A Hospitable Future
“A downturn presents us with opportunities,” says Paul Kirwin, president and CEO of Northcott Hospitality in Chanhassen, which owns the AmericInn hotel brand as well as 21 Perkins and four Houlihan’s restaurants. (There are 218 AmericInns, six operated by Northcott, the rest by franchisees.)
For one thing, Northcott believes, there are a lot of unhappy owners who may be willing to “switch flags”—transfer their allegiance to AmericInn from other midrange hoteliers. What’s more, the cost of money is low and hotel property prices are depressed, making it a potentially good time to build or acquire existing hotel properties.
Kirwin believes that “if occupancy rates increase over the next 18 to 24 months as we expect, we’ll be in a position to benefit from stronger pricing and have lots of well- performing, new hotels that we can sell to franchisees.”
Kirwin also sees opportunity in the restaurant business, even though that wing of the hospitality industry probably will recover more slowly than the hotel side will.
“We’ve found that baby boomers and millennials have the most disposable income,” he says. “Millennials like variety, sampling, and going out in groups, so we’ve been a big supporter of Houlihan’s ‘small plate’ menu, which allows customers the flexibility to order two, three, or even four smaller dishes for about the same price as a standard entrÃ©e.” The Perkins brand of “a great breakfast restaurant with lots of options for seniors” appeals to baby boomers, Kirwin adds, which is why Northcott is looking to acquire as many as nine more Perkins restaurants in the next few years.
Kirwin came to Northcott in May 2009 after 25 years as a hospitality executive at Minnetonka-based Carlson. He was Northcott’s COO and president until January, then became CEO. Why give up a secure position in the middle of a major-league economic downturn? “I wanted to be a CEO, and I loved the company,” Kirwin says. “It was stable, had always turned a profit, and combined different elements of the hospitality industry.”
Northcott’s revenues have grown under Kirwin’s management. The privately held company reports a revenue range of $175 million to $250 million.