An interview with Florida based Irish entrepreneur Garrett Kenny, CEO and owner of the Feltrim Group of Companies about his transition from van driver to becoming a major property developer. He has built a successful real estate development and services business, which has built and sold over $800 million worth of property to date.
- Hi Garrett, can you tell us a little about your background and early working career back in Ireland?
Shortly after leaving secondary school, I borrowed some money to buy a single van. It expanded into two vans and then eventually into a large haulage firm with a fleet of trucks carrying amongst other things concert equipment for the biggest names in rock music, such as U2, Meatloaf and Def Leopard.
- How did you go from this to property developing?
I initially got into property development by building warehouses for my haulage business. This then morphed into a business in its own right.
- How did the initial building projects work out, was it a steep learning curve, what problems did you encounter and would you have done things differently now?
After the haulage business, it seemed a lot more rewarding; the pay-offs for the amount of work invested were greater, not just financially but in terms of peace of mind. Here was a thing that stayed still, that didn’t depend of drivers turning up on time and that accumulated value over time.
A lot of it is about your own level of determination, or excitement about doing business. I have done business in a number of industries now. I throw myself into it, try to bring in people who’ve done it before and try to learn as much as I can. I try not to be arrogant about it though and let people who know, explain to me the drivers in the business and what I need to cover. But one thing I bring to these businesses I think is that I ask questions, or ask why not, or why can’t we do it a certain way. I think that’s one advantage of approaching these things from an entrepreneurial standpoint.
- How did the Florida based business transpire?
The Florida business began simply by the purchase of a single vacation home for personal reasons. Then after buying and selling a number of these homes and continually receiving a sub-standard service from a property management firm, I decided to set up my own property management firm in Florida.
The Florida business has since expanded into commercial real estate development, not dissimilar to what I was doing in Ireland, and then to the development of vacation homes.
Projects currently include vacation home resorts, residential developments, commercial property and more recently educational and sports academies.
Aside from development, Feltrim also provides a range of property services. The firm has owned various real estate franchises under the Coldwell Banker and Century 21 banners.
- How have you become so successful, what do you do differently to other developers and the previous agents you dealt with that gave you a poor service?
What is different about Feltrim Group is that it provides buyers with a complete turnkey service. Feltrim builds, sells, manages, rents and maintains the properties it builds.
So I think we’re a little unique in this respect and it’s been to the great convenience of our international clients and also for the guests in our vacation resorts. For the buyers, it means they don’t need to go looking for management companies, rental companies, re-sale partners. Plus, we can offer them attractive rental contracts that others have difficulty offering.
Then for guests in our resorts we can offer them a service beyond what they would normally expect while staying in a vacation home. Normally what happens is that you have a developer who builds the properties, then a number of management companies inside the resort, who’s offices may be off-site. So when a guest comes to Orlando they may need to go to an office or secure location to pick up a key, or if they have any issues they need to figure out which management company they booked through. So our advantage by managing all the homes in the resort and the amenities and reception etc., is that we can run it as a hotel, making it much more convenient for guests.
We apply these approaches to all areas of our business, which now extends beyond real estate and resorts.
- Can you tell us about any key projects or developments that the Feltrim group have been involved in?
A key project was Tuscana Resort. Built in 2008, it is a $100 million condo resort only 10 minutes from Disney World. Homes are sold primarily to international buyers. Feltrim managed the project itself until 2014, when it was sold to a large hotel group.
Our biggest project to date is, Balmoral at Water’s Edge – A development of 245 vacation homes located in the fast-growing area of Haines City, just south of Orlando.
All homes feature private pools and all furniture is included in the price. Feltrim, through its sister company Feltrim Resorts also offers a leaseback contract to buyers at 6% NET up to 3 years (owners entering the leaseback program can use the property for two weeks per annum).
The development features over $5 million in amenities, including its own water park, restaurant, games room, resort pool etc. set around natural lakes.
Phase I is sold out and opened to guests in March 2017 under the name of Balmoral Resort Florida. The resort has had a very successful first season and has developed fruitful partnerships with international tour operators and LEGOLAND Florida. We are now selling Phase II, which is currently 60% sold out already.
- What are your Future Plans for Feltrim Group?
As mentioned, Feltrim has primarily sold property to international investors. Initially the UK and Ireland have been Feltrim’s biggest markets. However this has since extended to China and Southeast Asia and Brazil. Feltrim has developed a particular strength in China.
The Feltrim Academy – Adjacent to Balmoral, Feltrim is currently building an impressive international boarding school and sports academy. The main building will be a 140,000 square feet, modern building with stunning glass front.
R9 Ronaldo Academy – The R9 soccer academy at Balmoral is associated with the Brazilian legend Ronaldo. Ronaldo was at the ground-breaking for the project in March 2017.
Thank you for your time today Garrett and good luck with your international expansion and academy projects.
For more information visit: www.feltrimgroup.com
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