Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Getting Commercial Brokers on Your Side

Not every community has an active commercial brokerage community. In some communities, property values and rental rates are so low that the brokerage community might be nonexistent. There just isn't enough value to justify putting the time into making a deal. In these cases, the only way to drum up retail prospects and fill vacancies may be for district managers to actively prospect for new retail themselves. That includes working with property owners and showing retail spaces to prospective tenants of YOUR choosing. But more on that another time...

This post is not for the district manager who has no brokers to work with. This post is for those district managers who have a decent brokerage community and need to figure out ways to harness that community for the benefit of the district. The first step is to understand how commercial brokers work. There are two kinds of commercial brokers. There are those that work for property owners in search of tenants, and then there are those that represent tenants looking for space. And of course, there are brokers who do a little bit of both - but let's keep it simple. Your job as a district manager is not to meddle with this system - the last thing you want to do is be perceived as competition to your local brokers. Instead, you want to make sure they see you as a partner in their efforts, rather than competition for clients. So here are a few pointers:

  • Make it easy: brokers get paid when the deal is done, regardless of whether the lease is signed by a check cashing agency, or a cute boutique. If the property owner doesn't care who rents a space, then neither will the broker. So half of your job is to make it easy for the broker by providing leads for businesses that YOU want in the district. If you stumble across a retailers or restaurant that you think would be a great addition to your district, talk to the owner, ask them about their expansion plans, and then offer them a tour of your district. Coordinate that visit with local brokers so that the owner can see as many spaces of possible that fit his or her criteria.
  • Map your district: Brokers like maps. Retailers like maps. Create a compelling map of your district that shows where all the major traffic generators are. By traffic I mean PEOPLE. What major businesses or venues attract people? Are there hotels or offices that attract visitors or employees? Is there a Post Office or Library that brings people to the district. Take the time to map - and if possible - estimate how many visitors go to that destination a year. While you are at it, include major retailers and their logos on your map.
  • Market your district by telling a 'market data-based' story: Brokers market their spaces very well. They create 'sell-sheets' that provide basic information about the retail space. What they often don't have is very compelling district marketing material. In this day and age, this doesn't need to be printed en mass, you can print marketing material as you need it, or better yet, create a nice PDF that includes your district map, some compelling market data, and a clear statement describing the kinds of retail that you want and need.
  • Keep a prospect list, grow it and selectively share it: Make your prospect list a resource that is available to brokers when they need it. Over time (and these things do take time to build) identify a wish-list of local retailers - sometimes the best place to find these are other similarly situated districts), include contact information and site selection criteria. If brokers know you are keeping this list, you will be their first stop when they sign a client and start prospecting for tenants.
  • Know your market better than the brokers do: Collecting market data is all well and good, but the problem is that most market data is based on census data - which only tells the residential story. If your district includes a significant number of visitors or daytime employee, gathering information about the customer quickly becomes cost prohibitive for any individual broker to compile for any individual site. A better thing to do is to commission a detailed consumer survey at least every few years. Use this survey to collect information about where your visitors and employees work and live, how much they spend, where they shop and what other retail and restaurants they would like in the district. Turn this survey data into a report that can be distributed to the brokerage community - and include tidbits that help you build your story in your marketing material.
  • Develop relationships with your brokers: The world is built on relationships. Keeping up with your brokers and property owners will ensure that you have the inside scoop, and can ultimately help influence, their tenant decisions. But this only happens when you have developed a trusting relationship over time and they have come to value your judgement.

By serving as a repository of useful information, and a source of easy leads and deals, you will transform your brokerage community from a force that works against your district vision to something that helps advance your district vision.

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