Developer contributes to hometown, beyond

By Ken Keuffel
Pfeiffer University

As Dusty Mason of Albemarle was pursuing his Master of Science in Leadership degree, which he earned from Pfeiffer University in 2000, a professor urged students in one of his classes to apply their graduate studies know-how to the challenges facing the companies where they worked. One of the projects rested on redoing business models.
Initially, Mason found it hard to relate. His classmates were working adults in their 30s and older. He was 22 years old at the time, and he didn’t have a job.
“I just knew I wanted to start my own business,” Mason said.
The professor encouraged him to figure out what that business should be, and then, to make it a reality. Mason would do just that. After befriending and picking the brains of some guys who had started a Gold’s Gym in Salisbury, he decided that he would follow in their footsteps by establishing a Gold’s Gym franchise in Albemarle.
The financing for such a venture came from an SBA loan he secured after presenting a bank with solid business and marketing plans that he started for his class and developed over time. Eventually, Mason would start and own eight additional Gold’s Gyms, all but one of which he has since sold.
“I loved the franchise model and the brand and what it represented,” he said. “I really fell in love with the fitness industry.”
That the fitness industry was a good fit for Mason wasn’t all that surprising. He knew the value of fitness, having taught P.E. at a private Christian school before he started the Gold’s Gym in Albemarle. He had also played basketball at Gardner-Webb University and at Pfeiffer, where he completed his last year of eligibility as he began work on his MSL. In fact, his Pfeiffer team went undefeated in conference play and made it to the Elite Eight of a post-season tournament.
The entrepreneurship in Mason that Pfeiffer helped spark has been sustained by his drive — he rises early each day to take on the business at hand — and his knack for coming up with the right questions for each project and asking them. He also enjoys the fact that he can keep his own schedule: For example, he relishes being able to take a couple of hours off each afternoon during winters to coach the middle school basketball team at Gray Stone Day School, which is next door to Pfeiffer’s campus in Misenheimer.
Mason’s entrepreneurship has evolved beyond the fitness industry to include the purchase and development of various properties. He now also owns several restaurants, including Five Points Public House and The Courthouse Tavern & Table, both in Albemarle.
As Mason tells it, this change of direction owes itself to a business epiphany of sorts: After owning the Gold’s Gym in Albemarle’s Delco Plaza for seven years, he realized that he was the only tenant in the shopping center and he could buy the center with what he was paying in rent and end up “leasing the entire thing.”
In time, a “medical complex” of sorts emerged at Delco under Mason’s ownership: A pediatrician set up shop there, as did a general practitioner, a chiropractor and a pharmacist. Other tenants have included a furniture store and a restaurant.
In time, Mason went out and bought several other shopping centers and other commercial properties, favoring those that were empty or nearly empty. He’d rehab a property, lease it out — then decide whether to keep managing it or sell it. What he ultimately does with a property depends on whether the capitalization rate on it significantly exceeds what he paid for it.
Mason reckons that he’s “bought, sold and managed a little over a million square feet in the last 10 years.” Although he has lots of business in multiple states to occupy his attention, he particularly likes making things happen in Albemarle.
A recent, high-profile example of his local focus has been happening at Albemarle Crossing, located along N.C. Highway 24-27. When Mason bought the property last year, it had just one tenant, a Belk department store. It now has several, including what Albemarle has lacked for some time, namely a climate-controlled storage facility.
A Goodwill store has also taken up residence in Albemarle Crossing – a situation about which Mason is particularly proud, since the grand opening attracted a line of roughly 300 people waiting to get into the store.
“You can sign leases all day long,” he said. “If a tenant doesn’t have a chance of being successful, then what’s the point? You’re just going to be looking for another tenant in two years. We felt that with what Goodwill does and what their model is, it would just go very well here. And it has.”
Mason’s hometown roots extend to the university through more than his connection as a graduate. His grandmother, Ruby Mason, served as Pfeiffer’s director of financial aid for decades. His father, Gordon Mason, is a 1976 Pfeiffer alumnus. And, as a child, he remembers spending many summer days on Pfeiffer’s campus as a participant in annual sports camps. These are just some aspects of a legacy that influenced his decision to pursue graduate school at Pfeiffer’s campus in Charlotte while living in Stanly County, which in turn, laid the foundation for his career pursuits and accomplishments that have created so many opportunities for the county’s residents.
What’s more, “Albemarle is my hometown,” he said. “I prefer to do things around there.”