A private place for weary passengers to escape to and relax has sprouted at the world's busiest airport in Atlanta - but its roots are deeply planted in the Quad-Cities.
Known as Minute Suites, a set of five private rooms have been built on Concourse B at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport. For rent on an hourly basis, the suites provide a retreat for travelers who want a place to nap, to escape airport hustle and bustle, or to get work done between flights.
Each Minute Suite measures 7-feet by 8-feet and is equipped with a daybed sofa, a work station and a 32-inch LED television that can be switched from satellite TV to the airport's flight-tracking system. The rooms keep out airport noise with a sound-masking system.
The concept is the brainchild of Quad-City ophthalmologists Dr. Amir Arbisser and Dr. Lisa Brothers Arbisser, who recruited investors and professionals in their own backyard to develop the idea and bring it to reality.
Jim Thomson, one of the early investors, recalls Amir Arbisser pitching him the idea after the Arbissers had completed a detailed market study.
"One of the things that impressed me was Amir's dream was this could be a Quad-City company," he said. "Almost all of the investors but one or two are from here. The vendors are local - Computer Team, Entertainment Expressions, dphilms, Gere/Dismer Architects."
"If we have a corporate headquarters someday, it could be here," said Thomson, who also is chief executive officer of Quad-City Community Healthcare, a Davenport-based health insurance provider. As of now, Minute Suites is headquartered in Atlanta.
As Minute Suites grows and expands - as the owners predict it will - it will mean more business for the Quad-City partners who planned, designed and built the suites down to very last detail. For months, a prototype took shape in the downtown Rock Island offices of Gere/Dismer.
Since opening in mid-November, Minute Suites have served more than 400 airport passengers who have stayed an average of 90 minutes per visit and as long as overnight.
Daniel Solomon, managing partner/co-founder of Minute Suites, said the Arbissers recruited him about 2½ years ago. "The original idea was a product of their widespread travels, especially to the Far East where they saw these private capsules (for travelers). Their idea was a Fit and Fresh, a respite for travelers where they could have healthy food alternatives, a shower, exercise and rest and sleep."
But while the Arbissers were thinking of the health aspects, he said his role was to determine the business side of the concept. "We could never reconcile offering a place you worked out and slept," he said, adding that plumbing in an airport also creates difficulties.
Thomson said the new company has other potential competitors trying to start up. "Our niche is a little different. We're a two- to three-hour sort of thing, very high quality and very green-designed. One of the most innovative things in our suites is we have napping software. You can put on the headphones to take a 36-minute power nap or set it for the amount of time you have. I tell you, it works," said Thomson, who has been a guest in the suites with his family.
Solomon, a Midwest native and graduate of Western Illinois University, said the first expansion may come on Concourse E at the Atlanta airport. "We're hopeful to go from five suites to 18 or 19," he said.
With the heightened airport security after the Christmas Day terrorism attempt in Detroit, Thomson said "people are getting to the airport really early and spending time in our suites."
Other customers are using the facility to host small business meetings.
While the investors say Minutes Suites is an "idea whose time has come," it is not something they expect will ever hit an airport the size of Quad-City International. "The most ideal spots are the airport hubs where you have more people with layovers," Thomson said, adding that hiring staff for airport with less volume would not pay off.
To date, Minutes Suites employs about a dozen employees in Atlanta to take reservations, assist guests and keep the suites clean.
"Minute Suites gives our passengers an affordable, private retreat within the terminal to nap, relax or work," said John Cugasi, the concessions director at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airport.
The project has been a labor of love for the Quad-City businesses that have provided everything from marketing materials to electronics and technology.
For Jess Waldron, the project became a full-time job as he acted as the company's operations manager while the actual suites were built. He spent countless hours working on the structures at the Atlanta airport in November while his business partner, Virgil Richardson, continued to run their Entertainment Expressions store at Duck Creek Plaza, Bettendorf.
Originally, Entertainment Expressions was brought in as a vendor to do the installation on the prototype. "We were excited about this from the very beginning," Waldron said. "Our clientele is fairly high-end clientele and we get to rub shoulders with the kind of people who will use it (the suites)."
Waldron stayed in Atlanta for three weeks while the five suites. "I installed all the computer systems and dealt with the contractors, the airport and my own products. A lot of the work had to be done at night because it's an airport."
To block out airport noise, the suite includes an insulated acoustic ceiling and cloth-covered walls. He also installed each suite's television, ceiling speakers, DVD and computer and sound systems. "If it was low voltage, I did it," said Waldron, who now expects to create a new division of his company to work with Minute Suites. "We're going to be a long-term player with them."
While the project definitely had a Quad-City flavor, Solomon said "Jess (Waldron) worked long and hard and really made it happen for us."
Also part of the team was Computer Team Inc., Bettendorf, which developed the software to handle reservations and track guests. "We are essentially the IT (information technology) for Minute Suites," said Dave Smith, Computer Team's president.
Smith said his company also developed Minute Suites' Web site and addressed other technology issues. "Now we're the data center and support for the facilities, we're behind the scenes," he said. "We knew right away it was a great idea. If you have ever sat in an airport, it can be insanity. Atlanta is thrilled with it."
Rock Island-based dphilms Imaging Services also played a role as a video partner. Angela Rheingans, dphilms' operations manager and executive producer, said the company created the initial video as well as the one now on the Web site. The first one, she said, "was used more as a pitch tool for the different airports."
Out of that partnership, dphilms took on other marketing and branding for Minute Suites until the new company eventually hired a marketing director. "We're still working with them on a number of things," Rheingans said.
A full-service video production company, dphilms also was immediately sold on the concept behind the suites. "It is really a great alternative for travelers who want to maximize on their time, relaxing, kicking back, checking e-mail, getting some work done or just taking a nap," she added.
She recalled all the hours spent in the prototype suite at Gere/Dismer. "We brought in luggage and jackets and would decide ‘we need to have a hook here,' or ‘you'd place your soda there' ... The prototype helped showcase the concept to investors," she said.
Rheingans also was impressed by how most the project is Quad-City based. "I know it was very important to a number of investors that Minute Suites keep as much of the business local in the Quad-Cities. We all want Minutes Suites to succeed, but because it is going into different airports it will not help the Quad-City economy much unless they keep the business here."
Thomson said Minute Suites is talking with other airports such as JFK in New York, Dallas/Fort Worth and Toronto, Canada. "Now that we've built one and know they're successful and well-received, we are shifting gears into a major expansion mode," he said.
Solomon said 19 prime airports have been identified as candidates for Minute Suites "and we're talking to them all."