Willie Hoag is one of those fortunate few: He’s found the career that perfectly suits his personality. Hoag’s natural gift for gab, his ability to relate to others and his sharp real estate mind are ideal traits for a career in commercial real estate.
It’s little surprise, then, that Hoag has thrived in this competitive business, serving as a principal in the Chicago office of Mid-America Real Estate Corporation where he focuses on tenant representation. He’s been at Mid-America for more than 13 years and represents some of the busiest mid-box franchises in the country, companies such as LA Fitness and Bob’s Discount Furniture.
Midwest Real Estate News spoke with Hoag about what it takes to make it in the CRE business and how he’s managed to succeed. Here’s some of what he had to say.
No dry eraser board: What I really liked about commercial real estate, and what attracted me to it, was that it wasn’t your typical dry business sales job. There were no dry erase boards. People weren’t ringing a bell every time they made a sale. My first sales job was like that. We sat in cubicles right next to each other. If you had a phone lead, someone in the next cubicle would call back the person you were talking to so they could take the business. I needed a change from that. My dad had been in commercial real estate. I liked how congenial and quick-on-their-feet the brokers and developers I was talking to were. I liked that this field would give me the opportunity to bring some creativity into sales. To me, it’s always been a more blissful and refined sales job atmosphere.
Many roles: When you are working with clients, you are a combination of a double-decker tour bus operator, hostess and concierge. I’m a talkative person. That helps. I can pick someone up at the airport, and even if that person is a stranger to me before that day, we’ll end up talking all day long. It’s important to find something that engages the person. It is so much easier to be creative at work if you are engaged. I have no problem talking about media, the arts or just about anything, and then bringing it back to real estate. That makes the job so much more interesting.
The long game: Some deals can take eight years to complete. You better have fun with someone during this time. I enjoy stimulating conversation with them, conversation that they might not get in other cities. Some people in this business are always too focused on the immediate task at hand. I approach it differently. I like to weave real estate into a more general conversation.
Patience matters: Patience is even more important than personality in this business. There have been certain intersections where I’ve been trying to get something done for LA Fitness for years. I’ve been working on these 500-foot corridors trying to find them the right space. You could be working on these deals for years, and then they finally happen. So you have to be patient. It is amazing in this industry that nothing is ever really dead. If it was a good idea, and if your client wanted to do something, it will come back. You need so much patience to stay in this business. And you can’t let emotion guide you. If you do that, you are sunk.
Handling the bad streaks: You can control your destiny in this business by how hard you work. But there are times where you will get into a losing streak where nothing seems to be going right. That happens no matter how hard you work sometimes. You can’t fall victim to these spells. You might have a period where everything you do isn’t resulting in the outcome you want. You have to remember that there are a lot of people who are touching your deals. You get lawyers into it. You have construction people and labor, municipalities. There are so many ways a deal can die. There are times when you are powerless to stop it, even if you’ve done everything right.
Moderation: Those first few years in this business can be tough. There was a time in the earlier years where I was a bit too reckless with my opinions. I thought I had to have strong opinions on every site. Say we have two sites that will work for a client. I’d explain why one site was so much better and I’d dump all over the one that was only a half-step worse than the other site. If that first choice went away, then I’d have painted myself in a corner. I thought I was being bold, but I was really being dismissive. There was some pomposity to it. There are many times when one site isn’t available but that second site is a good one, too. It’s not wise to tear down that second site, because then what do you tell your client? I learned from those mistakes and I try to be wiser now.
Understand the trends: If you really want to do well in this business, you need to study and understand the trends. You have to decipher what the new trends are going to be. When I started with LA Fitness, for example, a lot of landlords weren’t all that interested. I was the crap on the shoe. Now they roll out the red carpet for fitness centers in B-plus and below malls. And why not? You bring in a more diverse mix of traffic. You have a counter-cyclical parking pattern. I’ve long followed the fitness trends. Fitness is one of my prime niches and focuses. You have to know the trends in your field if you want to do well in commercial real estate.