Sunday, September 16, 2007
Steamboat Springs After 25 years spent working in both the trenches and the executive suites of Steamboat Springs' property management industry, Renea Cowman and Kathy Connell found a unique way to celebrate their silver anniversary in the business.
They sold their company, Colorado Resort Services, to Resort Group founder and CEO Andy Van Baak.
"We all know that silver gets tarnished after time," Connell said. "We're polishing our silver for a new beginning."
Cowman, president of CRS, and Connell, vice president, are not leaving their desks. Resort Group President Dan Dean said retaining the two CRS executives and their staff was an important part of the deal.
"We're excited to welcome the leadership of CRS co-owners Kathy Connell and Renea Cowman along with all of their service-minded employees," he said.
"We remain at the helm of CRS," Connell said. "We're still CRS, but the LLC is now owned by Resort Group and we report to its president, Dan Dean."
Resort Group, through its various divisions, manages 85 homeowners associations, 3,000 resort condominiums (including some on the Gulf Coast of Texas) and private homes, 1,300 rental units and 200,000 square feet of commercial space. The company also has a division that provides 3,000 customers with high speed Internet, and 750 local customers with computer support.
Colorado Resort Services brings to Resort Group 15 vacation properties comprising 403 units. CRS also adds seven homeowners associations to Resort Group's Association Management Services division.
Connell said changes in the Steamboat property management landscape and increasing pressure to grow larger led her and Cowman to map out an exit strategy for the future.
"We recognized three to four years ago the industry was changing dramatically and our business model - not just here in Steamboat but in other ski resorts - was a model that was going to fail," she said.
Connell said the current business model utilized by small to medium-sized condominium management companies didn't take into account some of the negative ramifications that come with dramatic growth in a mountain town.
"We're only as good as the employees that work for us," Connell said. "If they can't afford childcare any longer, they're out of here. If they can't afford to commute to work and do it in a safe way, they're out of here."
At the same time that competition in the marketplace is rising, the cost of recruiting, training and retaining employees also is going up.
"Just when you get them trained, they realize they can't stay here," Connell said. "Up go your costs."
Connell and Cowman are proud to say that some of their employees who have left seeking a career change have returned to CRS.
Nancy Wilson started with CRS as accounting manager in 1985, moved to Nevada in 1987, returned to Steamboat in 1988 and went back to work with CRS. She stayed until 2004, when she went to work for a construction company.
Today, she's back with CRS as comptroller.
"They welcomed me with open arms," Wilson said. "I enjoy the flexibility they give me to run my own business - I'm a director with Mary Kay Cosmetics. Kathy and Renea appreciate my expertise."
Steamboat Springs was a very different place when Connell and Cowman arrived here in the '70s with their ex-husbands.
Renee arrived in April 1972.
"We were in property management almost from the day we got here," she said.
"We looked all over the Mountain West and had heard talk that the Olympics were coming to Steamboat," she said. Colorado voters ultimately rejected the 1976 Winter Olympics.
The Cowmans began their career in Steamboat with Thunder Mountain Properties.
Connell fell in love with Steam-boat during college ski trips from Colorado State University in 1969. She came to Steamboat to stay in the '70s and went to work as a housekeeper at Storm Meadows in 1978.
To this day, neither Cowman nor Connell is averse to pitching in with the hardest work in the business.
"We sort bags and strip beds when we need to," Cowman said.
Connell is happy to chauffeur her guests around the resort base.
"Periodically, I drive the shuttle," she said. "That's so relaxing."
Cowman and Connell pride themselves on their ability to retain a contract with every condo association that ever signed with them. They've built personal relationships with the board members of 23 associations, Connell said, and went to those boards before entering their sale agreement with Resort Group. By securing the cooperation of the boards and negotiating extensions to their contracts, Connell and Cowman believe they increased the value of their property to Resort Group.
Those relationships likely will continue - after 25 years, Connell and Cowman show no signs of slowing down.
- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205
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