Hotel management chain earns high ratings

20th January 2006




Even though they are in the hotel business, Nick and Vicky Massad hardly ever get to rest. Thirty years ago, Nick Massad Jr. graduated as one of the first alumnus from the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston. Today, he and his wife Vicky develop, own and manage hotels throughout Houston and the Southwest through their company, American Liberty Hospitality.

After graduating from Hilton College, Nick joined American Liberty Hospitality, which was then the hotel management arm of Dallas-based American Liberty Oil Co.

He rose through the ranks, eventually buying the hotel management branch of the company in 1983, at which time Massad began acquiring properties.

During the past 22 years, Houston-based American Liberty Hospitality has grown from a business with $5 million in annual revenue to one that hit $30 million last year. The Massads have expanded the company through a strategy of carefully controlled growth.

They have also formed strong relationships with franchises, including Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Best Western International, Choice Hotels, Sheraton, Hilton, Ramada, Super 8, Hawthorne Suites and Country Hearth Inns. In November, American Liberty Hospitality opened its first Hilton property -- a Hilton Garden Inn on Sage Road near the Galleria. The opening proved a milestone for the family-owned operation.

"As we continue to grow, we have come full circle, back to our roots that gave us our start," Nick Massad says. "I feel a closeness to Hilton because I was one of the first graduates out of the program."

After they bought American Liberty from its original owner, T.L. Wynne Jr., more than 20 years ago, the Massads began acquiring small hotels such as Homeplace Inns. Tapping into those hotel chains' reservation and marketing systems allowed the husband-and-wife team to focus on growing their business.

Now, American Liberty's portfolio includes properties throughout Texas and Louisiana. Another Hilton Garden Inn -- located along the Interstate 10 and Dairy Ashford energy corridor -- is scheduled to open in 2007.

Nick Massad says the partners' wisest decision was to start small.

"You don't start with a 400-room Sheraton," he says. "As we started growing, we started getting larger properties, but we started small and then graduated up. Those small properties are more streamlined and more profitable than larger full-service counterparts because there is less cost to build, less land and fewer employees. They provided a way to generate cash flow during our growth years with a product that didn't have as many moving parts."

American Liberty Hospitality now employs 350 people in the hotels it owns and manages. The Massads expect the company to grow to 500 employees and $50 million in revenue within the next four years.

Some of the company's current employees have been with the firm for more than 15 years.

American Liberty looks for new hires through referrals and through UH's Hilton College, where Nick Massad serves as chairman of the Dean's Industry Advisory Council.

A strong affiliation with the Hilton College at UH also keeps American Liberty in touch with trends in the industry, such as an industrywide move to implement technology in innovative ways.

The Hilton Garden Inn, for example, offers Wi-Fi access throughout the building, and American Liberty's properties use the latest in point-of-sale terminals.

Vicky Massad says American Liberty's centralized accounting system also keeps the company running smoothly. Rather than having an accountant on-site at each property, each hotel manager sends reports to American Liberty's main office, saving time and resources.

Running an efficient operation facilitates the Massads' relationship with larger hotel chains.

Gary Mills, senior director of franchise development with Hilton, worked with the couple in developing the Hilton Garden Inn at the Galleria.

"Nick surrounded himself with an awesome team," Mills says. "At the time, we had no Hilton named products in the area, so when he contacted me about the site we saw it as a win for Hilton, a win for Nick and a win for our customer base."

Mills says the Massads overcame some obstacles with the Galleria-area site because it was smaller than was typical for such a project.

The company hired Houston-based architectural firm Mitchell Carlson Stone, a firm familiar with the Houston hotel industry, which resulted in a hotel with a bright, welcoming entrance on Sage Road and a parking garage in the back.

American Liberty Hospitality holds a 20-year licensing agreement with Hilton, and pays a franchise fee, marketing fee and special fee for being part of Hilton's frequent visitor program. American Liberty takes advantage of Hilton's marketing and reservations systems, but ultimately is responsible for filling rooms.

The Massads expect the 182-room hotel to maintain a 75 percent to 80 percent occupancy rate and to generate at least $6 million in annual revenue, given its location within yards of the Nordstrom entrance and the large pool of business travelers the property draws during the week.

To boost weekend business from shoppers visiting from Mexico and Latin America, the hotel also struck an unusual deal by providing direct lines from each hotel room to the Nordstrom concierge.

"Nordstrom is such an upscale and high service provider that we wanted to align ourselves with them," Nick Massad says. "We send them business, but it also helps our customers."

The Massads have also implemented other details such as buying furniture and artwork of higher quality than the Hilton agreement requires, and offering a 24-hour food pantry in the lobby with microwavable meals, drinks and snacks.

The Massads have passed their passion on to their three children, each of whom graduated from UH's Hilton College and now work in the industry. In fact, two of them work for American Liberty Hospitality.

After opening the west Houston Hilton Garden Inn in 2007, Nick says, American Liberty Hospitality will continue its steady growth.

"In the hotel industry you have to earn your stripes every day, but what keeps us going is that we have a blast," he says. "We really do love going to work every day."

© 2006 American City Business Journals Inc.