Q&A: HHHunt’s Finds Synergies, Stability in Diversification

MHN caught up with Janet Riddlebarger, leader of the Asset Management Group, to chat about the company’s plans for the future, new technology and the industry concerns that keep her up at night.
Janet Riddlebarger, President of HHHunt Asset Management Group. Photo courtesy of HHHunt

In 1966 Harry H. Hunt III, the founder of HHHunt, saw the need for faculty and student housing at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. Now, after more than five decades, HHHunt is a leader in diversified real estate development throughout the Southeast.

As president of HHHunt Asset Management Group, a position she assumed in 2017, Janet Riddlebarger is responsible for the operations of the organization’s apartment and senior living communities as well as the development division, which is comprised of the land acquisitions, development and construction groups. 

READ ALSO: HHHunt Begins Construction on $43M NC Community

How has HHHunt changed since it was founded in the 1960s and what aspects of the culture and mission continue to endure?  

Riddlebarger: The organization has changed in many ways. We have added senior living, home building and communities development to our very stable apartment living platform. We have focused on providing a great place to work, and our employment now sits at close to 2,000 teammates. We also have expanded our market footprint. We began in Blacksburg, Va., and grew regionally in Virginia, especially in Richmond, and now have communities in Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina as well. Our culture and our mission are still part of what makes our company special. Although we officially created our vision, mission and our brand promises in 2013, we were living the values and exhibiting the behaviors associated with that brand long before they existed in writing. We have become more employee-centered with the help of our HR team and business partners, creating programs such as HHHunt University as a way for our team to grow and develop. We also offer competitive compensation and our benefits simply rock.

What’s the best part of your job? 

Riddlebarger: There are two best parts of my job. First, I get to work with a talented, passionate group of people who live our brand promises and values every day.  They drive our company’s vision and mission, and they have a true desire to learn and grow. Second, I get to be involved in seeing a raw piece of dirt transformed into a beautiful community. It’s truly amazing to see the vision come to life. 

What keeps you up at night?

Riddlebarger: One of the rituals I have always practiced is revisiting the events of my day. I do it every night. I try to think about what I did right and also what I can do better. Did I unintentionally walk by a teammate without speaking? Did I drop the ball on the opportunity to weigh in on a site plan? Did I give enough guidance to our team on the company’s expectations to be successful for a particular project? There are a million reasons to stay up at night and a million reasons not to! It’s a matter of priority and how best to move forward. Our senior vice president of human resources once told me that I needed a very tiny rearview mirror and a very large windshield. I would give that advice to anyone who wants to be focused on the future.

Whats currently in the HHHunt apartment and senior living development pipeline?

Riddlebarger: Our pipeline is probably similar to other developers. We seek sites in high barrier to entry locations that offer us the best chance to grow rents, create jobs and provide synergy of our product types. Our current focus is more on the apartment rental side of the business as demographics continue to point to growth of the multigenerational renter by choice. 

How does HHHunt’s diversified approach—Apartment Living, Senior Living, New Homes and Planned Communities—improve your position in the marketplace? 

Riddlebarger: The diversification provides synergy in some markets and provides stability overall. Our model is not typical for many developers who concentrate on one line of business. Our diversity kept our Home Building and Communities groups in business during the downturn when others went out of business. Our Homebuilding and Communities operations continue to provide cash to expand and grow our multifamily and senior living businesses. The steady income from Senior Living and Apartment Living operations provides a way to expand all areas of the business, invest in new technology, pay competitive salaries and benefits and provide wonderful places for thousands of residents and homeowners to live.

What is the most important apartment amenity today?

Riddlebarger: I’m not sure there is one that is the most important—some are related to basic needs and some to renter preferences. Fitness centers and wellness areas are key for most apartment residents today, as are clubhouses and pools that provide social spaces and ways to meet and engage with friends. Demonstration kitchens and game rooms are requested and utilized. Package lockers, or some type of package delivery/acceptance program, is probably one of the most-needed amenities both for residents and (our) teammates. Well-equipped kitchens with upgraded appliances, granite countertops, energy efficient washers/dryers and hardwood floors are the most requested interior features.

What exciting changes do you see in multifamily and senior living operations?   

Riddlebarger: The changes are mostly related to technology. New revenue software programs are necessary in apartment living. CRM (customer relationship management) platforms are necessary as well in order to ensure that we drive sales and stay connected with our customers. Apartment technology enhancements include things like access to your apartment using your phone and the freedom to set your thermostat remotely. The ability to choose and lease your apartment online has been the standard for several years. Now, you can sign your lease, pay your deposit and rent, get your key code and move in. Senior living also boasts technology centered around management options such as electronic health record keeping. Keepsake programs for dementia and Alzheimer’s residents, and the use of iPads to stay connected to families are all part of a new outlook for senior living.

Whats next for HHHunt in 2020 and beyond?

Riddlebarger: We will continue to invest in multifamily as well as our other business lines. We have a dedicated group of people in our company who are looking at markets, data and demographics in order to point us in the right direction. We have the talent to find land, develop and build quality places where people want to live and manage them for the long term. It’s been our model for over 52 years. Our Founder, Harry Hunt III, says that the best idea wins and it certainly does every day at HHHunt.