Strand Hospitality’s success and longevity has come from building relationships as sound as its hotels, and the company will follow the same approach to continue growing its portfolio, its president says.
MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina—As Strand Hospitality Services celebrates its 50th year of developing, owning and managing hotels, the company is looking forward to expanding its portfolio through measured growth and building strong relationships.
The company’s longevity is the result of its core values, Strand President John Pharr said. One of those values is innovation, he said.
“We challenge ourselves yearly to not become (antiquated),” he said. “We challenge ourselves to find new opportunities and new ways of doing business. Innovation has been the key.”
The key to understanding Strand is how it treats people, and builds and maintains relationships, Pharr said.
“We seek out people we feel have honesty and integrity,” he said. “We operate our business in that manner. If it doesn’t match up, we move on. We’re not afraid to walk away from a deal that doesn’t work. We have the financial capability to do as much or as little as we need to do.”
The company has grown in a logical manner, and it follows its core values as it grows, he said. He said he can sleep well at night and feel good about the company he works for.
The evolution of Strand
Strand Hospitality Services is as a division of Pharr, a family of companies involved in several industries, including textiles. Pharr began in 1939, acquiring the bankrupt mill town of McAdenville, North Carolina, which had shuttered textile plants, more than 400 homes and other real estate.
Strand Hospitality Services was originally Strand Development when it started in 1969. Pharr said his family created the company to develop a Holiday Inn hotel in Myrtle Beach, when there were no major brands in that market. Strand went on to own three more hotels in Myrtle Beach, becoming the largest hotel company in operation there.
Pharr joined Strand after graduating from Michigan State University in 1970, helping to open some of the new properties and later becoming GM of the 312-room Holiday Inn Downtown Oceanfront.
In the early 1980s, Strand explored condo management, which is when the company transitioned into becoming more of a management company than an ownership company. The company sold three of its Holiday Inns in 1984. The family reformed the company under the same name as a division of the company Pharr. It soon focused its efforts in Charlotte, where it developed the 43rd Hampton Inn in the world.
“We have been with Hampton from the very start,” Pharr said. “We have a long, long history with that company. Those folks had the foresight and vision to start a company like that.”
Over the years, Strand opened Hampton Inns and Holiday Inns in the Charlotte area, and also pioneered the Wingate brand, opening the fourth one in the world in Greenville, South Carolina.
In 1997, Strand procured its first third-party management contract. Hotel owners approached Strand about the opportunity because of its early start with Hampton Inns, Pharr said.
“They thought we were the experts,” he said.
Strand grew through its relationships in the hotel industry, at one point managing 75 hotels in 14 states.
The company now has nearly 40 hotels under its management and will likely add another five to eight in the next year to 18 months, most of them in the company’s key states in the Southeast, Pharr said.
Changes in the industry
When he was in college, Pharr said most of the people in the then-motel industry were running “mom and pop” businesses. The level of professionalism has improved dramatically over the years, he said.
The way the industry has embraced technology has been a big factor in that evolution.
“When I first started out, if you had an electronic cash register, that was state of the art,” he said. “A lot of people operated the hand-cranked systems and cigar boxes. It has changed dramatically.”
Hiring practices and training have become more sophisticated as well, as the industry has focused on selecting the right people, he said.
He noted the hotel industry also has turned into a major opportunity for public money, Wall Street firms and private equity.
Strand formed an investment group that is looking at opportunities all the time, Pharr said. The company will open at minimum two to four new development projects each year in addition to its management contracts.
“We’re doing it on a select basis,” he said, adding that his company is focusing on quality projects and long-term relationships. “We don’t want to be the largest company in the U.S. or even in the Southeast.”
One of Strand’s partners is Belmont Abbey College. Pharr said the abbot told him the monastery and college don’t move quickly as it was in the middle of its 500-year planning session, so it would take time to complete that and a hotel might be part of it. Ten years later, Strand helped them open a hotel. Ten years after that, they broke ground on a second hotel.
“We’re long-term thinkers. Very seriously, we plan on being here at year 100 also,” he said.
As Strand looks to expand over time, it might move into the full-service space and expand its relationships with brand companies such as Marriott International, Hilton and InterContinental Hotels Group, Pharr said. The two full-service hotels it manages currently are both independent properties: the Hope Hotel & Richard C. Holbrooke Conference Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and The Inn at the Crossroads.
“We’re looking for those kind of opportunities, branded or non-branded,” he said, adding the interest applies to both management and development projects. “That’s an area we can add value.”