“I’m too old this time, almost. I didn’t think I was going to make it,” says Super 8 housekeeper Lonette Keehner from Room 552 of the Super 8 on South Brooks St. in Missoula. After nine years of cleaning Super 8 rooms, however, she’s not referring to the freshly made bed in 552—which, for the record, is approximately the 33,751st bed she’s made in her career. Rather, she’s talking about the trip she’s about to take for the third time, this year with North Reserve St. Super 8 housekeeper Penny Brown, to the Super 8 Region-al Bedmaking Competition in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on Oct. 29.
As the two local finalists in the Super 8 Motel chain’s bedmaking competition, held every other year, Keehner and Brown qualified for the regional by besting their co-workers in bedmaking races held at their respective Super 8s. If they are among the top three contestants in Idaho, they’ll win $500 and an all-expense-paid trip to compete at the third International Bedmaking Championship at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., in January—for a grand prize of $25,000. First runner up wins $8,888, and second-runner up gets $4,444. Not bad for about 2 minutes’ work. Super 8 housekeepers start at $6 an hour.
In Room 552 of the Super 8 on South Brooks St. last week, Keehner and Brown practiced their speed-bedmaking. In a mock-competition, Keehner clocked a time of 1 minute 50 seconds from bare bed to tightly tucked sheets, blanket, comforter and pillows. Brown came in at 2 minutes 40—but she’s a rookie compared to Keehner, who has participated in the competition since it began in 1999, marking the motel chain’s 25th anniversary. Keehner won the regional her first year and went on to feel the heat in Minnesota. Brown, on the other hand, beat out her North Reserve St. co-workers after housekeeping at Super 8 for just one month.
“You want to go as fast as you can, but at the same time make sure it’s real tight,” says Keehner of her own bedmaking strategy. The competition is judged by time, she explains, with 5-second penalties added for the following infractions: a wrinkled sheet or blanket; a creased pillow; a top sheet folded back unevenly, or folded back farther than a hand’s width; sheet corners that aren’t tucked under the mattress uniformly; a comforter hanging unevenly. Brown’s North Reserve St. Manager Lisa Brimmer explains that the rules come from Super 8’s own bedmaking guidelines. Brimmer says that while she and other managers monitor the local competitions, the regionals and championship are judged by members of Super 8’s Quality Assurance crew, who spend the rest of the year completing quarterly inspections of Super 8’s 2,091 motels.
Both Brimmer and Brooks St. Super 8 Manager Kelly King say the competition was designed to make the housekeepers’ jobs fun, and to show how much Super 8—and the local owners of each franchise—care about their employees. “I don’t know any other motel chains that do this,” agrees Keehner, though for her the competition might be more nerve-wracking than fun. Held in a hotel banquet room, the competition pits two housekeepers at a time in head-to-head duels, racing to make beds positioned side-by-side in the front of the room. At the end of each bed is a table where, says Keehner, “you can put the bedding any which way you want; whatever you’re comfortable with…But if, like, a pillow falls off, it’s a point against you, and that’s happened before.”
Unlike the quiet setting of Room 552, Keehner says that in the banquet room “They have a DJ there with music, all kinds of crazy music. They have these loud noisemakers, and everyone’s cheering and yelling. I mean, when you’re up there going, this competition is so loud. And they put all our names in a big old pillowcase,” she says, “and that’s how they pick the order.”
As Oct. 29 nears, Keehner and Brown will both continue practicing their technique. And though they say competitors are careful not to trade secrets, these two do swap theories. “When I was in Minnesota that last time,” Keehner recalls to Brown, “those girls who were up there winning, they had their bottom sheet on, and then their other folded one they put under[neath] here, so they didn’t have to go back and forth [from the table]…And those girls did their pillows first.”
“I haven’t seen that before,” says Brown.
For both women, Super 8’s bedmaking is the first competition they’ve ever entered. Keehner says she practices a little bit at home and explains that upon arrival in Coeur d’Alene, “You get to practice. That first day we come in, we get to practice most of that day, and then in the morning.” But no matter how many trial runs they may have between now and Oct. 29, “it’s just the luck of the draw,” says Keehner. “You can practice all you want, but once you’re up there and everything, it’s a whole different story, and it’s just how you do your bed at that moment, you know. It’s how the sheet falls.” Asked what she might do with the money if she wins the championship, Keehner grins and says, “Buy myself a Harley.”