Family-run Fire Truck Business Set to Rehab South County Retail Plaza
From Childhood Dream to Thriving Business
Bill Franz grew up loving fire trucks. And in 1986, he saw an ad in the paper that changed his life.
It had a phone number and a simple message: “Sell fire trucks.” Bill was in. He called the number and went to work for a company out of Chicago doing just that.
Soon, he and his wife, Norma, decided to start their own firetruck sales company out of their house. It’s grown into Sentinel Emergency Solutions, a thriving family business with two locations in the St. Louis area: one in Arnold, one in Freeburg, IL.
Sentinel sells, repairs, and customizes fire engines for municipalities throughout Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. They also provide the life-saving boots, helmets, gear and breathing apparatuses firefighters use every day.
In 2007, Bill’s son Brian Franz became a partner in the business, and several members of the family are also heavily involved.
With a lease on their Freeburg, IL, location set to expire, Sentinel was ready to buy commercial property in the St. Louis area, one that would bring their two sites together. They also wanted room to grow, looking toward the future.
For that, a mutual business advisor referred them to a broker at Hilliker Corporation.
A Belief in Serving Communities
Bill and Brian Franz hoped to find a piece of raw land where they could build a structure that would suit the needs of their unique business model: bays for repair and customization, offices, a showroom, and a large lot.
They knew they needed to stay near I-255 for the sake of their clients. Brian said, “There are gravel floors in some southern Illinois fire departments. They have Bingo nights to pay for gas.” Neither Bill nor Brian wanted to ask these valuable customers to drive any farther than they needed to.
However, there was little raw land or other industrial buildings that would suit their needs. With the help of O’Brien and their partners at Doering Engineering, they saw an opportunity.
Franview Plaza, a commercial retail space in unincorporated St. Louis County and just off Telegraph Road, looked like it might meet their needs. An L-shaped retail strip with several tenants, the largest space had gone unfilled for seven years. Having been initially occupied by an A&P grocery store, it had many tenants over the years but was now sitting vacant.
As the demographics of the location had changed, there were few obvious solutions for new tenants. The owners, Franview Partners, were ready to divest themselves of the property and looking for the right match. They needed someone who would take care of the building’s current tenants and had a plan for the grocery-store-sized space.
Incredibly, Franview Partners were represented by Hilliker’s Will Aschinger, so the Hilliker Team went to work on their clients’ behalf, looking not only to benefit the two businesses but also the community.
An Unexpected Solution: St. Louis Commercial Retail Space
Bill and Brian knew the benefits of purchasing already-developed land: that drainage, grading, and other pieces of infrastructure were already in place.
The Franzes hadn’t considered taking on tenants, but they immediately saw the potential. Tenants meant income, and though they saw how much work the building needed, they were up for the challenge.
As for the old grocery store space, the Hilliker Broker came upon a highly creative solution. He suggested Sentinel adapt this now obsolete retail center, recommending they tear it down and construct their ideal building from scratch.
In total, Sentinel would acquire 55,000 square feet of St. Louis-area commercial property but only keep 20,000. The rest would be torn down and rebuilt into a beautiful, state-of-the-art, 30,000-square-foot facility.
Everyone was on board.
Aschinger and team spent many hours guiding their clients through the process of securing zoning approvals from the county. In the end, Sentinel’s real estate investment arm, LJC Commercial (owned by Brian & Maria Franz), purchased 2828-2830 Telegraph Road in South St. Louis County for $1,500,000.
Businesses Working Together for their Community
Jim Roberts, of the Franview Partnership, was happy to see his company’s investment getting a new life. He said, “The center needed to be refurbished … It was time to make changes, but it’s hard to find credit-worthy tenants, and we wanted to do something positive for the neighborhood.”
Roberts sees Sentinel’s plans for the commercial property as a way to “create new enthusiasm” in the region, hoping the upgrade will also mean more revenue for the Mehlville School District in particular.
Brian Franz was ecstatic with Hilliker’s work on the project. He said he had been searching for a broker who would “communicate with me and really be on our team. We needed somebody who would kind of steer us down the path. Brendan was in constant communication with me. And having him and Will in the same office was a real help to us as well.”
With plans drawn by Dial Architects, work is underway. Sentinel plans to break ground in the spring of 2019 and move in by January 1, 2020.