Father-son entrepreneur team selling a cowboy lifestyle

Father-son entrepreneurial team of Mark E. Hawn (left) and Mark C. Hawn

Father-son entrepreneurial team of Mark E. Hawn (left) and Mark C. Hawn

Can a local father-and-son team sell a piece of “God’s country” in the middle of a real-estate meltdown?

I’d say no, except for two things. The father, Mark E. Hawn, has made millions from previous entrepreneurial ventures. And the son, Mark C. Hawn, spent part of his senior year at Florida State interviewing millionaires about how they succeeded.

The Hawns are subdividing ranch land in Montana, trying to show those with some money — but not as much as Ted Turner — that they too can enjoy the cowboy lifestyle.

They’ve embraced a relatively new concept out West that steals a page from more traditional developments — using a club or association to share amenities and spread the costs, which are considerable on a ranch.

Want to ride horses? All-terrain vehicles? Snowmobiles? But don’t want the ownership or maintenance hassles?

Want to fly fish or shoot sporting clays? But don’t have boots, waders, rods, reels or shotguns?

No worries. They’re part of the $3,500 in annual fees you pay at The Ranches at Belt Creek. It’s part vacation home and part dude ranch, with a manager, wranglers and concierge.

“They’ve created a real family atmosphere that doesn’t feel overdone. It’s authentic,” said Clark Dean, a commercial real estate exec in Atlanta who purchased land there. “It’s not a fly-by-night venture.”

The elder Hawn, 51, bought 800 acres in Belt, Mont., 30 miles from Great Falls, for $800,000 in 2006. After the younger Hawn, 27, graduated from college, they decided to divide the land into 68 plots. Land prices range from $165,000 for five acres to $550,000 for 25 acres.

There are recommended architects, builders and lenders who can finance and construct the homes — anywhere from $600,000 to $1.5 million. The Hawns are not in the construction business, but they have invested $6 million to complete the infrastructure, which include roads, utilities, clubhouse and equestrian center.

At first, the Hawns met with fairly rapid success, selling 10 properties, including several to fellow Atlantans. But that ended with the real estate crash.

“It got so bad, you mention real estate and no one was interested,” Hawn Sr. said.

But two moves paid off — avoiding debt and changing the marketing.

“You got to get creative,” said the younger Hawn. Instead of the previous scattergun approach, the Hawns targeted fundraising auctions at private schools. They offered free vacations to the winning bidder, reasoning that someone who would bid $5,000 to $7,500 also may be interested in buying.

They were right. They sold 10 more properties and are using that strategy almost exclusively now, hoping to reach their break-even point of 35 sales by the end of next year.

They also played their financial cards right by avoiding lenders and using funds from the elder Hawn’s previous money-making ventures to weather the low points.

“I don’t think there’s any such thing as a magic touch,” said the younger Hawn. “It’s perseverance and hard work.”

And learning from your mistakes.

“You pay your fair share of the dumb tax,” he said.

- Henry Unger, The Biz Beat

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4 comments Add your comment

Shudow7071

May 24th, 2011
6:13 am

Their picture looks like they are auditioning for a Sears Catalog. Something strange about those boys.

Donna B

May 24th, 2011
7:35 am

Neat concept. Good luck to the Hawns.

Trophy P

May 24th, 2011
11:07 am

TnGelding

May 24th, 2011
2:13 pm

Anything to make a buck. Interesting, but very limited demand for such extravagant living.