Street-smart developer emphasizes excellence

Street-smart developer emphasizes excellence

Tampa Bay Business Journal by Larry Halstead, Research director

Date: Monday, November 1, 2004

PINELLAS PARK — Anthony Menna learned the hotel business from the ground up. As a teenager he worked at his parents’ nine-room hotel in Clearwater doing everything from pushing the maid cart to painting the rooms. Now he runs Menna Development and Management Inc., a hotel development and management company branching out into town homes, office buildings and apartments. Menna learned the hotel business from his family, but the real estate business he learned “on the street.”

During the past 15 years, Menna acquired, built or operated more than 30 Tampa Bay area hotels, as well as 60 Manchu Wok Chinese restaurants across the country. Working with franchises such as Radisson, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Choice, Best Western and Howard Johnson’s, he’s obtained instant branding, ties into national advertising programs and proven management systems that have sparked business growth.

Menna emphasizes franchise awards of excellence as goals for each of his properties, citing customer satisfaction as the main ingredient for repeat business. Most of his properties have won awards for customer excellence, and Menna stresses to his staff the need to at least maintain the standards to compete for the recognition. Purchasing a hotel brand doesn’t come cheap. Entrepreneur Magazine’s Ultimate Book of Franchises documents hotel franchise costs from $235,000 to several million dollars, depending on real estate, franchise fees, demographics and other variables. The royalty fees run around 5 percent of the gross revenue, and some chains make the purchase nonrenewable after 15-20 years or renewable for 50 percent of the franchise fee.

Most franchises include training and support such as purchasing cooperatives, brand newsletters, grand openings and field evaluations. Financing is usually the responsibility of the buyer. One of Menna’s most recent projects is a cluster of properties in the Courtyard Village in Oldsmar, where he has a traditional hotel, a Courtyard by Marriott, an extended stay facility, a Residence Inn by Marriott, a restaurant and a bank. Extended stay is a growing segment, he said. But his pride and joy is the Radisson Hotel and Convention Center in Pinellas County’s Gateway area near Raymond James Financial, Allstate Insurance, Franklin Templeton and Home Shopping Network. The 225-unit hotel includes more than 17,000 square feet of meeting space and caters almost exclusively to the corporate world. It opened in December 2001, as the travel industry took a nosedive after the terrorist attacks.

“If I had it to do over again, I would have opened the hotel now instead of then, but it was already built and we had to forge ahead,” Menna said. Despite the travel slowdown, Menna continued to advertise the property and act as if all was well. Now he’s reaping the rewards of his persistence, with occupancy rates averaging nearly 75 percent.

One of the most important elements of Menna’s management is the careful selection of staff. “We try to find the perfect fit for all employees,” he said. He likens it to fielding a sports team, finding the right player for each position, saying, “It’s all about team, and it can bring you down if it isn’t right.” Menna prefers to build his staff from within, but looks for experienced hospitality veterans if looking outside. He uses the normal outlets of newspaper and Internet advertising to broadcast openings.Menna Development’s involvement in other types of development focuses on town homes and condominiums. The 12-unit Belle Aqua Villas on Clearwater Beach, boasting multilevel units with more than 3,300 square feet of living area, is a recent Menna Development project. Menna secures investors for most projects but prefers to retain majority ownership in each. Many investors are family and friends or “friend of a friend.”

He leverages the properties and sets up management groups to oversee each site. Menna Development is the managing company that builds the properties and participates in the ownership. Menna says he underestimated the current real estate boom and should have pushed harder to expand. “For every 100 deals I look at, I only find one I like,” he said.

For someone wanting to enter the development field, Menna has one tip: learn about people and how to deal with all types of personalities.