By Ronald J. Behm
Principal, Colliers International |Chicago
Yes, it’s true. We have all grown weary of this story as the phrase “all-time high” (or “all-time low”) plagues our daily conversations. I don’t want to use this platform to speculate on the speed of the market’s recovery or regurgitate the statistics that three years into this crisis still give considerable headaches to owners, lenders, brokers, architects, and anyone else that touches the world of commercial real estate. Instead, I would like to discuss how many of us have been able to stay in this business despite its considerable recent challenges. How we are still able to cultivate new client relationships – and keep them – while in the midst of the worst market conditions that any of us have witnessed.
It’s been a time of reflection, to say the least. As I continue my lifelong career in Chicago-area industrial brokerage and think about all of the people I know as a result of this career choice, I have to say that this is a group with which I am proud to be associated. Regardless if they are competitors or co-workers, I have had the privilege of collaboration with this tight-knit community and realize that we got this way through a shared sense of cooperation and reason.
Those who make it in this business tend to be adept at understanding how to cultivate positive relationships with all parties in a transaction. Learning to balance the fiduciary responsibility to the client while simultaneously building respect with the person on the “other side of the table” is a critical skill that takes time and patience. In addition to serving a client well, you are also building a reputation within the brokerage community as approachable, competent, and equitable – a key element of winning future business.
It’s true that we need to get the best deal possible for our client, but it’s not all about dollars and cents. The best way to serve a client is to help them avoid a situation where an adversarial relationship between tenant and the landlord is formed before a lease can even commence. While the initial deal terms may seem attractive, the long-term result is often years of tenuous exchanges that are likely to have a negative impact on the client in one way or another. This is particularly important in the industrial sector of real estate where the potential for tenant and landlord to interact throughout the lease term is significant. I consider it my responsibility to help my clients make decisions that will serve them well into the future while at the same time implementing a sense of fairness that makes all parties involved feel like they’ve been heard.
That’s all great once you have a client, but how do we get new ones?
It all boils down to this – your best customer is a customer of a customer. Every party to a transaction – landlord, tenant, architect, contractor, attorney, appraiser, and even the receptionist– could be a future client or a referral opportunity. Throughout my career I’ve welcomed many new clients that were once actually on the other side of transaction in which I participated, simply because they appreciated my approach. The most compelling and personally rewarding example I can recall began 20 years ago when I represented the seller of a 100,000-square-foot warehouse building in the O’Hare market. Since that time, the buyer of that facility has asked me to represent them in four building sales that have included markets beyond O’Hare. It has evolved into a relationship built on mutual respect and trust that also happens to be financially rewarding.
This business truly is a marathon and not a sprint. Selling industrial space is not like selling a simple commodity such as cars or shoes. There are many intricacies to a transaction that can cause it to fall apart as fast as it started. It has been my experience that the dollars and recognition will come, along with a great sense of personal satisfaction, if one can have patience and a long-term perspective. The ability to think beyond a commission check and into the futures of our client’s businesses will separate the successes from the failures.
I am always amazed at the basic business practices that are appreciated by so many but that so many don’t implement – being organized, following through, keeping promises, and simply being helpful (even to our opponents). People remember you when you treat them well and they tend to reciprocate. In this highly competitive field, creating a memorable interaction with someone and being approachable is the cornerstone of success.
I strongly feel we are entering a new phase of opportunity as companies that have remained idle for the past few years are now poised to grow and evolve. It is the perfect time to put our skills to the test and realize the power of the relationship.
Since 1983, Ron Behm has been an Industrial Real Estate specialist with Colliers International. A consistent top producer in the O’Hare and surrounding Chicago area markets, Ron has been involved in more than 750 transactions valued in excess of $950 million.
Ron’s knowledge and experience with many aspects of industrial real estate provides his clients with quality representation. His ability to assess needs and provide quality solutions has translated to over 26 years of satisfied and referring clients. Ron works with both users and owners, from entreprenarial family owned companies to large institutions.