Don’t expect to find Gideon Bibles at Larry Korman’s AKA Serviced Residences. Instead, the guestroom nightstands hold copies of All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. Robert Fulgham’s book of essays provides the mantra for AKA’s expanding group of high-end, extended-stay properties—that the most elementary aspects of life bear its most important opportunities. “We champion the basics,” Korman says. “You can’t do the extraordinary well if you don’t do the ordinary very well.”
Larry and his brother, Brad, are co-CEOs of Korman Communities Inc., a real estate company their great grandfather began more than 100 years ago. The business has evolved into a portfolio of 7,000 apartments and furnished suites with a valuation in excess of $1.5 billion. The jewel in the crown is the AKA collection of nine extended-stay hotels catering to executives who are seeking a home away from home for a week, a month, or longer.
Korman credits AKA’s long-stay concept to his dad, Steven, who converted an apartment building in Philadelphia to an extended-stay property more than 50 years ago. “My father recognized there was an unmet need, not only in Philadelphia but nationally, for stays that were somewhere between the traditional hotel stay and the traditional apartment stay,” Korman explains. And he had hands-on experience as the concept developed. As a boy, Larry learned the business literally from the ground up. “From age 10 on, I didn’t go to summer camp. I’d work at a property weeding, cleaning toilets. I worked at a different property each year,” he recalls. “At age 14, I started helping the maintenance men rip out carpeting and prep apartments.”
Korman joined the business full time upon graduating from college in 1986, and he worked for more than a decade to get the concept of luxurious, furnished suites for corporate executives in town for extended stays to take off. In 1997, the Kormans renovated Rittenhouse 222 in Philadelphia, the first building they operated as 100-percent furnished suites and a precursor to the AKA brand. When the leaders of several Fortune 500 companies pointed out the need for such lodging in New York City, the Kormans obliged. His company opened AKA United Nations in 2005, followed by properties in the Central Park, Sutton Place, and Times Square neighborhoods. The brothers plan to open a fifth location, AKA Wall Street, by 2015. Two more sites in Lower Manhattan are also on the drawing board.
AKA’s newest properties in London and Beverly Hills opened in the spring of 2013. The first West Coast property caters to the entertainment industry. Fittingly, its ultra-private third-floor terrace provides a view of the famed Hollywood sign high in the hills. AKA Beverly Hills features a screening room with a 133-inch screen, 20 leather electric recliners, and a sophisticated sound system. Korman says the room is a hit. “In a city where the primary business is making films and viewing them to get people’s reactions, it is a necessity for our clientele,” he says.
While his customers have included the rich and famous, Korman isn’t dropping any names. “They wanted to fly under the radar and were willing to give our brand an opportunity if it met their criteria for cachet, location, comfort, luxury, and security,” Korman says, noting that most also appreciated the value for money. Over the next five years, Korman says he hopes to boost the number of AKA properties to 18. In addition to more locations in New York, L.A., and London, Korman and his brother are exploring North American cities including Chicago, San Francisco, and Vancouver, as well as international markets such as Brussels, Paris, and Singapore. As the company expands, those core lessons that have led to customer satisfaction will remain unchanged. “It will always be quality over quantity,” Korman concludes.