Rick Fox – Timberland Partners
When Rick Fox saw kids using a bike park recently, he couldn’t help but feel proud.
As they raced around the colorful tracks, the kids showed Fox the impact of his work with their laughter and smiles. The director of facilities management for Timberland Partners likes knowing the features he adds to apartment complexes are worthwhile.
Fox, whose title also includes asset manager, oversees capital projects and renovations at Timberland Partners’ properties. Whether with small touches, like new appliances, or big additions, like a bike park or fitness center, he says he’s always looking to improve the experience of residents.
“When the projects are done, it’s so great to come back and see people using and enjoying them,” he says. “I also like seeing how the ‘value adds’ contribute to rent value going up because it’s proof that the projects actually make the properties more desirable.”
Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Timberland Partners owns and manages 83 apartment properties in 15 states. It has over 18,000 units and is planning to acquire or build an additional 4,000 by 2022.
As of June, Fox says the company has acquired five new properties in 2021. Two are in Rochester, Minnesota; and the others are in St. Louis, Missouri; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Knoxville, Tennessee. A sixth acquisition is in the works in Savannah, Georgia, which will be Timberland’s first property in the state, and it’s now looking for its firsts in North and South Carolina.
He and his team take over once units are acquired or built and oversee capital upgrades and renovations. He says they look to do “anything that can add value” and which residents want.
While Timberland has employees in each location, Fox needs to hire outside vendors and contractors for some of the work. With so many locations in the Midwest and southeast, he prefers national vendors because he can rely on them wherever he is. With local vendors, he would need to continuously find and build new partnerships.
“Going into a market that’s new for us, like Savannah, it helps us to have an established relationship,” he says. “We can work with them, or we can trust them to point us to someone else in the area.”
Fox travels a lot for his job so he can train and support his team. Building trust with his staff has made it so he doesn’t need to stay on-site as long, giving the team more autonomy. Once he returns home, he oversees the project remotely. He also uses this approach with vendors and says it builds trust.
“To me, our vendors aren’t just vendors,” Fox says. “They’re partners in our business, and I treat them like that because I expect them to treat our properties as if they’re theirs.”
With over 1,000 capital projects in the works, having strong partnerships has helped a lot recently, Fox says.
A lot of the projects are “normal maintenance,” he says, and include gutter repairs, tree trimming, window repairs and new asphalt parking lots and sidewalks. He’s also added amenities based on market research, what competitors are offering and information from resident surveys.
For example, a tennis court at a Birmingham, Alabama, property wasn’t getting much use, so Fox replaced it with a resort-style pool. In South Haven, Mississippi, a tennis court was converted to a bike park. Many residents have requested dog parks, so he says adding those has been a priority, as well.
He recently finished a 226-unit renovation at a property Timberland acquired three years ago in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Every kitchen was renovated with new countertops, cabinets, flooring and appliances, and the exterior of the building was repainted. Additionally, the roofs were replaced, the pool and fitness center were upgraded, and amenities were added, including an outdoor firepit and grilling area, a dog park and a pet wash station.
“We look for opportunities to buy B-minus properties and turn them into A properties,” he says.
Fox is also working on a $500,000 upgrade to a clubhouse at a Lincoln, Nebraska, property, which he expects to be finished by the end of June. The clubhouse, a social space for residents, is getting new exterior paint, a new laundry center, a new fitness center and an outdoor grilling station by the pool.
“At Timberland, we continue improving our properties over time rather than buying them to flip and sell,” he says. “We care about our residents, and we want to provide them with the best.”
Fox has been with Timberland Partners for almost five years, and continues his education.
He attends the National Apartment Association conference every year to stay informed about what competitors are doing and what renters want. The conferences also keep him connected with vendors and allow him to meet new ones.
With a background in sales, relationship-building comes naturally to Fox. He previously worked as a national renovation manager at HD Supply, where Timberland was a client of his.
“I like that I get to work in all facets of the business, whether it’s operations or marketing or developing contracts,” Fox says. “It’s nice to be in a place where everyone has the same game plan.”
View this feature in the Blueprint vol. VII 2021 Edition here.
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