|By Carlie Kollath, Northeast Mississippi
Daily Journal, Tupelo, Miss.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Mar. 23, 2008 - --TUPELO -- Hotel developer Bruce Patel always has a deal in the works.
When you ask how his hotel is going, his response is, "Which one?"
Try narrowing it down to the one under construction, and you'll still get "Which one?" as a response.
Patel, the 29-year-old co-owner of Tupelo-based A.B.R.M.P. Group, works the hotel industry the way someone would play a game of Monopoly. As a player would buy properties on the board, he is buying his way into market after market in Northeast Mississippi.
Patel's company, which is co-owned by his father, uncle and brother, has hotels sprinkled across Mississippi, Ohio and Indiana. They own 14 operational hotels and have five more in development.
He previously owned the Quality Inn, but sold it in March 2007. Now he owns the Howard Johnson on North Gloster and recently finished gutting out the rooms and remodeling the facility.
Down the road, he's building the Comfort Suites. This month, he announced plans to build a Holiday Inn Express in Fulton. He's also building a Holiday Inn Express in West Point across from the recently opened Wal-Mart Supercenter.
And, Patel said he has franchise rights approved to build a Best Western in Tupelo. His aim is to build it on one of the pads of land behind the Malco near the Tupelo Commons. Land owner V.M. Cleveland said the deal looks good, but nothing has been signed yet.
"And I have plans for a couple others in town," Patel said, with a sly smile.
Patel's standard practice is to buy a hotel, fix it up and flip it.
The renovation process is his favorite part of the job.
"It's a natural high -- the before and after," he said. "I like to see something that was run down come back to be a market leader in its segment."
He's quick to pull out his iPhone and show pictures of a fountain he has planned for the Comfort Suites. His phones also holds pictures of other elements he's seen during his travels that he would like to incorporate into his properties.
Patel, a member of the Tupelo Convention & Visitors board, credits his father and uncle for laying the foundation for his involvement in the hotel industry. They started the business in 1983 and Patel got involved in 1999, right after he finished college.
But don't think because he was the boss' son he had it easy. He started off at the bottom of the totem pole -- working maintenance at a high-occupancy hotel for three years.
"I was on call 24/7," he said. "It was tough. ... I learned a lot of things. It's basically the equivalent of going to college and getting a degree."
And he advises his employees to take his experience to heart.
"Learn as much as you can," he said. "Don't do something just to do it. Pick up a trade in life where you can make more than minimum wage."
And at 29, Patel doesn't see an end anytime soon.
"I love the world of business," he said. "I wanted to be my own boss. I didn't want to be a clock-puncher in the world of 9-to-5."
He sees himself "expanding the show" over the years.
"The more you get into it, the more hotels you get, the easier it is," he said. "You have more people on the payroll and more people to do stuff."
The company's employment number is a moving target, but he estimates about 200 people are on the payroll. He also points to relationships with BNA Bank, M&F Bank and Renasant Bank as being "critical to where our business is and where it's going."
He laughs, though, at any comparisons to hotel moguls like Donald Trump or Conrad Hilton, noting that he'd "have to fire Trump if he was on my payroll."
"I'm not trying to do that," he said. "We do as much as we can in the little time we have in life. Hopefully, the kids and the family will take it to the next level."
His goal with the business?
"Accomplishing as much as I can," he said. "There is not a set goal, not a stopping point."
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