Optometry is only half the story behind the Colorado Springs health care dynasty Abba Eye Care.
Owner Marcus Meyer learned his eye care trade at the Illinois College of Optometry. But it's his real estate acumen that has grown his corporation to 14 locations.
He hopes to buy property and open a 15th location south of Colorado Springs near Fountain and the Security-Widefield area this month.
Meyer learned the real estate trade from his father, Clifford, while growing up in the 4.51 square-mile town of Medford, Wis., which is located northwest of Wausau and has a population of 4,300.
Meyer's father not only built vacation homes around the city, he created several lakes that allowed him to build waterfront property. Meyer and his two brothers would cut trees and help dam areas to create the lakes as well as use dynamite to blow holes in the earth to create small ponds. That was in 1966 when Meyer was 14.
"We stood half a mile from those blasts," he said, "and it would send rocks falling on top of us."
His father taught Meyer that owning property is better than renting. He also taught him how to investigate land values, negotiate deals and, perhaps most importantly, when to walk away from a proposed project.
Meyer is currently constructing an eye care center on Woodmen Road, east of Powers Boulevard and not far from Penrose-St. Francis Hospital. It is scheduled to open Jan. 27. And he's looking for additional property as mortgage rates remain low. He's not the only one. Commercial retail rental vacancies in the Springs have remained nearly flat so far in October compared to the previous month, as more business owners are buying rather than leasing their locations.
Meyer opened his first Abba Eye Care inside the strip mall at the southeast corner of Constitution Avenue and Circle Drive in 1978. It remains one of only five properties he does not own. The other four are in Lamar and on military installations at Fort Carson, and Peterson and Buckley Air Force bases.
Meyer bought his first piece of commercial property in 1985 off Highway 50 in Pueblo for $52,000. He sold it about four years later to a developer for $210,000. Meyer embarked on a buying spree in 2008 after the nation's economy collapsed, as bargains seemed to appear nearly every day. He just bought another parcel in Pueblo that was in foreclosure. The bank had $975,000 borrowed against the property. Meyer's price: $275,000.
Still there are limitations to what he will purchase. Sometimes, laws that restrict the height of a sign, or the lack of building visibility will cause him to end a deal.
"Always look for the best price," he said, "but if it is not a premium location, it does not make sense."
If Meyer were hosting a real estate seminar to would-be buyers, he would give this advice:
- Look for property with high traffic flow, high visibility and a price that will give the highest return on that particular investment.
- Check all zoning codes that affect the property, including signage.
- Find renters before you buy a property whenever possible.
- Understand what the seller or the bank needs out of the deal, or your offer won't even be considered.
- Know why you want the property. Buying a former restaurant to open a pet center may not work.
- Don't overextend yourself financially.
- And, if it doesn't feel right, walk away.
"If your gut says you know you are getting in over your head, and it is getting sour," Meyer said, "walk away."
Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275.