DTN ADDS Value to the Lansing Community
When DTN Management was named Business of the Year at the 2016 Greater Lansing Entrepreneurial Awards, Co-Founder Tom Kuschinski was more than pleased to receive the award.
“It’s very exciting to be honored in that way,” said Kuschinski. “We have very strong ties to the Lansing area, because by far, everything we’ve done has been in the Lansing area up until recently… so it was really nice to get the recognition.”
Getting StartedDTN’s ties to Lansing stretch back more than 40 years, when Kuschinski started the company with his brother-in-law, Nick Uppal. Both had undergraduate degrees in electrical engineering, and at the time the company was founded, both were working on graduate degrees: Kuschinski was finishing his master’s program in marketing at Michigan State University while Uppal was working on a Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Michigan.
“We liked college life,” said Kuschinski. “After I got my master’s, I called Nick and said that I was looking for jobs – I had just received my master’s degree – and I wasn’t interested in the jobs that were offered. We also liked being on a college campus, so we decided we would try to buy apartment buildings and renovate them to create a more desirable product for the community … ”
The brothers-in-law looked at properties in both the Ann Arbor and Lansing areas, eventually settling on a property in Holt. Within six months, Uppal moved to the Lansing area to devote more time to the business, and from there, the two continued to look for other properties, with a greater emphasis on student housing.
In the beginning, Kuschinski and Uppal were the only employees, working out of a one-room office in an older house.
“What really made us successful, more than anything, was repositioning old properties in great locations,” Kuschinski said. “We purchased properties in locations that were within walking distance from Michigan State University’s campus that were either mismanaged or not taken care of. We realized that students deserved to have good services and a nice place to live. So we’d take the properties, put in new kitchens, bathrooms, new carpeting and painting; a complete renovation.”
New Business VenturesAbout 20 years ago, as repositioning properties became more popular, Kuschinski and Uppal saw a demand for newer, upscale properties and decided to start building their own buildings. One of the most successful of those apartment buildings was Aspen Lakes Estates, located on Lone Pine in Holt, Mich.
Building new properties requires a certain amount of vision, and building Aspen Lakes is a clear example of the success that an entrepreneurial spirit and some imagination can bring.
“When you talk about the kinds of entrepreneurs in the building business, Aspen Lakes down in Holt, is probably one of the best examples,” said Colin Cronin, one of the principals of DTN. “When they started this 20 years ago, [Aspen Lakes] was nothing but a cornfield on a dirt road out in the middle of nothing. Someone had the vision to put an upscale community there with nothing around it.”
That vision turned into one of the most luxurious properties in the Lansing area. Aspen Lakes Estates offers its residents an experience unlike anything else in the Lansing area. From the lavishly furnished clubhouse to the well-equipped fitness center, every amenity oozes extravagance.
“When our appraisers came in, they said they hadn’t seen a property of this quality in the Michigan area – they’re not talking Lansing; they’re talking about the entire state,” said Raji Uppal, principal of DTN. “Our focus was to produce the best quality property.”
Aspen Lakes Estates, which has been growing steadily over the past 15 years, has approximately 500 residential units, and the property is nearly full.
The company has continued to grow to include other business ventures. DTN now has four divisions: residential property management, commercial development, construction and an Internet and cable company, which offers high-speed Internet to DTN residents at a lower cost than other providers in the area.
Risks and RewardsWith any business, risk taking is oftentimes inevitable and necessary. But companies that take calculated risks reap the most rewards. Over the years, DTN has found the perfect formula for smart risk taking. The secret? Understanding what each market segment wants and needs, and providing the best service possible based on those criteria.
“The different market segments that we deal with are all unique. Of course, we have students in East Lansing; out in Holt, up in DeWitt, we’ve got a true conventional product … just very different demographics and very different markets,” said Cronin. “You have to understand the market and what the best price point is.
“Each property is its own stand-alone entity. It’s almost like you’re building an individual business, and that business has to be able to survive on its own, and you have to understand that going into the new project.”
One of the unique things that DTN has done to minimize the risks involved with their business is maintaining a balance between creating quality units and taking the time to “do it right.” DTN’s owners aren’t as concerned with the quantity of properties in the area, but rather the quality of those properties, and if that means building a unit over 15 years, that’s fine with them.
“The ability to change as the market conditions change helps to mitigate the risk in the long run,” said Cronin. “When you develop a little bit slower, you have the ability to change as you get new information, and that’s incredibly valuable.”
Family MattersWhen the principals of DTN talk about the company, one of the biggest aspects of the business that they emphasize is their focus on family and family values. Some of Kuschinski and Nick’s family members are involved in upper management positions within the company; Cronin is Kuschinski’s son-in-law and Raji is Nick’s son – eventually the two will take over the company, and younger generations will step in as well.
But it’s not only actual family members who are invested in the company; everyone who works for DTN and lives in their units is considered family. That sentiment shows in the way they treat their customers, employees and everyone in between.
“A lot of our staff has been with us for over 30 years – over 20 years,” said Kuschinski. “It’s because of the stability that we offer – they live here, they move with us and they grow with us. It’s like they’re a part of our family.”
“When people say, ‘what’s DTN?’ we say that it’s family values lived throughout the long-term here,” added Raji. “We found that when we take care of our customers and we take care of our employees, the ownership will be successful. So our focus has very much been about taking care of our employees and our customers, with a customer-focus, managing our risks and growing.”
If nothing else, it is clear that DTN isn’t going away any time soon: the company is currently working on five projects in the Lansing area, as well as expanding into Grand Rapids.
One of the projects that all four principals are most excited about is The Vista at the Heights, a 124-unit apartment community offering a mix of studios, one, two and three bedroom units, that is located in the Eastwood Towne Center. The community offers upscale urban apartment units, which include quartz countertops, luxury vinyl tile and floor-to-ceiling windows with uninterrupted views of the Lansing area. Some of the features of the community include a fitness center, yoga room, lounge area, two clubhouses and Wi-Fi in all common areas.
“The units will surround the courtyard, and include a spa pool, barbeque grills, fire pits, and a putting green,” said Kuschinski. “They’re absolutely beautiful units and it is by far the nicest apartment community in the mid-Michigan area.”
As DTN continues to grow into other communities in Michigan, Kuschinski noted that their intentions are not to rapidly expand, but to steadily add value to each community they do business in.
“We’re very involved in all aspects of the business – we like being able to get our hands on it personally,” he said. “Once you start flying all over the place, you’re in and out and you can’t get really close, so we aren’t looking to take DTN nationwide right now.”
“We have a responsibility to our employees and the communities we’re in, and how we can make this area better” Raji added. “Our focus is really to make Lansing great – we want to make the places that we invest in world class.”