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Property developer Staple shifts to worker-owned model for hotels, to open across Japan

A property management brand describing itself as a 'soft developer,' focused on 20-minute neighborhoods in livable cities, is taking a major step to empower a key soft asset — its employees. Based in Setoda, Hiroshima, Staple Co., Ltd. recently announced the launch of Staple People's CO-OP, a hotel company owned, planned, managed and operated by its staff.

All employees who have worked for Staple People's CO-OP for several years will be invited to become shareholders and participate in the company's management and profits. Another aim is to create a fluid organizational structure without stark divisions between departments, encouraging staff members to move between development, planning and operations. As Kanako Watanabe, General Manager of Staple's Hotel K5, explains: "I believe that the hotels that will be needed in the future are those pursuing value rather than profit, with teams that can create movements rather than smash hits."

With plans to run hotels across Japan, Staple People's CO-OP is kicking off in Okayama City, where it has taken over management of A-and-A, an existing boutique property.

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Working in hospitality for years before joining Staple, Kanako Watanabe recalls struggling with the separation of ownership, management and operations. As a front-line worker, her focus was on the here-and-now of the guests she served. Meanwhile, she realized that being involved with a hotel's long-term vision would make staff members feel far more committed to their jobs.

The need for change is urgent. The hospitality sector is known for its extraordinarily high employee turnover rate; in Japan's hotel industry, it's 26.9%, more than double the average for other industries. Front-line hospitality work is seen as long hours for low wages in Japan as it is elsewhere, without the prospects of building a fulfilling career. No wonder younger generations are looking elsewhere.

And this isn't just about retaining staff: consumers want brands to take a stand on social injustice and economic inequality. Wary of purpose-washing, they'll seek out companies that put people first. By visibly presenting itself as an employee-owned and managed hotel brand, Staple People's CO-OP could attract both workers and guests eager to make a change. One to be inspired by?

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Spotted by: Liesbeth den Toom