23 Grandview Park Drive
In the autumn of 2020, Bill Franz and his family decided that, after 25 years, it was time to move on from the building at 23 Grandview Park Drive in Arnold, Mo. Franz obviously felt a little sentimental—Arnold was where he and his wife, Norma, had started Sentinel Emergency Solutions out of nothing back in 1985. From there, they had moved to this facility in 1995, and watched the operation grow to service customers throughout Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. And this building was also where their children, son Brian Franz and daughter Amy Schipper, had joined the family business in 2007.
But along with the nostalgia, Bill felt more than a little apprehension. He was afraid that the 40-year-old building wouldn’t sell. Part of it was the uncertain economy, with so many big box businesses that might want a 6,000-square-foot warehouse, shutting their doors. But more than that, it was the fact that the building was so unique that he didn’t know whether another company could even use it. You see, the Franzes sell firetrucks.
For more than three decades, Sentinel Emergency Solutions has sold, repaired, and customized fire engines for municipalities throughout the region. To do so, the building had to have 75-foot-long bays and a 25-foot ceiling. It also used two whopping 14-foot-high bay doors that allowed the trucks to pull in and out in a rare drive-thru set-up.
“I was concerned because, depending on who the would-be buyer was, they might not need that high of a ceiling or doors that big,” says Franz. “And most companies who could use doors that big need a loading dock, which we didn’t have.”
Franz knew he would need help finding the right fit at the right price for his former home away from home. He needed Hilliker.
Expansion, consolidation, and a chance meeting
Back when the Franzes first opened Sentinel, they weren’t the only firetruck game in the area. There was a competitor who, like Sentinel, dealt in Rosenbauer brand equipment out of Freeburg, Ill., some 20 miles on the other side of the Mississippi River from St. Louis. But in 2013, with son Brian now aboard, Sentinel merged with the Illinois company, and two years later, the Franzes bought them out.
Now Sentinel was operating two separate locations just 40 miles apart. But the problem that soon became apparent wasn’t just that they were too close to each other—it’s also that, in many ways, they weren’t close enough.
“We thought technology would enable us to keep the company and our employees in close contact,” says Franz. “But email and even the telephone just doesn’t take the place of personal contact. There’s nothing like running into someone at the coffee pot and asking them how things are going.”
They eventually decided to consolidate. Given the unique dimensional requirements of their business, they opted to build a new facility from the ground up. But they wanted land somewhere midway between Arnold and Freeburg that would also be far enough outside of the city to allow easy access for clients coming from both Illinois and Missouri. In order to find that property, a business advisor recommended Franz contact Hilliker Corporation.
In March 2019, Hilliker helped the Franzes locate and secure the perfect spot, an all-but-abandoned commercial retail space formerly occupied by an A&P Grocery Store in unincorporated St. Louis County, just off Telegraph Road. Coincidentally, the seller of that property was represented Hilliker’s Will Aschinger.
Bringing the broker/client relationship “full circle”
Less than two years later, with construction of the new building complete, Sentinel all moved out of the old Arnold facility, Franz didn’t hesitate to circle back to Hilliker. Aschinger, in particular, had put in hours guiding the Franzes through county zoning approvals and other changes both expected and unforeseen. And just as Aschinger had helped Sentinel acquire its new property in St. Louis County, he seemed like the natural choice aid the Franzes in divesting of its old building in Arnold.
“Will had been involved throughout our acquisition of the property and even contributed ideas as our new building went up,” says Franz. “He was quick to understand our business and our individual needs.”
Aschinger also immediately understood that, while they needed to be careful not to overprice the quirky listing, they also didn’t want to just give it away. Despite Franz’s unease about the prospects of a timely sale, Aschinger urged patience.
Patience paid off. Within 30 days of listing the property, they not only got more than a few calls, but they also got their first offer. It was low-ball, to be sure. But it gave Franz even more faith in his broker.
“It showed us that Hilliker was out there promoting the building,” says Franz. “It also buoyed our confidence that we didn’t have to take the first offer. Will did a good job of leading us away from that offer and telling us to wait.”
They didn’t have to wait too much longer. Little more than a month later, an amazing 80 days after the property was listed, the Franzes got the higher offer they’d been hoping for. Absolute Water Technologies, a water purification company, bought the building for $575,000.
“We really did appreciate the job that Will and Hilliker did,” says Franz. “My business is selling firetrucks. I’m not a real estate guy. We were looking for guidance, for someone to hold our hand through this process. And that’s exactly what we got with Hilliker.”