In speaking with Dennis Hulsing about his business successes, one hears quite a bit about the law of supply and demand. When he evaluates the possibility of a project, his thinking immediately gravitates to: Is there a demand? What is the demand for this product or project? The need has to be there before he will even consider supplying it. The business situation must be a “win-win” for everyone. For it to be a sound business project, the dollars and cents must add up and be in line with supply and demand. A passion must be evident by those involved for something to become reality. Both demand and supply must be present to succeed.
All these factors were taken into consideration when Hulsing decided to purchase the 125 acre Kinser property just west of downtown Asheville in March 2004. He saw the land as an irreplaceable asset, so near downtown with amazing possibilities, particularly because of the incredible location. The saying “Location, Location, Location” has always been true with real estate. But what need was NOT currently being met that he could fulfill? He sat back, took a deep breath, consulted with his wife, Jill, and thought about the possibilities.
This would be a giant step, a major commitment, for the entire family. It would have to be taken with a major leap of faith by all. They have two sons, Kyle and Will, to consider as well. Although they had already moved to this area from Texas and Kansas and liked Western North Carolina, the attraction to their roots in the West was always pulling them back. Dennis and Jill had purchased the Holiday Inn near the Asheville airport in 2000. Prior to that Dennis had been the Senior Vice president with Omni Hotel & Resorts for many years, but he had branched out on his own in 1999.
A decision needed to be made. This large tract of land near downtown Asheville had become available, but where did it fit into the law of supply and demand? Jill and Dennis had vacationed at the Van Der Meer Tennis Center in Hilton Head, S.C. Perhaps there were possibilities in Western North Carolina with its cooler climate for a similar tennis center? Or perhaps something even more elaborate could be developed? What about a destination resort, a place with upscale facilities that had a strong emphasis on health, fitness and wellness, an affordable place to stay, a convention center or a destination wedding place? The idea began to germinate and grow bit by bit. The Hulsings decided to take the risk and the challenges involved. The property was purchased in 2004. Since then the future has been evolving. The resort is a work in progress.
Those of us living in this area have seen, and continue to see, incredible building and changes taking place. The Crowne Plaza Tennis & Golf Resort has become alive with activity. As planned the primary focus is tennis, fitness, health and wellness, and the demand for this is certainly there. Personal trainers and competent instructors abound. Tennis and golf programs with Junior camps, League tennis tournaments and golf activities are continually being held. In fact the 2012 Big South Conference Championship was held in April. The USTA State Senior Tennis League Tournament will take place at the end of May for the second consecutive year. Membership at the Asheville Racquet Club South has more than doubled since the Hulsings took over, and membership at Asheville Racquet Club Downtown is now almost equal to Asheville Racquet Club South. Quite an achievement in such a short period of time. It seems that people are less daunted by the tricky Resort Drive entrance through Westgate Mall to the resort and Expo Center. Once someone knows which turn to take, it is not difficult and well worth the trip.
The Asheville Racquet Club Downtown and South have joined hands and are places where family and friends can meet to enjoy the day with each other. They can work out, walk on the trails, relax around a pool, play tennis, play golf, go to the Adelaide Spa, have their hair styled, sit in a steamroom or sauna, swim in one of three indoor/outdoor pools or just get a bite to eat. There is a new cityscape Zipline recently installed on the property and soon underwater diving/scuba diving instruction will be available in the indoor salt water pool area. And the possibility of an ice hockey rink in conjunction with the Asheville Hockey League is in the works. This is seen as a natural fit for the resort—for off season—but unfortunately there have been several set backs, which is delaying the project.
Dennis says, “While he sticks to the numbers, his wife, Jill, has an eye for decorating and making tasteful improvements.” The club and resort have a polished upscale appearance now—with new furniture, new flooring, new restaurants, repainted and reroofed buildings, awnings, potted plants, and tv screens scattered throughout. In addition, the spacious Expo Center allows large groups of people to convene for whatever the reason, a wedding, a convention, a banquet, a musical event, or a meeting. Much like I’ll take Another in the Kentucky Derby this year, the Crowne Plaza Tennis and Golf Resort is running for a Triple Crown Win, but has no plans to drop out!
Let’s Back up a Bit
How did this all begin? How did all this evolve? Dennis grew up near Topeka, Kansas, in a family of modest means. He was one of six children and out of necessity started working early. His parents taught him that in America if you want something, you roll up your sleeves and work for it. Being young and adventuresome he sold snakes to his friends—by the way, the price of a snake was determined by the length and type of the snake! His first job at the age of ten was stacking hay and setting fences. Then he worked in restaurants in every capacity, as a dishwasher, line cook and waiter. He took jobs as a janitor. In Kansas at that time you could drive at the age of 14. He was determined to save enough money to buy a car and own one prior to turning 14.. Later working and selling pools, jacuzzis, and waterbeds added to his income. While at Kansas State University, the Marriott Corporation approached students, asking them to blitz the Kansas City area with potential leads to become guests of the hotel. This was presented as a contest to the students, with the person who provided the most leads winning a lot of money and he also received an internship with Marriott. Dennis won this challenge. So that was the beginning of his business venture into managing hotels.
Another powerful influence was an uncle who owned rental property. As Dennis helped him make repairs on this property, his uncle once suggested that it was a smart move to buy property, rent it out, pay the bank off in 15 years, and then buy more property. Being a numbers man, this made good sense to Dennis who took the advice and ran with it. He continued to work with the Marriott, which had offered him a job after the internship, but bit by bit Dennis himself bought property and rented it out. In this manner he was able to build a nest egg, which eventually became 44 rental properties. Good fortune smiled when someone offered to buy the whole nest egg, allowing him the means to start on his own with hotels.
Now Fast Forward to the Hotel Business
Hulsing Enterprises, LLC., currently has eight hotel properties. (See http://www.hulsingenterprises.com.) According to Dennis, his decision to purchase is based on several things. Location and the viability, not only today but years ahead, are of prime importance. “Now that Asheville is my primary residence, I try to stay within a four hour drive of all new acquisitions, so my people can be on the property if something should occur to warrant an immediate visit. The most important part of moving into the area is making and building relationships with the local community and partnering with people like BB&T, our banker. They have made it possible for all my businesses to thrive and be successful.”
“I take into consideration if it is a building that could be remodeled/renovated to look fresh, and whether or not it will be able to compete with a modern product. I look at how much I think I can improve revenue, and if the hotel can be operated to better increase sales. I also take into consideration if we can add operational efficiencies to improve the bottom line. I also consider the barriers of entry for other competitors. I do NOT buy properties to fix up and flip, instead I consider them long term investments.”
“At least once per year we look at a three to five year capital plan to renovate a hotel. This is always evolving. Items such as carpet get replaced every six years. Items like audio/visual equipment, internet equipment, and fitness machines are upgraded as need arises on a constant basis. There is no set time for items that need to be upgraded to stay ahead of the competition. In choosing a hotel, the age of the hotel is not important. I take into consideration whether or not it can be renovated to look fresh and updated or more modern. Also how much will it cost to improve it? If a hotel is older, but it has character, I do not discount it.”
“The niche I try to fall in with my hotels is upper mid-scale and above in the full service market. We try to fit all our properties into this niche, because we strive to be the best within this category. No, I do not purchase economy hotels, as that is NOT my area of expertise, even though we have had many great opportunities to buy the lower tiered properties in the economy.”
Another Area – Medical Supply
Many may not be aware of the fact that Hulsing Enterprises has medical divisions, which started ten years ago. This diversification was undoubtedly helpful during the troubled and difficult year of 2008 and must have offered a balance to pure real estate holdings. In a conversation in 2002, Bob Manning was incredibly passionate about his business and convinced Dennis to partner with him in Reliable Medical Supply. The company currently supplies 170 nursing homes in North and South Carolina, with equipment supplies and services. Another company, Accucare Inc., supplies medical durable goods, such as hospital beds, patient lifts, oxygen and respiratory supplies, wheelchairs and other medical supplies. In 2003 Dennis partnered with his cousin Nick to open another Reliable Medical Supply Company in Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield. In 2006 Mountain Sleep and Respiratory Medicine with Dr. Robbie Buechler started a sleep center in Asheville to help those needing sleep studies for Narcolepsy. Dr. Buechler specializes in Neurology, and these visits are often covered by insurance.
So What is Next?
“My next project is opening Food Matters Market in Brevard in partnership with Al Kirchner (of Green Sage) and Michael Cianciarulo (former CEO of Earth Fare), ” said Dennis. This market is well located on Route 64, next to Straus Park. According to General Manager Rebecca Frankwicz. “Remodeling is moving rapidly, Food Matters is installing new refrigeration systems, along with new shelving, new lighting and painting.” In the meantime, a seasonal B.B. Barns satellite garden store opened in April with both colorful annuals and perennials for sale. “Food Matters Market will feature natural organic and quality foods, along with “a café/deli experience,” Frankwicz said. “We’ll buy and sell local products as much as possible. Value pricing is important to us, and we are training sales assistants to be knowledgeable and helpful throughout the store. We want our carrot logo to carry a message of quality and good health. All of the necessary permits have been completed, and the work pace gets faster each week. Food Matters Market is looking forward to opening this summer.”
In speaking with Dennis, one cannot help but be struck by the energy and passion he has in developing and bringing his ventures to fruition. Every day there is a new adventure, something stimulating and exciting to get involved in, to work hard at developing and to build step by step. He says he has been blessed, although he thinks others might just call it luck. Overall he gets frustrated with the incredible red tape being thrown at him continuously by government. The red tape can cut him off before he even begins a project. “As long as government doesn’t interfere, I’m all right. Supply and demand will work, if you are allowed to follow it. That’s called capitalism, and capitalism always works!”