You can’t succeed and thrive for 35 years and multiple generations without learning to pivot and adapt to change, and Raines has certainly done that. But for the longtime hospitality company, there has been one constant, and that is putting people first.
It’s that philosophy that has been a core tenet of the integrated Florence, South Carolina-based development, management, and investment company and has helped it steadily expand its portfolio of Southeastern properties. Grey Raines, managing partner, Raines—who is the son of founder Mark Raines and first joined the company in 2003 as general manager of the Springhill Suites by Marriott in Florence—acknowledged some of the changes that have occurred. “It’s been an evolution from where we started in hospitality to where we are now. We started with one hotel in Florence and grew to some 40-plus hotels spread throughout the Southeast. It’s really kind of a crazy adventure that we’ve been on with a lot of rapid growth,” he said.
Grey further underscored the importance of people, specifically referencing the company’s some 1,400 employees. “I like to say we have the best operations team in the business. We’ve got such a good core group of folks that have been with us for a long time, and we see that continued success together,” he maintained.
While its origin as a company began in 1954 when Rock Raines entered the gas industry, Mark opted to follow his passion for hospitality during the ’80s, eventually opening the Super 8 Motel in Florence in 1992. In the mid-’90s, Mark, his father Rock, and his brother David formed Raines Development Group (RDG).
Chrisie Raines—mother of Grey and company founder/CFO—recalled Mark’s steadfast desire to be in hospitality.
“He just wanted hotels, and to everybody he talked to, especially businessmen, he asked, ‘Where do you stay when you travel?’ They always said, ‘Courtyard [by Marriott] or Hampton Inn by Hilton,’ and so he got his sights set on building a Courtyard. He cold-called Marriott and asked, ‘What do I have to do to build a Courtyard?’ and they laughed. They said, ‘You’ve got to own hotels and show that you can operate.’”
That’s exactly what the late Mark Raines did. The company would open a Courtyard by Marriott in Florence in 1998 on Hospitality Boulevard, a site that would eventually be home to five select-service Marriott hotels operated by Raines. “It’s kind of just been wide open from there,” noted Chrisie.
She further emphasized the importance of family as the company got its start. “The family has always been involved. When Mark first started looking at hotels after dinner at night, he’d put the kids in the car, and we would drive around the local hotels and count the cars. That’s how he knew how many people were staying where. He always involved the kids in whatever business he was in; he loved getting their input. … He was truly an entrepreneur,” said Chrisie.
Grey, for his part, was just fine with that.
“Getting into the hotel business certainly was a very natural fit for me; it’s something that I love. I love creating that experience, but that’s certainly something that my father shaped in a major way. We work to continue that legacy every day and to build on what he started,” he stated.
That buildup has continued, in part, through external acquisitions and partnerships. Last year, the company added HP Hotels and essentially doubled its portfolio. In 2017, the company formally partnered with David Tart—who was previously with 417 Partners and is now managing partner along with Grey, who referred to that as a “crucial milestone.”
Grey further added of Tart, “He continues to be one of the best developers I’ve ever worked with, and it’s fun to watch him in action.”
Meanwhile, Grey noted the integration of HP has generally gone well and should be complete in March.
“It’s happened much quicker than I thought it would, and it’s been rather seamless. The folks realized their counterparts were truly allies and not competitors. Our integration is continuing, and really the pieces that I was most concerned with happened fairly smoothly. We were really impressed with how the team gelled and continues to gel,” he noted.
Grey referenced the newly opened Waynesville Inn & Golf Club Trademark Collection by Wyndham, in Waynesville, North Carolina, as an “all hands on deck” renovation project for the team.
He elaborated on the culture of the company and why it’s considered a good place to work among its some 1,400 employees, particularly on the heels of expanded growth.
“I think the biggest thing is they have a seat at the table. They help direct this company. I think all of our senior leadership would tell you they have a seat at the table,” he noted.
Grey Raines was clear to point out that while the company has accelerated its growth in recent years, that’s not necessarily the company’s sole objective.
“For us, it’s about the right partners moving forward. We’ve always said we’re small but selective. It’s never been ‘we’ve got to double in size by this date’ or ‘we’ve got to be at this number of hotels.’ The HP acquisition was a strategic piece of our growth. We’re just going to continue down the path and try to put good projects together that make a few dollars along the way,” he concluded.