Mac Lawless’s father and two partners started Dublin-based Corporate Housing Systems in 1983 after seeing a need for high-end temporary living spaces that felt like home.
The company provides fully furnished and equipped luxury apartments, and takes care of utilities, housekeeping, and maintenance for residents. Clients include corporations that offer relocating associates a temporary living benefit, consultants in town for a project, families displaced by a disaster, people between homes, and snowbirds who have moved south but come back to visit in the summer.
“Hotels are great for short-term stays, but if you are going to spend any extended period of time in the same place it’s nice to have a kitchen, a washer and dryer, and more space to spread out,” says Lawless.
As Columbus grew and developed, so did Corporate Housing Systems.
“We expanded into Dayton and Cincinnati in the late ’80s, and we went north to Toledo and Fort Wayne in the ’90s,” he says. “In 2007, we opened in southern Indiana and last year we opened an office in Indianapolis.”
Corporate Housing Systems only operates in markets where it has offices, and is just a few minutes away from the apartments it services, which allows staff to respond quickly to customers’ needs.
“Our industry has become inundated with brokers that don’t actually service their own apartments,” Lawless says. “We prefer to be more hands on, and it allows us to be solely responsible for our quality and service standards.”
More than a third of Corporate Housing Systems’ employees have been with the company for 20 years or more, and more than half have worked there for 10 years.
“That kind of stability and longevity allows us to make quick decisions and offer better service for our clients,” Lawless says. “I’m not saying we’ve seen it all, but all of our associates are empowered to do what’s best for our customers.”
In our interview with Lawless, he shares the key to Corporate Housing Systems’ success, and a bit of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
The Metropreneur: Corporate Housing Systems has five regional offices. What should business owners consider when they’re thinking of expanding into another market?
Mac Lawless: In May of 2012, we opened an office in Indianapolis. It is the first office we have opened since 2007, and we are really excited about our prospects there. Our opening coincided with the beginning of summer, which is always the busiest time of year for us. We expanded quickly and took on a lot of inventory so we could adequately service the needs of our clients.
In hindsight, we were probably too aggressive coming out of the gate. The lesson for us is that we need to do a better job of understanding the long-term demand and seasonality that exists in our industry and plan accordingly. It’s easy to get caught up in what’s going on right now as opposed to sticking to a long-term plan.
That said, our Indianapolis office is on track to have a strong year and we have expanded our footprint, which adds value for our customers that use our service in multiple markets.
[M]: Corporate Housing Systems has been around for 30 years. That’s quite an accomplishment. Why do you think it’s been able to stay in business for so long?
ML: Simply put, we treat customers the way we would want to be treated. Our longevity is such a huge asset for us and I know it’s something that my family is very proud of. Being in business for 30 years gives us more credibility with our clients and vendor partners. It also gives us a long-term perspective when it comes to business planning. We don’t make decisions based on this month’s bottom line; we make decisions based on what’s best for our business in the long run.
[M]: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a business of their own?
ML: Surround yourself with the right people. It is critical that you trust the people that are interacting with clients and making business decisions for you.
[M]: What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve faced as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome it?
ML: I think the biggest challenge for us revolves around expansion into new markets. It is a costly, time consuming endeavor. It is difficult to find the right people and it takes a lot of work to gain momentum.
Every time we have expanded there was a point where I would question whether or not it was the right idea. You have to push those feelings aside and trust the plan that you laid out at the beginning of the project. It goes back to having a long-term focus rather than getting caught up in what’s going on right now.
To learn more about Corporate Housing Systems, visit CorporateHousingSystems.com.