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Challenger Lessons From a Real Ace

Challenger Lessons From a Real Ace

Is Ace Hotel the cheapest chain in the market? No. Do they have a lucrative loyalty program? Nope. Are their amenities second to none? Nuh-uh. Then why in the world do some people love them so much? Because there’s no place like them.

Now with ten locations under their moniker (and two sister properties: Sister City in Manhattan and Maison de la Luz in New Orleans), spread out across three continents, Ace Hotel artfully straddles the line between independently owned and internationally known. But just how does Ace distinguish itself from the behemoth conglomerates and trendy boutiques that make up the hotel industry? By embracing their Challenger Brand spirit and turning short-term stays into life-long memories. Here’s how they do it.

Keeping It Local

Ace Hotel takes entering a new territory seriously. They don’t just barge in based on profitability assessments. They take stock of the surrounding businesses, and even more importantly, the historical significance. Just look at their locations page, where each property is assigned a unique logotype inspired by the iconic style of their locale.

Keeping It Local

Images courtesy of Ace Hotel


The tributes don’t stop there. Once you’ve booked a stay at an Ace property, you are sent an extensive neighborhood guide outlining everything from the aforementioned historical significance of the building to the best dining, drinking and shopping options within walking distance. Take their first location, Ace Hotel Seattle, for instance. Situated in a former maritime workers' hotel in Belltown, this purposefully restored lodging offers both a glimpse into the past and a gateway to one of the city’s most bustling neighborhoods (not to mention it’s less-than-a-mile proximity to the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum and Pike Place Market). 

The same regard for heritage can be felt at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh, where the old YMCA basketball court remains intact for everything from wedding receptions to dodgeball tournaments. Or the Ace Hotel Los Angeles, where the 1,600-seat United Artist movie palace — built in the 1920s — continues to play host to some of the world’s most innovative performers of today.

Keeping It Useful

As self-proclaimed romantic pragmatists, Ace Hotel is committed to usefulness, not abundance. Rather than wasteful single-use toiletry bottles, they install refillable body wash, shampoo and conditioner dispensers in their showers: courtesy of the equally high-quality, low-key Rudy’s Barbershop. Instead of placing a Keurig on every vanity, they operate artisanal coffee shops featuring Stumptown beans in their lobbies. And when it comes to food, the restaurants anchoring their properties are reputable enough to attract guests and locals alike. If you’re the type of traveler who enjoys being stalked by an over-attentive bellhop, or would be perfectly content waking up to a complimentary K-Cup, Ace Hotel is not your kind of establishment. And they’re okay with that. 

Keeping It Useful

Keeping It Energized

Unlike a lot of hotels that believe entertainment belongs on the other side of their doors, Ace Hotel’s commitment to “building spaces for collective gathering[s]” can most readily be seen in their vibrant and location-specific event calendars. In addition to dance parties and cooking demonstrations, Ace plays host to more eclectic offerings like professional ping pong lessons in their Pittsburgh gymnasium or naked (literally) monologues from the stage of their London performance space. And even on an uneventful day at Ace Hotel New York, there’s always a buzz in the lobby, where local freelancers grind away on laptops, DJs fidget with their turntables and tourists nurse cocktails from sunup to sundown. The only thing you won’t find is someone twiddling their thumbs.

Keeping It Creative

The Ace Hotel’s support for artistic expression goes beyond the interior decor, logotypes and in-room guitars. Their appreciation for creativity can be seen in their Artists in Residence program, where professional writers, musicians and painters are provided a safe space to bring their inspirations to life. It can be heard throughout the ground floor of their sister property, Sister City, where they commissioned an AI soundscape that changes based on variables like weather conditions and lobby congestion. And it can be felt in every meticulously designed item on the Ace Hotel Shop

There’s No Place Like Ace

The first time you stay at an Ace Hotel, you know you’re experiencing something different. The second time you stay at an Ace Hotel, you know that difference is no accident. And by the third time you stay at an Ace Hotel, you become a passionate advocate. That’s what happens when an Empowered Challenger fully embraces their nature. 

Ace Hotel

The lessons from Ace’s Challenger Brand spirit aren’t limited to the hotel industry. Any company in any market can grow a rabid fan base of their own by being a little more introspective. Ask yourself the following questions.

  • > What are our brand values?

  • > What do our ideal customers value?

  • > What do our haters value?

  • > How can we make our fans love us more?

  • > How can we make our haters angrier?

By being true to themselves, devoted to their loyal customers and unwilling to cater to their detractors, Ace Hotel has created a distinctive niche in a commoditized market that will remain theirs as long as they want it (or until Hilton Inc writes a big enough check). 

By Mark Killian, Senior Copywriter, Door No. 3


Door No. 3 is an advisor to challenger brands. Based in Austin, Texas, the award-winning advertising agency represents a diverse stable of growth clients including Cirrus Logic, Maine Root, ShippingEasy, Drunken Sailor Spirits, NIC USA, NorthStar Financial, FirstCare Health Plans, Alen Air, Cintra US and Centennial Bank. Services include strategy, brand positioning, integrated campaign development and media planning/buying. Door No. 3's work has been recognized by national publications such as The New York Times, Communication Arts, AdWeek, INC., Entrepreneur and The Wall Street Journal.