The RBN had a featured article in May’s issue of Shopping Center Business Magazine. Thank you to Harold Shumacher of The Shumacher Group (our Atlanta affiliate) for forwarding the text.
Feature Article, May 2009
Retail Brokers Network — Know, Like, Trust
Motto of ‘doing business with people you know, like and trust’ has set Retail Brokers Network apart over the years.
Roundtable moderated by Randall Shearin
In trying economic times, every business leader knows the importance of networking to build business. One retail network has made strides recently, making a strong effort to grow its presence and its value to members. The Retail Brokers Network, launched in the late 1980s, has grown to 42 member firms with approximately 300 broker/agents. RBN focuses on tenant and landlord rep brokers, and principals of the member companies must be dealmakers. To find out more about the brokers, Shopping Center Business requested a meeting with a sampling of the members. We had the opportunity in February, during RBN’s Southeast Region meeting in Atlanta. Visiting SCB’s offices were: Tim Metzler, Retail Properties, Inc. (Charleston, South Carolina); John Spake, Spake Real Estate (Asheville, North Carolina); Jonathan Lindsey, Southpace Properties, Inc. (Birmingham, Alabama); Scott Dobbins, Gulf Coast Commercial (Tampa); and Harold Shumacher, The Shumacher Group (Atlanta).
SCB: How has the network grown over the years?
Metzler: When I joined the network in 2000, there were roughly 10 members. My territory was North Carolina,South Carolina and Georgia. I had offices in Charleston [South Carolina] and Atlanta at the time. The main reason I joined the network was that my brother’s best friend was in Las Vegas. His business partner was Mike Gleason, who was at the Leo Eisenberg Company, who was a member at the time, and they got me to join. The primary benefit at that time was that the network had a booth in Vegas — we shared the costs. It was more of a cost-sharing, friendly networking group. That first year, when we went to the ICSC Spring Convention in Las Vegas, Steve Eisenberg [of Arnold J. Eisenberg Inc.] was in the booth. I had taught a class in 1987 in Seattle on the development of shopping centers, and he was there. He remembered the lecture I gave. Today, I believe the network allows us to be bigger than who we are. We’re all independently owned, so we are all busy. We’re all working our markets. In your busy day, when the phone starts working at 7:30 a.m. and goes until 8 p.m., how do you get bigger and grow your business? That’s what the network helps us do.
SCB: How does RBN help its brokers who specialize in specific property types or retailers?
Shumacher: We created specialty marketing councils 2 years ago. Out of our 300 affiliates, there may be 30 like me who do restaurant work; there may be 30 who specialize in big boxes; there are maybe 30 who do banks; 30 who do landlord work. We created specialty councils that have monthly conference calls so they can share information and build leads. A lot of companies are scaling back, and they are using networks like us to fill in that real estate department function across the country. We have the relationships. Our challenge is to have qualified people in all the markets that know one another.
SCB: How does the Southeast region work together?
Metzler: We follow the model created by the Northeast. We have affiliates in markets that are closer and closer together. Gone are the days where you get a three state territory! We have offices in the Northeast that are 45 minutes from each other. For instance, RBN has two members in Atlanta, and members in Greenville, Ashevilleand Charlotte. We have four members in Florida. In all, we have 14 members from Virginia to Florida. Now, the opportunity to do business together is much greater.
SCB: How do you see retention among your members in this kind of environment?
Metzler: What’s exciting about this is that we are now selecting our members, versus them selecting us. In 2008, we chose not to renew two memberships. We have had over 50 inquiries to join the network over the past year.
SCB: How does membership in RBN help you in your local markets?
Lindsey: The Birmingham market is a very strong secondary market. We’re fortunate; we don’t have the great peaks and deep valleys that larger markets have. Our business is constant. One of the keys, for me as a member, is the knowledge base that RBN has. When we get together, the strength of knowledge of what’s going on across the region is amazing. We are working with a new quick service restaurant concept called Sips ‘n Strokes, and through the network we’re working deals in Nashville, Auburn [Alabama]. Tuscaloosa, Atlanta and Dallas. If I didn’t have a personal relationship through the network with someone in Dallas, I’d be stalled. One of the mottos of RBN is ‘working with people who you know, like and trust.’ We have a lot of interactive events so that we have time to know all the members. We develop a personal comfort level with each other. That’s why I had no qualms whatsoever picking up the phone and calling the Weitzman Company in Dallas to help my client expand.
SCB: How is RBN for a new member?
Dobbins: We look at this in Tampa as a market share grab. The part time brokers are out of the business and the full-time brokers are going to be cut in half by this economy. There is a galvanizing type of energy going on both regionally and nationally that I wanted to be a part of. In the Southeast region, we are still bullish for the long-term. What better time to hitch our firm to a bunch of like-minded retail centered firms to share best practices and information? Conversely, we’ve been focusing on finding regional and local brands that see this economy as an opportunity. Two years ago, we were competing with Chipotle and Pei Wei for every end cap. The pendulum has swung, and there are tremendous incentives from landlords right now. To be able to share information with a group of counterparts in the same region or nationwide is tremendous.
Spake: I’ve dealt with Tim [Metzler] for 10 years, our affiliate in Greenville for 15 years and our Charlotte affiliate for 15 years. We are already doing business; RBN is a way to solidify it. With RBN, you are guaranteed to get the best in class in each market, or they aren’t going to be in the network anymore. You have to be invited to be in, and you have to perform. You can’t just sign up. It is a 1-year invitation.
Dobbins: One of the challenges for us is communications. Because we’re all owners and brokers, we are busy. Getting all of the owners on a phone call is sometimes challenging. We are more apt to have a call at 6:30 at night than at 3 in the afternoon. Our owners are in production. They are wearing the hat every day, not sitting in a corner office.
SCB: Aside from production volume, what else do you look for in a member?
Metzler: We are looking for owner/operators who are focused in retail. We are looking for people who have individual market knowledge. We’re not looking for someone that has six offices around a state. They must also be client service oriented. Some of our members have evolved into larger companies over time — like Weitzman in Texas — and that is great. As the network has expanded over the last 5 years, it has become increasingly focused on tenant representation. Those firms are typically third party landlord and tenant representation. Each of our members typically owns real estate in his or her market, but they are not in the development business. We’re looking for people who service clients.
SCB: You bring up an interesting point: you have members of all sizes.
Shumacher: Everyone from a three-person office like mine to a company like Weitzman that has more than 100.
Spake: As smaller firms, we tend to work as a team internally. You go to larger brokerages and brokers fight over their books of business. We share our books. We all know what one another is doing. We have been referring business to other brokers for years. That’s why RBN is so open. Rather than fly to California, I would rather refer it to the best broker in the market there. We serve our clients better that way.
Metzler: It is a low cost organization, but the benefits you reap from that cost are amazing. We just had an executive meeting in San Diego. We all paid our own way to get there. One of the things that came up on the agenda was do we want to hire staff and focus on organization. It is amazing that all of these owners of businesses said, ‘We want low costs. We want the owners of the businesses to be involved.’ Often, when we don’t renew a membership, it is because the principals of the companies are not involved in the network. To be in RBN, you have to live retail brokerage every day.
SCB: Are there a lot of rules and regulations for member companies?
Shumacher: We don’t have a formal book of rules. We do have bylaws, but they are not specific about what you can and can’t do.
Metzler: The philosophy of RBN has really galvanized over the past few years. I think the downturn will emphasize it more. It is know-like-trust. The executive committee of RBN, Steve Dombrowski and Ed Ginn in particular, breathe that philosophy. As a network, we’ve adopted it. You know your members, you like your members and you trust your members. Those are the people that you do business with. You don’t need a book of rules when everyone follows a single philosophy.
Shumacher: What’s nice about dealing with an RBN affiliate is that you deal with a principal.
Metzler: We are best at real estate action. On the dirt and driving the streets — that’s where our network excels. We are a national network with extreme local knowledge.
Spake: I gave up an account last week because of the paperwork. I can’t do the reports they want every week. I’m going to find them the best tenant and I’m going to do it the fastest, but I am not going to go through all that paperwork. We’re out doing deals, and we know the market, we don’t have time to do reports and fluff.
SCB: How does a deal work between two member companies?
Metzler: Our firms can react quickly. We don’t have to navigate a political landscape to get information from an affiliate’s office, and vice versa. If I need half a dozen hard lighted corners for a bank client, I will get them tomorrow. There is no bureaucracy.
Lindsey: It is a phone call and a quick answer. It’s not, ‘Let me send you my commission agreement first. After you sign it, we’ll talk.’ It goes back to the whole know-like-trust. I’m not worried about commission agreements; I am worried about getting my clients the answers they need as fast as I can.
Metzler: When I had a three-state territory, we made money because we were Retail Property, Inc. Now, I make money today because we have great RBN partners in my territory and the referral revenue is huge. The service to my clients has gone up.
Spake: We aren’t caught up on fees, which is interesting. I recently put together one of our affiliates’ clients with a franchisee that I knew. I don’t want a fee; I just want to help them out because it is the best service to the client. I always tell my brokers that we are not transactional brokers, we are relationship brokers.
Metzler: We are a true resource to our clients. That’s a national collective that we can provide to our individual clients.
SCB: How is information spread among members?
Metzler: We had the charge to create some national councils. Rob Salmon, from Equity Retail Brokers inPhiladelphia, and I took the challenge of starting the big box council. It is amazing the amount of information that flows on our monthly calls. We have 28 members on this council. The phone calls are typically an hour. Participation in the calls in voluntary. We started in November 2008 going through, from A to Z, any big box tenant that was operating a store in the U.S. For 3 months in a row, phone calls went for over 2 hours while we went through that list. We discussed the tenant, where they were going and what they were doing. The information divulged was phenomenal. The last call, in January, we had been going for 2 hours by the time we got to the last name on the list, XSport Fitness in Chicago. As tired as we were, we spent 20 minutes talking about this health club. The calls spawned so many ideas – emails were firing away while we were on the call. How do you get that interaction except networking? It is very exciting.
SCB: How is the economy affecting your business?
Lindsey: We have a new division called Southpace Solutions to target the economy that we’re in. We’re utilizing the network to help our clients who are downsizing and closing stores. It’s another service we can provide to our clients.
Shumacher: There will be business opportunities that come out of this economy. Whether that is on the disposition side or banks with foreclosed properties. A lot of banks don’t know what to do with their foreclosed restaurant properties. Eventually there will be opportunity in the tenant services area again. People will start growing again.
Metzler: This is my fifth downturn, but this one is interesting. It’s affecting all industries. People in this network are doing business, and they are figuring out how to do business. That is exciting. They’re not waiting for business to come to them. No one is happy about this situation, but on our calls we’re talking about what we are all doing to make a go of it. People are exchanging ideas on how to move America forward. The creativity and entrepreneurial spirit on the calls is phenomenal.
Lindsey: Downturns are the time when the new concepts sprout. Retail has always been very entrepreneurial. I mentioned I’m working with Sips ‘n Strokes. A lot of landlords want to know how they’re expanding in this time. They are franchising, and there are a lot of people out there who have been laid off or retired early. They are looking to start something to control their own destiny. Tim [Metzler] has been preaching on our Southeast Region conference calls for over a year that we, as brokers, are going to do a ton of business.
©2009 France Publications, Inc.