Inside Track: Carrying on the family business
Born into hotel industry, Peter Beukema re-energizes company by beginning construction of Embassy Suites first proposed a decade ago.
The Embassy Suites in the Monroe North district was at a do-or-die crossroads in fall 2016.
Peter Beukema had just taken over as CEO of Suburban Inns as his father, also Peter Beukema, retired, when he sat down with the company’s vice president of construction, Tom Welling.
As the younger Beukema and Welling discussed the project, first proposed in 2007 and sidelined since, he asked a question that decided the future of the $62-million project.
“Are we going with the Embassy?” Beukema asked Welling. “Let’s either sell the land or make a go of it.”
Welling wasn’t willing to see the project die, so the Suburban Inns development team put on a “full-court press for six months,” and now the hotel is under construction. The 246-room hotel, scheduled to be open in December 2018, should go according to plan, Beukema said.
The project was a quick way for Beukema to re-energize the staff yet again with the excitement of growth of the hospitality company. That’s not to say the elder Beukema wasn’t doing the same, as last year the company opened Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Holland and was well underway with a Hilton Garden Inn on the East Beltline. Those two projects represent more than $44 million in hotel development in West Michigan.
But for the younger Beukema, who had served as COO of the company since 2005, it’s a way to start his tenure as CEO with a bang. He grew up in the industry, as his father and mother, Carol, started Suburban Inns on a whim in 1979 when they bought a small Best Western hotel in the Upper Peninsula.
“Some families raise athletes, but I was born and raised in the hotel business,” Beukema said. “It’s what I know, and you either love it or you don’t. It was kind of bred into me.”
Growing up, Beukema’s father had a philosophy of “good enough isn’t.” For a child, that philosophy can be tough, but now he’s happy to have that mental concept as he walks through his properties.
“You see everything. You don’t miss the details because your eyes are wide open,” Beukema said. “In hospitality, it is the details that matter. Guests are spending their hard-earned money with us, so they need to get a great value for that.”
Beukema spent his earlier years working the summers at the family’s hotel in the U.P. and the school year at the Grandville Best Western the company also owned. Both properties were sold in the late 1990s, but the hospitality career track was started. He spent his high school years working a variety of other odd jobs, including construction and serving tables on Mackinac Island.
“Those were good experiences,” he said. “It was fun, but at the end of the day, I really thrive making the connection with the guest.”
With a clear path to his dream career, Beukema went back to the family business after graduating from Rockford High School and worked at the Holiday Inn Express in Holland. He worked under the general manager, filling in wherever he was asked, whether it was as a bartender or night auditor.
“I dabbled in all the jobs, kind of forcing me into the management mentality of you’re the guy,” he said. “You need to cut your teeth, and that’s where I cut my teeth. I learned a lot about what I like and don’t like about the business.”
He saw friends having fun in college, so he decided he would too and ventured to Northwood University in West Palm Beach, Florida, for a degree in hospitality. He made it two years before his father asked him take over as general manager of the Holiday Inn Express in Holland.
“I got the T-shirt and some sunburn,” Beukema said. “I was ready to go back when my dad said, ‘Do you want to do that? I don’t know anyone more capable.’”
“I wanted the job.”
Since he took the job in 2003 and was promoted to COO in 2005, Suburban Inns has been in full development mode.
The first major development opportunity came in Midland, when a Holiday Inn wasn’t slated to be renewed. Beukema and his brother took the opportunity to take it over.
“It’s far away from us, but it’s still in Michigan and it’s a great fit and a great community,” he said. “The roots really run deep there.”
Midland also represented the first Big E’s Sports Grill, as he sought a better quality sports bar than chains.
“We were sitting at a franchise and realized it could be done a lot better,” Beukema said.
As the company tried to get the Hilton Garden Inn and Embassy Suites off the ground, the opportunity for the Holland Courtyard by Marriott came, sparked by beers with then Holland Mayor Kurt Dykstra.
“It just took flight,” Beukema said. “The community wanted it. When everyone is rowing in the same direction, development is just a lot easier. If development was easy, everyone would do it. But when everyone was moving along like that, it is easy.”
Suburban Inns opened a second Big E’s with the Courtyard by Marriott in Holland, a third will open in August as the first standalone near the Hilton Garden Inn and a fourth is slated for the Embassy Suites.
He sparked a lot of the development over the past 12 years as COO, and with his father’s retirement, a jolt of energy was injected into the company.
The elder Peter Beukema told the younger he still would provide plenty of guidance, and the junior Beukema confirmed it happens.
“With his retirement, new life and energy was pumped into getting the Embassy Suites project underway,” the younger Peter Beukema said. “With that, the team at Suburban stepped on the gas.
“I couldn’t ask for a better team. Even the construction guys, they realize we’re not building a building to lease or rent, we’re building for guests who don’t even know they’re coming to Grand Rapids, yet.”
As the shovel went into the ground to start the Embassy Suites project downtown, Welling looked at Beukema and asked, “What’s next, boss?”
Nothing is ready to announce, but Beukema already is thinking about Suburban Inns’ next step, even with more than $100 million worth of projects recently opened or under construction. Those three jobs will add more than 300 full-time jobs.
“That’s when I sit back and it excites me, being able to provide for those families and the joy they get out of providing great hospitality,” Beukema said.
Suburban Inns currently operates the Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Courtyard by Marriott in Holland, Holiday Inn in Midland, Holiday Inn Express Grand Rapids Southwest and the Hilton Garden Inn.
“We’ve started kicking the tires about what’s next,” he said. “I’m 35, I have a lot of time ahead of me. There’s a lot more to come from Suburban Inns in the next 30 years.
“There are so many angles to development and operating; it’s never boring.”