Drury's hotel kingdom grew from Kelso roots

Friday, November 18, 2005

Know what you don't know. Find the cow path and then pet the calf. And if you don't find the first cat face, you won't find the second.

In a speech peppered with colloquialisms and home-spun humor, hotel developer Charles Drury on Thursday traced his family's roots from humble Depression-era farmers in Kelso, Mo., to hard-working plasterers and builders to become owners of one of the most successful hotel franchises in the United States.

"In our family, there were no spring breaks, no days off," said Drury, the keynote speaker of the Small Business and Marketing Expo. "... And our customers were our salespeople. We lived on referrals."

All of the sayings were centered on what Drury considered the keys to his family's success -- hard work, customer satisfaction and giving patrons a quality product at a reasonable price.

"Know what you don't know," for example, means that even though the Drurys didn't know anything about the hotel business at first, they learned, Drury said. "Find the cow path" meant they knew to put the hotels in "the cow path," heavily traveled areas near intestates. "Pet the calf" was a reference to keeping customers satisfied.

"If you don't find the first cat face, you won't find the second," was a saying Drury's father, Lambert Drury, said when he and his sons became plasterers. A "cat face" was an imperfection in the plastered wall.

"If you made sure you didn't have one mistake, you wouldn't be able to find a second," Drury said.

Drury spoke to a packed banquet room at Cape Girardeau's Drury Lodge at the event sponsored by the Tri-State Advertising and Marketing Professionals. Several of his family members, including his wife, Shirley, and sons Tim and Chuck were present. Drury and his brother, Bob, were both presented with the first-ever Triumph Award, which recognizes excellence in marketing. Also in attendance were Dennis Vollink, the president and chairman of Drury Southwest, and Dick Dirnberger, the former vice president of Drury Hotels operations.

A video chronicled the family's rise from a Kelso farm family to a group of brothers whose family now owns a great deal of property in Cape Girardeau. They also own many hotels, restaurants, construction, billboard and development companies.

Drury Hotels is based in St. Louis. The first Drury Hotel opened in Sikeston in 1973 and has grown to hotel chain that has 105 hotels in two dozen states, primarily in the Midwest, and is owned by Bob Drury, Charles Drury and Jerry Drury. The hotels included in the chain are Drury Inn, Drury Inn & Suites, Drury Suites and Pear Tree Inn.

Midamerica Hotels Corp., owned by Cape Girardeau resident Jim Drury, also owns and operates the Holiday Inn Express hotels in Cape Girardeau and Paducah, Ky. Midamerica Hotels, which employs 1,400 people, also operates the Victorian Inn Hotel & Suites in Cape Girardeau. Midamerica also owns and operates 38 Burger Kings in Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois and Kentucky. Other divisions of the company include Jim Drury Construction and Auburn Outdoor Advertising.

Drury also spoke about his family's occasional clashes with the city of Cape Girardeau. He traced it back, jokingly, to the fact that the Kelso baseball team often beat the Cape Girardeau team when the Drurys were young. Drury, who lives in St. Louis, also humorously referred to Cape Girardeau residents as "city slickers."

"We had the idea we were looked down on when we came to Cape, and it continued on a bit," Drury said.

But Mayor Jay Knudtson, who also spoke during the luncheon, said he and the Drurys work together well now, even though some people warned him it would be difficult.

"I said we're going to get along and people said 'Yeah, right,'" Knudtson said, adding his own bit of humor. "They said, 'Why are you going to do that?' I said I'm going to do that because they own all the ground."

Knudtson said now the city has a better understanding of what the Drury name means in Cape Girardeau.

The luncheon was part of an all-day expo geared to help small-business owners sculpt their messages and find the best way to get those messages to the public. The expo featured other guest speakers and topics to educate those businesses, such as how to craft a marketable news release, making the news media work for you, common business mistakes and making money on the Web.

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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