Costa Mesa - For an idea of just how well the Ayres family works together as
a team, consider this: Don Ayres Jr. and his three sons-Don, Bruce, and Doug-won the Trans Pacific Yacht Race in 1987, the grueling sailing contest that starts in California and finishes in Hawaii. The four men made up half of the crew aboard Drumbeat, the family's 70-foot yacht, and performed so well as a team that they beat out the dozens of other competitors to win the coveted overall title.
The same principles that helped them win at sea-teamwork, trust, and perseverance - have been helping them to win in business for years.
As owners and operators of the Ayres Hotels, they've built 16 suites, inns, and hotels stretching across Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties, as well as the Inland Empire. Their growth has been constant-one or two hotels a year over the last decade-and the signs bearing the Ayres name are becoming almost ubiquitous in Southern California.
Family involvement, they all agree, has been key to their growth and success. "While my brothers were finding land sites and developing hotels, I was taking care of the operations side," says Don, who, like his siblings and father, eschews titles, preferring to be known simply as the person who oversees the marketing, branding, and pricing strategies.
But Ayres, the man who started it all and the untitled head of the company (he jokingly jostles with son Doug for the title of "head janitor") , says he never planned for it to turn out this way. "I didn't envision having my children work for me," he says.
In fact, until the late 1970s, the elder Ayres was the only Ayres at the company, and the nature of the business was quite different. Back then, he was known as a homebuilder, not a hotelier. He built some 30,000 homes, including such local developments as the Newport Shores community in West Newport and the La Questa homes in Huntington Beach.
Don Ayres Jr. got his start as a young man of 23, when he broke with the tradition set by his father and grandfather, both of whom were land developers in Los Angeles, and built his first two homes in Baldwin Hills.
"It was after the war, and the land development business was slow. Builders were taking over the subdivisions, so I thought I'd better find something else to do," he recalls.
Although he was a neophyte, he caught on fast. "I found that I liked building and creating something," he says, adding that he sold both homes as soon as they were completed.
He progressed to larger projects and shifted his focus to Orange County, a place with which he was already familiar. "I grew up in West Los Angeles, but I used to come here a lot to sail," says the elder Ayres, who today enjoys time aboard his 20-foot Harbor. It's docked just outside his Lido Isle home, which he shares with his second wife, Janet, who assists with quality control at the hotels. He raised his family in Newport Beach, where the siblings all attended Newport Harbor High School.
In 1978, Bruce came on board after graduating from California State University, Long Beach. Over the years, he's worked in nearly every aspect of the business and now is in charge of land acquisition, among other things.
Next came Allyson, who was responsible for the interior design of the model homes, and later the rooms and public spaces at the hotels.
In 1986, they were joined by Bruce's twin, Don Ayres III, who up to that point had spent a good part of his time on the water. "I sailed a two-man dinghy, and competed in national and international races ," says the younger Don, who is married and has two teenage sons.
In 1989, Doug said goodbye to a most unusual past to join the others. A visual anthropology major at University of Southern California (also the alma mater of Don Ayres Jr., the younger Don, and Allyson), Doug spent long stretches of time living with a tribe in the Peruvian Amazon, where he was working on a documentary. He slept in a palm-thatched hut, and hunted snake and rodents with the tribesmen, who nicknamed him The Hairy One because of his voluminous beard.
He later started a sound design business in Los Angeles, but when he and his wife, Michele, had the first of their four children, they decided that an Orange County lifestyle was more suitable for raising a family.
His experiences in the Amazon, he says, have served him well. "I used to have to speak in front of tribal councils; now I speak at city council meetings and to business groups when they come to the hotels," he says. "And my eye as a cameraman has helped me when I'm designing homes and hotels."
About midway through the 1980s, the face of the family business changed. Don Ayres Jr. says he was tired of what he was doing and was looking for something different. "I got sick of building homes," he says. "It was always cyclical."
He remembered a trip to Europe that he'd taken years earlier with Allyson and his youngest child, Victoria, and how impressed he was by the chateaus and bed and breakfasts where they'd stayed. He decided it was a good time to move away from home building and into the hospitality business.
Under the name Country Side Inn, the Ayres Hotels opened its first hotel in Cardiff by the Sea in 1985.
"It was altogether different from what our competitors were doing. The rooms were beautiful and warm with four poster beds, ruffled bed skirts, and a heavy French country look," says Allyson, who left the company in 1999 to raise her three children with husband Bruce D'Eliscu.
The family began constructing hotels that adhered to the aspects of the bed and - breakfast operations that people liked-breakfast rooms, complementary wine and cheese hours, lobbies decorated with antiques, and courtyards filled with flowers - but wrapped it in a package that appealed to the corporate client. Many are close to airports or business parks, and all offer clean, modern rooms at a mid-range price. On weekends, the demographics change from the business traveler to the tourist.
They've gradually phased out the "country" in the names, and they 're now known simply as Ayres Hotels, Ayres Inns, or Ayres Suites, a change that reflects the more elegant European look they've adopted. And with the exception of Doug, who continues to build homes on his own, the Ayres family is now exclusively about hotels. They have 16 of them and employ 650 people. They've even come out with the Ayres Dream Sleeper, an ergonomically designed bed that's sold in their gift shops.
This year, the family is celebrating its centennial, which marks four generations of the Ayres family in business. In each hotel, guests will find an area filled with historic pictures that show the inception of 20th century real estate development in Southern California. They 'll also find a picture of the man who started it all for this family: Frank Ayres.
One day, pictures of another generation of Ayres will hang from the walls.Says Don Ayres III: "There are 13 grandkids, so I would imagine that at least a few are going to go into the family business ."
From left: Don Ayres III, Sandra Ayres, Doug Ayres, Michele Ayres, Janet Ayres, Don Ayres Jr., Allyson Ayres D' Eliscu, Bruce D'Eliscu, Bruce Ayres, and Jill Ayres