Carlson Owner Shares Secret to a Happy Franchise Marriage

SandsIn the mid-’70s, Leo Sand worked summers at a family-owned Friendship Inn. Today, Sand Companies, the construction, property management, and real estate development business he co-founded, owns and/or manages 19 properties, 16 of which are Country Inns & Suites by Carlson. But perhaps because of his small beginnings, Sand says he still most appreciates the strong family values displayed and close relationships created during his time as a Carlson franchisee.

Was Carlson your first hotel franchise? Yes. We built the Country Inn & Suites in Baxter-Brainerd, Minn. We had built several Country Inns & Suites prior to that, but it was the first one I owned. In the process of building one of them, the investors asked me to become an owner, and I thought it was a great opportunity.

What is most rewarding about working with Carlson? I chose the Country Inns & Suites brand because it was a really great brand that was up-and-coming. I like the people at Carlson—their culture, their commitment to helping the owners, and most important, their family values. The most rewarding thing about owning a Carlson brand is really the great people I’ve met, and the positive changes that have occurred over the past 30 years with their brands. I like being a partner with a winning brand. It’s really great to see the new generation for Country Inn & Suites and the new direction with the Radisson Blu and the Radisson in general. It has been a good ride with Carlson. I just cannot say enough about them and the people who work for them. From the top down, bottom up, they’re all around great people who are fantastic to work with.

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What would you say to someone interested in becoming a Carlson franchisee? They’re a great company and a great brand. You can do business with them on a handshake—their word is as good as gold. Hospitality is not for the weak-hearted—there are ups and downs in the industry. Choose a brand that will be your partner in good times and bad. It kind of sounds like a marriage, doesn’t it? There are things you’ve got to weather through, and of course the last 10 years have been kind of tough in the hospitality industry. Now, we’re starting to see some good times roll again. But times change, and you’ve got to have a brand that’s going to be standing there as a partner of yours that’s willing to help out, and Carlson has been that partner for me. Choose a good partner, choose a good brand, choose a good site, and keep a positive attitude, because things will get better. And they have.

To what do you attribute your success as a hotel owner? Our success is really our employees, who we refer to as our associates. They work with us; they don’t work for us. We’re a team. We’re all working to keep our guests happy and want to come back and stay with us again. Hiring the right people, training them, and letting them do their job is important. If you pay attention to details and have a friendly staff and clean rooms, you’ll be successful. I attribute my success to all the good associates who work with us and their dedication to helping out our guests.