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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Mar. 23, 202205:00 AM EST

Business Strategy: Hospitality is the foundation of Curtis DeWitt’s businesses

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Lessons learned from his family serve him today as he rents beach gear and runs a hotel.
by: Dan Macdonald Staff Writer

Hospitality and entrepreneurship are in Curtis DeWitt’s blood. 

He spun off his experience as a hotel docent to start Beach Life Rentals 12 years ago.

In February, he expanded into hospitality by refurbishing and opening the 15-room Salt Air Motel into the Salt Air Inn & Suites.

It is at 425 Atlantic Blvd., near the ocean  in Atlantic Beach.

DeWitt, 36, learned hospitality from his parents, Ken and Gaye DeWitt.

His father was a tournament fisherman. After a big catch, the DeWitts’ home was the place to be to enjoy food and a good time.

“He’d say I’m going out to the fridge, anybody need something? You need something? You need something?” DeWitt said.

Curtis DeWitt maxed out his credit cards to launch Beach Life Rentals at 102 Sixth Ave N., Unit 13, in Jacksonville Beach.

DeWitt, a Fletcher High School graduate, received a bachelor’s degree in business management at the University of North Florida in 2009.

His first job out of college was in a call center. He was promoted to manager but without extra pay for his 60-hour workweeks. While the job did not pay much, he did earn hands-on management experience.

“Give people every advantage and benefit of the doubt to achieve until they give up on you,” he said.

DeWitt’s life changed when he learned One Ocean in Atlantic Beach was hiring. A friend told him to wear a suit.

“It was the middle of July. But I was the best-dressed person in the room. I walked in like I deserved to be in the building,” he said.

The suit snagged him a meeting with human resources, who said the only job left was docent aide in the concierge department.

“I took the job thinking it was the most fun job on the beach. They taught me to be proactive, not reactive. If a guest asked for an iron, I’d steam press the clothes for them,” he said.

Part of his job was providing beach gear, such as chairs, umbrellas and drinks.

He formed Beach Life Rentals seeing that few other hotels were providing such services. 

Curtis DeWitt outside his Beach Life Rentals at 102 Sixth Ave N., Unit 13, in Jacksonville Beach.

To rent bikes, chairs and umbrellas, a new business needs inventory. Banks weren’t eager to lend to a 24-year-old.

“Credit cards, my friend. I maxed out every card I had. It’s the highest interest loan you can get,” he said.

His risky money move provided inventory and he paid off every card.

DeWitt sought family loans during the lean offseason months.

“My Dad would say I didn’t have to pay him back,” he said.

But he did.

“I’d pay him back with interest just like it were a loan. People take advantage of their angel investors and to me those are the ones you need to have the best credit with. They are the ones that can really help you out.”

Financing Salt Air was more conventional, but not easy.

Curtis DeWitt formed Beach Life Rentals seeing that few other hotels were providing such services.

DeWitt and his business partner, Kyle Stucki, kept their eye on the Salt Air Motel. 

The were told it wasn’t for sale, but it could be for the right price. That number was $1.3 million.

It took more than a year to find financing but in 2019 they received it through the Small Business Administration.

They estimated it would take about $250,000 to refurbish it.

The cost was triple that, and securing the additional money delayed the opening.

Curtis DeWitt, left, and his business partner, Kyle Stucki, purchased the Salt Air Motel, transforming it into the Salt Air Inn & Suites in Atlantic Beach.

“Everything that could happen to us happened to us. Resilience should be the name of Salt Air. It was as if the universe was guiding us toward the potholes,” he said.

The motel, built in the late 1940s, had to be taken down to the foundation and cinder block walls. In 2021, the cost of every building material increased.

“We did a lot of yelling, but not at each other. We are like war buddies. We shared an experience that was the worst time in our lives but we got through it together,” he said.

While the coronavirus pandemic caused some problems, DeWitt saw Beach Life Rentals have its best year in 2020 and then triple its revenue in 2021.

People facing lockdowns in other areas came to Florida to vacation and enjoy the outdoors.

This year, DeWitt hopes for two successful businesses.

The transformed Salt Air already has many bookings, including some full weekends.

“I have a place now where I can provide the level of hospitality that I grew up providing people, but now people can pay me to stay at my ‘house.’ ”

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