Doug Owen, senior vice president with the Louisville office of JLL, earlier this year won the Broker of the Year Award, in the office brokerage category, from the Kentucky Commercial Real Estate Alliance. Owen is no stranger to this honor. He won the same award in 2012, 2013 and 2017.
What’s behind Owen’s long-term success? Midwest Real Estate News recently spoke to Owens about his long career in commercial real estate and what steps he’s taken to grow his business. Here is some of what he had to say:
First off, congratulations on your office brokerage award. How did it feel taking home that honor again?
Doug Owen: It’s always an honor to receive an industry award. But this isn’t really an individual honor. Even though I may have received the award, we work as a team here. It’s always a team award. It is humbling to get the award, but it’s important to remember that it’s not just you.
How long have you worked in this business, and what drew you to it?
Owen: This year is actually my 20th anniversary in commercial real estate. I started in January of 1999. At that time, I was working in public relations and advertising. I ran into the person who used to own this firm before it became part of JLL, Bob Moore. He challenged me to get away from the standard 9-to-5 job with a salary. He challenged me to take a chance on working on a commission basis. He then mentored me. Bob passed away in 2001, and I do miss him. He taught me how this business works and how to be successful in it.
How important is it to have that kind of mentor?
Owen: I would not have been successful without his guidance. I followed his example. He was one of the most successful industrial brokers in Louisville. He helped build his firm from what was a father-and-son company into something much bigger. He was an inspiration, and you need people like that to show you the way in this business.
How do you survive those first few years of commercial brokerage when you are relying on a commission and you’re still trying to build your reputation?
Owen: That can be challenging. You need the right personality to get through it. You can’t just make a bunch of cold calls and think you’re going to be successful. You have to put in the hours and research the companies. You have to be willing to take the bad with the good and you just have to be persistent. It does take three to five years to get up and running in this business. After that it gets somewhat easier. But you still have to remain persistent. That never changes.
One of the most important things in this business is to have integrity and to be honest with your clients. For me, the end goal is not to make a sale. The goal is to help my clients with their real estate needs and their long-term goals.
When you talk about being persistent, what do you mean by that?
Owen: This is a relationship business. It’s not just about making one call and closing a sale. You have to develop a relationship with the people, not just for the first sale, but for the ongoing sales. You have to work at it. It’s more than just business. It becomes personal. I’ve worked with some landlords for 10 years or more. I know their families. In return, they are involved with my family. It becomes more of a friendship than a working relationship.
You’ve been in this business for a long time. What do you enjoy about it?
Owen: I really like the process. I love commercial real estate. I love working with companies. It’s not about making the sale. It’s about getting to the transaction process. I love helping someone find the perfect office space. There are a lot of interesting trends in the commercial office space market. It’s been interesting to follow that throughout my career. I like helping users of office space become more efficient. I like helping them figure out ways to use less space and ultimately save money.
What big trends do you see today in the Louisville office market?
Owen: Whether you call it efficient use or right-sizing, we are seeing companies using less office space today. We are also seeing companies using their office space in different ways, whether it’s a law firm going to more uniform, standard offices or a bigger company moving out of a traditional office space to a more open layout. Companies are working to become more efficient, not just in terms of actual square footage but in how they work on a daily basis. You know, 20 years ago, employers would say that it was good enough that they are giving their employees a job. Now we are seeing that employers are focusing on how they can keep their employees happy so that they can retain them. A lot of companies are including a host of amenities in their office space. We see kitchens, bars, game areas, quiet areas, all these amenities that give an office that feel of a home away from home. They help make it a much more functional office space. It’s not just about the job but about how people can do the job and do it better.
Does the fact that the office market is constantly changing make this an even more interesting career for you?
Owen: You can never assume you know everything. To be successful, you have to understand that there is always something you don’t know. I’m always intrigued to learn about industry trends. JLL is one of the larger commercial real estate firms, so I’m always learning from co-workers here or in other cities. I’m also learning new things from architects and space users. You have to be willing to admit that you don’t know everything. Doing that, you will learn more information that you can pass along to your clients. You can help them with their ultimate goal of saving money and using their office space more efficiently.
What is one of the bigger challenges in this industry today?
Owen: The industry has changed a lot over the years. It comes down to the information that is available today. During the last 20 years, it has become much easier for the space users and consumers to get real estate information. That is not a problem. But the problem for consumers is how do they digest all that information? The problem comes when consumers think they don’t need Realtors, when they think they can get everything they need on the Internet.
It’s true that they can get the information. But what’s also true is that when you can get more information, it places more emphasis on the need for a trusted advisor. You need someone who can help you determine what information is important. You need someone who can tell you if you are getting a good rate, someone who can help you see the important pieces that you are missing.
Here’s an example: You can now do your taxes online and pay $50 for the program that helps you do that. Does that make financial sense? Probably not. Unless your taxes are very simple, 99 percent of the time, you will save more money by using an accountant to do your taxes than you will by paying for a cheap online program.
It’s the same with brokers. Sure, you can find office space online. But are you getting the best deal? What are the pitfalls? As information has become more available, the office landlords have become more sophisticated about how to get money from their tenants. You need a trusted advisor who can make sure you get the best deal and the best space for your needs.
You talk a lot about the importance of building long-term relationships in the business. How do you do that?
Owen: It really starts with honesty. If you do the right thing every time, if you are honest every time you talk with a potential client, that is going to trend with that client. And if you focus on how you can help a client and not just on how you can close a deal, that will trend, too. You might not make any money with a client for five years. But during this time, you might be able to help this client in other ways. If clients need to call me for free advice, that’s fine. We do that a lot. Some clients do one or two transactions in 10 years, but we still speak frequently. You have to get out of the transaction mindset and into the partner mindset. This person you are dealing with is your partner. They’re not just a transaction.
When you aren’t working, how do you like to spend your free time?
Owen: We have three boys who are now getting older. They are 21, 19 and 15. They have been in our lives for so long. But now my wife and I are spending more time getting to know each other again. We take great trips. We take walks in the afternoon after work. We have had a great time in this stage of our lives. In my spare time, I also do woodworking. I will tinker if I have the free time.
As far as traveling, we have been to Jordan in the Middle East, Japan, Turkey, Vietnam, many fascinating places. I love Asia. It is so interesting and the people are fantastic. But I have really found a love for the Middle East. What I love to do when we travel is to learn about different cultures, the differences. That is so fascinating to me. I really want to get back more often to the Middle East.