Thursday, October 10, 2002

Used-furnishings dealer can offer you a bargain


When hotels close doors they call in NCL

By James McNair
The Cincinnati Enquirer

SPRINGBORO — Old hotels never die. When they go, their fixtures, furniture — even, gad, the bed sheets — live on in new locations.

Tacky as they might seem, hotel furnishings can draw scavengers from every corner.

[photo] NCL president Michael Lunsford
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
Restaurant owners, churches and fraternal organization scarf up rusting, greasy kitchen grills at 10 percent the price of new equipment. Beds, bureaus and lamps end up in budget hotels. And those used bed sheets? Well, they can be great for guest beds.

Running the till for much of this wheeling-and-dealing is National Content Liquidators, a company that got its start as an auction firm in the 1890s. Be it five-star resort or five-roach flophouse, more often than not NCL gets the call to, in the words of company president Michael Lunsford, “strip it down to the walls.”

It's a business that sends NCL crews to all 50 states, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas; to the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla.; and the erstwhile Preston Hotel in Sharonville. This year, Mr. Lunsford expects NCL to approach $7 million in revenue.

“We've done hotels, churches, industrial plants, hospitals and casinos,” said Mr. Lunsford, kicking back in a heavily starched white shirt, sans tie. “We've done the Dunes, the Aladdin and the Landmark, the old Howard Hughes project in Las Vegas. Besides the guest room furniture and hotel and bar equipment, we sold the craps tables and slot machines.”

Scrapping the innards of old hotels puts NCL into possession of everything from the mundane — cheap restaurant cutlery and bland landscape art — to the magnificent. When NCL gutted the old St. Charles Hotel in Atlantic City before its destruction, it sold a large domed stained-glass ceiling for $75,000. The buyers, who had to remove it themselves, returned it to duty in a new Atlantic City hotel.

Mr. Lunsford, 50, joined the company in 1979 under the tutelage of his auctioneer uncle, Clem Long. For years, NCL sold its salvaged items auction-style. That ended after Mr. Lunsford took charge.

“Our whole approach is to sell to the general consumer, which is why we switched to tag sales instead of auctions,” said the gravelly-voiced Mr. Lunsford. “That way we control the price, just like any good retail establishment would do. That enables us to pay a higher price (for hotel contents). We'll guarantee a price 50 to 75 percent higher than anyone else.”

Typically, NCL has two liquidation sales going at the same time, although it juggled five on one occasion, Mr. Lunsford said. Over the years, he said, NCL has handled 725 liquidations. To see NCL in action, go to the Preston Hotel, a 400-room property that once was one of Holiday Inn's Holidome recreation hotels.

“When we're done with this project, if they've got their ducks in a line, they'll be demolishing their buildings and starting with construction,” Mr. Lunsford said.

NCL expects to remove everything from the Preston, sold or unsold, by the end of October, said John Feldhaus, NCL's site manager at the Preston. The children's jungle gym and ball pit are spoken for, and the disco ball above the small dance floor in Spanky's Lounge is gone. But the refrigerated metal salad bar can still be had for $325. Color TV sets are going for $69, complete with clicker. The aforementioned bed sheets are priced to sell at $2 for flat, $3 for fitted.

The Preston Hotels of the world butter NCL's bread, but the company has liquidated stately properties as well.

Over the years, NCL has liquidated the Albee Theatre in Cincinnati, the Ambassador West in Chicago, the Ritz Carlton in Boston, the Bellevue Stratford in Philadelphia, the Willard in Washington, the John Marshall in Richmond and the Olympic Hotel in Seattle.

“We had people lined up around a city block every day for two weeks,” Mr. Lunsford said.

Perhaps NCL's best known return customer is New York City developer Donald Trump.

NCL liquidated his Commodore and Delmonico hotels. Mr. Trump is converting the Delmonico, at 59th Street and Park Avenue in Manhattan, into condominiums that will be offered at $2,000 per square foot.

In 2000, NCL was broken up and sold. The industrial plant division was closed. The hospital division was sold to Neoforma Inc. of San Jose, Calif., for $2 million.

The lodging division was sold to a Sunnyvale, Calif., dot-com company called Zoho for an undisclosed amount of cash and stock.

Going the way of so many other Internet companies, Zoho went bankrupt. Mr. Lunsford bought back NCL at a “significant” discount to what he sold it for.

The company has 27 employees, 11 of whom are on the road nine months of the year. The other 16 work at the company's headquarters and outlet store off Exit 38 on Interstate 75 here.

There, if you don't like what NCL has to offer at the Preston, you can choose from a more representative sampling of NCL's hotel plunderings.

“Nobody in America has more armoires than we have,” Mr. Lunsford beamed.

E-mail jmcnair@enquirer.com



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