 index released last week, just one point behind Four Seasons and seven below No. 1 Ritz-Carlton. Drury's score reflected a 15-point improvement that helped it once again beat out popular brands like Fairfield and Hampton Inn in the competitive upper midscale segment.

So what's Drury's secret? Consistency and knowing its market, according to Jennifer Corwin, research leader for the J.D. Power 2018 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study.

"Part of their unique offering is they are privately held," Corwin said. "So that creates a very consistent experience. They are not franchised, so that again leads to a very consistent experience. Also, they do a good job of attracting the guests who want what they offer, things like free breakfast and a 5 o'clock snack."

Chuck Drury, president and CEO of the family-owned company, agreed with her assessment. 

"In the hospitality industry, consistency matters," he said in a statement. "Providing guests with exceptional service and value every single day across our 150 properties is how we've always done business and will continue to operate in the future. To be recognized for these efforts 13 years in a row is a tremendous honor, and I couldn't be more proud of our team members' ongoing dedication and commitment."

Based in St. Louis, Drury was founded in 1973 by Chuck Drury's father, Charles L. Drury — also known as C.L.B. and still a presence at the company at age 93 — and Chuck's uncle Robert Drury, now deceased. The company operates three brands in 25 states: Drury Inn & Suites, Drury Plaza Hotel and Pear Tree Inn.

Its hotels are company owned and operated and provide "extras that aren't extra," such as WiFi, popcorn and soda, evening snacks with cocktails and hot breakfasts.

Alison Casler, a 17-year employee who started in housekeeping and now runs Drury's human resources office, said it's that personal touch and pride of family ownership that makes the brand popular with families and business travelers alike.

"For 45 years, we have been doing this, and we have focused consistently on three areas: clean rooms, friendly service and great value," Casler said. "It's worked for 45 years … and I suspect for the next 45 years we will continue to focus on those same three things. It's not really a secret. It's being laser-like focused."

Across the board, the 2018 J.D. Power survey showed that all brands are making their guests happier than ever with nicer rooms, advanced technologies and increasingly better service.

Overall guest satisfaction across all brands increased 8 points this year, to 825.

"Hotels in all price ranges have excelled at ensuring their customers have a top-notch experience," Corwin said. "Years of capital investment in offerings such as higher-end televisions and in-room tablets have left their mark. Now, as hotels look to push customer satisfaction levels higher, their focus should turn to service areas, particularly when it comes to direct booking."

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