Harris Rosen wasn’t always a hotel owner
Before building the Rosen empire, he was a decorated member of the military, and also an executive at Disney.
Even though his resumé was littered with a litany of other accomplishments, none of them brought him the fulfillment he sought.
So, in 1970, during a crucial moment in the canon of the United States, Rosen made a few decisions that would forever alter the trajectory of his life.
“You may recall that many years ago there was an oil embargo in America,”
“and you couldn’t buy gasoline, so almost all the hotels in Orlando were doing very badly.”
Looking to break back into the hospitality industry (he once managed a hotel in Mexico), Rosen found the timing to be perfect for his return.
“I’d been fired by so many jobs, I said I have to do something myself,”
Rosen mentions while further explaining his motivations to get back into hotels.
After meeting with a man who was eager to sell his hotel due to the negative impacts of the oil embargo, it wasn’t long before Rosen was buying that hotel, along with assuming the existing mortgage that still owed a whopping $2.5 million ($21 million today after inflation).
“I can remember this so clearly,”
Rosen recounts of that initial meeting with the hotel owner.
“He took a few steps towards me, put his arm around me and said, `god has sent you.’”
Both parties were happy to do the deal, but Rosen soon realized the hefty mortgage he had absorbed was going to be difficult to pay off during that era’s uncertain economic times.
Scrambling to find a way to put warm bodies in his hotel rooms, Rosen used the pervading oil embargo to his advantage.
His line of thinking:
“Individuals couldn’t put gas in their car. The gas stations wouldn’t sell them gas, but bus companies were able to buy gas because they were good customers in the good times.”
Knowing this, Rosen got an old friend to watch over his hotel, and he put his thumbs to good use and hitchhiked all the way from Orlando to New York City.
Upon arrival in the mega-metropolis, Rosen began meeting with the owners of all the major bus companies. In each case, he anticipated being rejected in favor of the current hotels each company was partnering with, but Rosen had already concocted a unique strategy to circumvent their objections.
For every person he met with, Rosen brought along a blank card, then slid it across each owner’s respective desk when it was time for him to make his pitch.
“You write down on that card the room rate that you want to pay, and I will honor it for two years,”
Rosen remembers telling each bus company owner.”
“The rates [each owner wrote down] were from $7.50 a night, to $8.25 a night.”
The strategy worked.
Rosen inked seven of the top companies to deals
And after that?
“The buses started to come in. It saved my business,”
Fortunately for Rosen, that was just the beginning.
The good times kept coming because six months later the oil embargo was lifted, and Rosen was still contractually tied to all the companies who were bringing in droves of people on their buses.
A few years later, Rosen bought another hotel, and within three years he paid off 75% of the mortgage.
“In four years, I owned one hotel without any debt, and the other hotel with some debt, but that was running occupancies around 90%. That was the beginning, and today we have close to 7,000 rooms, not a penny of debt, and even though business is really terrible [due to COVID-19], we still are surviving.”
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