By: Eric Wright
Though there has been a lot of ink spilled on the dire statistics of family businesses not making it through the transition to a second generation, there are countless success stories as well. Family businesses generate over 50 percent of the U.S. Gross National Product, and many business owners build on the founding generation’s achievements and take their businesses to a much higher level. Examples of this include Wal-Mart, German auto manufacturer Volkswagen/Porsche, and even Ford and Comcast.
Often, this quantum leap occurs in immigrant families, where courage, intelligence, thrift and hard work bring the realization of the American Dream. The next generation, who grew up in this country and in the business, finds the industry part of their DNA. Such is the case with Samir Patel and Dilesh Patidar of 360 Hospitality Group. Their fathers were business partners, building and acquiring hotels in the area, and now the two young hospitality entrepreneurs are laying the groundwork for a whole new business model.
“The hospitality industry is more than just a business,” commented Patidar, the company’s chief operating officer.
“It’s a way of life,” added Patel, president and CEO. “We’re a family business whose ethic and dedication has been consistent and stable through both surges in business as well as shortages from an unstable economy.”
Both men were raised on the Space Coast. Patel was born in Ocala, where his parents operated a 23-room hotel. They moved to Merritt Island, where they opened another hotel, as well as a convenience store. In Brevard, they met Patidar’s father, who served as their accountant, which evolved into a hotel management partnership. “I was always tagging along with my father as I grew up,” Patel shared. “I worked at the convenience store, and because I was the oldest son, I witnessed my father’s growth and success as a business man, which really inspired me.”
A Partnership That Is Like Family
Wisely, when Patel started working at the family’s hotel as a teenager, his father did not have him report directly to him. “My boss was the general manager. I thought I should start out at the front desk, figuring my experience more than qualified me. Instead, the GM assigned me to be the breakfast attendant. It was a wise choice and we still joke about it, as he works for me today.”
In college, while attending the University of Central Florida on a business entrepreneur and hospitality track, Patel sharpened his skills at a Hilton property in Orlando. He then returned to the Space Coast to take on a major project.
Patidar would join him some time later and it was their partnership that ignited the vision for 360 Hospitality. “Samir is five years older than I am, so I looked up to him growing up,” Patidar said. “We reconnected after I graduated from the University of South Florida and moved back to the area.”
Like Patel, he grew up working at the properties his parents owned and managed. However, he was not sure if the hospitality industry was for him, so he majored in finance and worked for a national money management firm in Tampa for a few years. When he found he did not enjoy it, his father encouraged him to return to the Space Coast where he could teach him the ropes in the hospitality field.
“Since our fathers owned properties together, Samir and I linked up and started discussing how we could improve our processes and efficiencies by centralizing our business,” Patidar reflected. “I enjoy almost every aspect of the business — the numbers, the customer service, even the décor and layout of the lobby. There are different challenges and opportunities every day.”
Patel earned his stripes, and his star began to rise on everyone’s radar in Brevard when he took over the Imperial Hotel and Conference Center and transitioned it to a Holiday Inn at the intersection of Wickham and I-95. He ran the hotel for 10 years.
“I was just out of college when I had responsibility for this big property, and when I took it over the investors all went back to India. I wasn’t only running the hotel, I was essentially the superintendent over all the renovations we did, as the property was pretty dated. Changing to a national brand was a business decision, partly driven by the fact the banks prefer having a recognizable logo on the marquee.”
“Each property we manage has its own identity and culture.We strive to find, encourage and develop each person’s individual strengths so the entire family of hotels becomes stronger.” – Samir Patel
The 360 Difference
What Patel did not foresee was the “Great Recession” and its impact on tourism and travel. “I got a lot of experience running a business very lean,” he said. “The last few years have been awfully good in hospitality, but we went through some pretty tough times.”
One key to his survival and eventual success he learned at a chamber event. “I went to a seminar where they discussed the importance of networking. They said the survivors would be out in the community meeting new people and building alliances, so I decided to hit every networking event in the county,” Patel said.
“The next year I became the president of the Space Coast chapter of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and chair of the Brevard Hotel Association. I also chaired a couple of charities and got on the Tourist Development Commission’s marketing committee.” Patel soon became a figure in the tourism sector, but also an emerging leader in civic and charitable causes, a reputation that continues to this day.
As he got to know the leaders in the area, those contacts helped fill his meeting and convention space. In 2014, as the market turned, Patel and Patidar began to work together to centralize their operation. Since Patel had co-branded himself with the Suntree/Viera Holiday Inn, they needed a new identity and after about a year settled on 360 Hospitality. 360 was a natural progression in the long life of their family business.
The new company offers a full range of services to its properties and other hotels it works with. Services include construction and project management, staff development, quality assurance and revenue management, which when managed correctly reduce costs, improve efficiency and grow profitability. As the website says, “We take care of business, so you can take care of your guests.”
Patel emphasizes the uniqueness of each property because the people who operate them are all different. “Each property we manage has its own identity and culture,” Patel explained. “We strive to find, encourage and develop each person’s individual strengths so the entire family of hotels becomes stronger; it is a matter of investing in people.”
Patidar also stressed the importance of technology. “There was a time when the owner and general manager did everything, but now with available technology multiple sites can be tracked remotely,” he said. “That’s a concept my father is still trying to wrap his head around.” The company plans to further capitalize on the market need for outsourced solutions for hotel management, training and tools.
In spite of the changes in the marketplace and the remarkable technologies reshaping the industry, it is still the changeless elements that make the hotel industry and 360 Hospitality run.
“We learned from our fathers to listen and respect others, and also to remember where you came from and how you got started,” said Patidar. “We’ve learned if you take care of your employees, they will take care of you and our guests; it is all about providing the highest level of service and satisfaction.”
“It’s an exciting new chapter for our company and our community; however in many respects, things at 360 will not change. We have the same passion and excitement our families had 20 years ago, when they opened their first hotels,” Patel said. “Dilesh and I share so much synergy and are both mindful of the privileges and heritage we have enjoyed. We’re open for whatever the next 20 years will bring.”