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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 1, 2002

Company strips hotels 'down to walls' for profits

By James McNair
Cincinnati Enquirer

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

Michael G. Lunsford, is president and CEO of National Content Liquidators Inc. in Springboro, Ohio. His company liquidates items for accommodations ranging from flophouses to five-star resorts, Lunsford says.

Gannett News Service

Restaurant owners, churches and fraternal organizations scarf up rusting, greasy kitchen grills at 10 percent of the price of new equipment. Beds, bureaus and lamps end up in budget hotels. And those used 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. Be it five-star resort or five-roach flophouse, 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, Ohio. This year, Lunsford expects NCL to approach $7 million in revenue.

"We've done hotels, churches, industrial plants, hospitals and casinos," said Lunsford. "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, put it in a new Atlantic City hotel.

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 Lunsford took charge.

"Our whole approach is to sell to the general consumer, which is why we switched to tag sales instead of auctions," Lunsford said. "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, Lunsford said. Over the years, he said, NCL has handled 725 liquidations.

In Cincinnati, NCL is now liquidating contents of 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," 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 the 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 company has liquidated stately properties as well.

NCL has also liquidated the Albee Theatre in Cincinnati, the Ambassador West in Chicago, the Ritz-Carlton in Boston, the Bellevue Stratford in Philadelphia and the Olympic Hotel in Seattle.

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

NCL liquidated his Commodore and Delmonico hotels. 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.

The company does its job with 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 in Springboro, Ohio, north of Cincinnati.

There you can choose from a more representative sampling of NCL's hotel plunderings.

"Nobody in America has more armoires than we have," Lunsford said.