|By Adam Bell, The Charlotte Observer,
N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Business News
Jan. 21, 2007 - At age 12, John Q. Hammons learned a vital lesson about anticipating a competitor's moves.
During the Great Depression, Hammons began trapping rabbits near his home on the Missouri prairie and selling the pelts for a nickel apiece. He'd wake up daily at 6 a.m. to collect the pelts from wooden traps he had built himself.
One day he found the traps empty, and learned that a local bully had come by at 5 a.m. and swiped the rabbits. So Hammons got up at 4 a.m. the next day to beat the bully to the traps. He wasn't about to let anyone steal his business.
Hammons, who will turn 88 next month, called it one of his life's defining moments.
The Missouri developer's latest move took him to Concord on Friday for the grand opening of his $65 million full-service hotel and convention center complex.
It took him the better part of a decade to develop the Embassy Suites Hotel Charlotte-Concord Golf Resort and Spa and Concord Convention Center.
Hammons prides himself in thoroughly studying a market before investing there. He expects big things from the Concord project, which sits between Concord Mills mall and Lowe's Motor Speedway off Interstate 85.
"Its location is ideal, with the growth of Charlotte in all directions, and is blessed with the (nearby) interstate," Hammons said. "You wait and see how much business we get in Concord."
Parents lost farm
Hammons cited another event from the Depression that motivates him to this day: His parents lost their 200-acre farm. He was about 12 at the time, and he watched them cry over their loss."You never forget that," he said. "I think that has more to do with my success than anything else I know. I saw what it did to them."
His first job was as a junior high school teacher. But after a stint in the military, he began building houses in the late 1940s, then moved into the hotel industry in 1958.
He prefers to go to secondary and even smaller markets with access to major highways and businesses, often in areas home to state capitals or universities. Hammons specializes in the upscale market, mainly building Marriott and Embassy Suites hotels with convention centers.
Convention centers offer protection against recessions, he reasons, because businesses always need someplace to meet.
So after the Sept. 11 attacks, Hammons said, he waited just two days before embarking on a 16-hotel building spree while building-related costs stagnated. Hammons figured he saved $82 million over three years, enough to build two hotels for free.
He stuck with Concord plan
Several earlier versions of the Concord complex fell through, but Hammons was determined to build it.
The project was worth the wait, he said, although he figures he could've saved about $10 million if he had built it several years earlier.
"I do my homework. I really think it over and know if the market is for real or not," Hammons said. "I knew the market was there (in Concord), and I was not going to leave."
The presence of Concord Mills, the continued piecing together of nearby Interstate 485, the growth of the area's racing industry and the proximity of Charlotte all helped convince Hammons he wanted to build here.
"I think Concord's got a bright future if they just manage it right," he said.
No plans to slow down
An industry trade publication, Hotels, named Hammons its Corporate Hotelier of the World for 2003. Editor-in-chief Jeff Weinstein called Hammons an industry legend."He's been doing this forever," Weinstein said. "He knows what he likes, sticks with the tried-and-true, and he'll repeat it over and over again."
It's a formula that has served Hammons well, Weinstein said.
After spending half a century developing more than 180 hotels, Hammons insists he has no plans to take it easy.
No vacations, no hobbies, no time. Making money, making the deal work -- that's what excites him.
He's a hands-on boss who even had a say in the Concord hotel lobby's Italian marble with onyx inlays.
"I don't have time to slow down," he said. "I want to win."
John Q. Hammons
Personal: He and his wife, Juanita, live in Springfield, Mo.
Net worth: Hammons estimated it as "north of $900 million."
Philanthropy: Hammons said he has donated more than $100 million to various causes.
His company: Founder, chairman and CEO of John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts.
Self-professed "vices": Attending every college basketball Final Four for 50 years, and attending Cincinnati Reds spring training games in Florida for 52 years to date.
Adam Bell: 704-786-2185
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