The Hotel Grinnell: Still an Institution of Learning

Learn how this boutique property in Iowa 'Surprises and Delights' its guests and community with the help of text messaging.

55 miles east of Des Moines is the small town of Grinnell, Iowa. Hotel Grinnell calls this hamlet of around 10,000 people “home”. A converted schoolhouse, the Hotel Grinnell opened its doors in September 2017 with one very traditional hotel feature missing: telephones in the rooms.

Where some hotels would see this as a risky move, the Hotel Grinnell saw a pragmatic truth: no one uses room telephones anymore. They embraced the opportunity to modernize the way they connect with guests and started seeking out an alternative avenue. They found Kipsu, the industry leader in text and digital messaging, located four hours to their north in Minneapolis and were drawn to the ability to leverage texting at their new hotel.

The Development Manager of the property, Amelia Nickle, explained why they chose to partner with Kipsu. “We liked that [Kipsu] was a smaller company. We’re a smaller company so it just worked out better. A lot of the other companies that do the text messaging thing don’t have the focus on the actual messaging with another human that Kipsu does. Everyone texts: From millennials to business travelers to wedding guests. It’s about meeting the guest where they already are. The partnership with Kipsu was just a good fit!”

Since their collaboration with Kipsu 17 months ago, the 45-room boutique hotel has engaged with nearly 3,000 conversations. Guest interactions account for many of the conversations, but the Hotel Grinnell trail-blazed a unique use case for Kipsu: Connecting with their community.

Grinnell, Iowa is also home to Grinnell College, a private liberal arts college attended by roughly 1,800 undergraduates. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the Hotel Grinnell wanted to give back to its community and decided to hold a Thanksgiving meal for students attending the college who couldn’t make it home for the holiday. Staff posted fliers around campus advertising the complimentary Thanksgiving dinner and encouraged students to text the hotel with their RSVP so staff knew how much food and seating to prepare. The dinner was an absolute success with over 300 hungry students having signed up for their free ticket to a gravy-topped food coma.

The Hotel Grinnell uses Kipsu in other unique ways. Because they are a smaller property with a lean team, they love the ability to be available to guests even when executing other tasks around the hotel. Nickle mentioned she even sometimes answers customer questions from home and loves the ability to gauge how busy the hotel is based on the text traffic.

“Our goal is to not just meet guest expectations,” Nickle explains, “Our mantra is ‘Surprise and Delight’. We love having access to some insider information so we can try to go out of our way to make that individual guest’s stay exceptional.”

She recalled a recent story about a guest who had a number of rooms reserved. Through a text conversation, the front desk staff uncovered a surprise birthday plot from the guest for a friend of hers. Staff were able to text back and forth with the guest while the birthday girl was in the same car to plan some special touches including extra decorations and treats in the rooms for the party. Needless to say, the birthday girl and her friends were absolutely ‘Surprised and Delighted.’

My staff feels empowered to say, ‘I can fix this.’  

- Amelia Nickle, Development Manager


Aside from guests loving the service, Nickle sees Kipsu as a great benefit for her staff; empowering them to take ownership of customer service. “Kipsu has helped us to respond quickly and effectively to issues and requests. I think that is a testament to the usefulness of Kipsu and text messaging. In person, if a staff member doesn’t know the answer to a guest question right away, the guest sometimes gets irritated which can frazzle a new staff member. But with texting, they have a few minutes to find the answer and take care of that guest without having to pass it off to a manager. My staff feels empowered to say, ‘I can fix this.’”

Even though the building has retired as an academic institution, one could argue the old schoolhouse continues to teach and be a place of learning where new friends are made and lifelong lessons are shared. One thing that has changed, however, is the fact people are reluctant to reach their graduation and departure, hoping to extend their time in the old schoolhouse. Growing up can wait until next weekend, right?

The staff at Hotel Grinnell discovered cutting edge, unique ways to use text messaging to engage their guests and community. There is no doubt Hotel Grinnell will continue ‘Surprising and Delighting’ its new “students” and returning alumni for years to come.

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