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Navigating the Independent Brokerage Landscape

By: Steve Lewis

SIOR "Davids" are finding creative ways to compete with the "Goliaths."

There was a time that independent brokers faced an uphill battle against the CRE giants who could overwhelm them with financial resources, staff, and geographic coverage.

Today, as they say, ‘Not so much.’ With all the advancements in technology, specialized services available to all, and network expertise offered by organizations like SIOR, they are basically competing on level ground.

When asked if the aforementioned resources enable him to be equally competitive with the larger organizations in his market(s), Joe Nurrenbrock, SIOR, managing director, Avocat Group in Tampa, Fla., responded simply — but resoundingly — “Yes!”

“We have all the tools our large company competitors have — and potentially more,” asserts Todd R. Hamilton, SIOR, managing partner and designated broker with Citywide Commercial in Phoenix. “I can make quick decisions, I can test and implement new products quickly, and promptly cut those that aren't beneficial to our clients and brokers. Productivity is the key to success, and advanced software enables our brokers to do 10 times the deals compared to brokers 10 years ago.”

J.R. Steinbauer, SIOR, president of Steinbauer Associates in Miami, agrees. “Democratization of the internet allows independents to play on the playing field as pretty much equal to the big houses,” he says. “The thing is, they have a lot of money to make things look prettier and to do a lot of different things. We need to be a lot more focused on what we do.”

Technology, Technology, Technology

Advances in technology have clearly played a major role in the leveling of the CRE playing field. “From a digital standpoint, I became an early user of the internet and e-mail back in the mid-1990s, which elevated my ability to advertise and share my property information quickly. Meanwhile, many firms were still ‘faxing’ flyers to prospects,” says Brian Lightle, SIOR, founder and broker associate with Lightle Beckner Robison, Melbourne, Fla. He adds that his firm has been using the Buildout CRM platform for “high quality and consistent property flyers,” and linking to his website, CoStar, Loopnet, Total Commercial, Crexi, and several others.

“CoStar and Crexi have been game-changers,” adds Hamilton. “Twenty years ago, big commercial shops had the advantage of worldwide property exposure and market research; fast forward to today, and small firms have the same reach and research abilities.”

What’s more, he adds, Citywide was started as a commercial real estate tech firm. “We are entirely cloud-based, and our office is paperless,” says Hamilton. “We didn't miss a beat from the world shutdown (during the pandemic) and gained market share while other companies pivoted to a flexible work-from-home model.”

Bob Gibbons, SIOR, founder and broker at REATA Commercial Realty, Inc., in Plano, Texas, has found broadcasting and podcasts to be especially effective.

“I had a radio show for over four years where I interviewed founders of companies; they were my prospects,” he shares. “It was a podcast on YouTube, but I quit just before COVID.” Now, says Gibbons, he has another podcast about the business of tenant representation. “We’re recording our 100th episode today,” he shares. The episode, “Confessions of a recovering landlord,” was also the title of a book he published, as well as a blog. “It’s even more important to have a brand when you’re a small company,” he emphasizes.

Twenty years ago, big commercial shops had the advantage of worldwide property exposure and market research; fast forward to today, and small firms have the same reach and research abilities.

When it comes to CRMs, there appears to be a mixed response from independents. Guillaume Turcas, managing partner with Faro Capital Partners in Paris, says that “Most of the CRMs are in-house – information that you want to keep and do not want to share outside.”

But Tobias Schultheiß, SIOR, managing partner for Blackbird Real Estate GmbH in Königstein, Germany, does not use any CRM — “Simply because none of the existing CRM softwares in Germany are any good!”

“Any CRM system is only a tool to support your daily business,” adds Schultheiß. “A lot of brokers I know forget the most important thing: pick up the phone and talk to your client!”

But, notes Nurrenbrock, “If a technology or tool can help us increase the value of our limited time, we'll try it. We are probably more able to quickly try new things (and discard if they are not working) than larger firms.”

SIOR Leads in Networking

Independent brokers note that networking with professionals in other markets and other sectors is a critical element for competing with the larger firms — and that SIOR, by far, leads the pack.

Gibbons, who just became an SIOR last October, calls it “The best one possible,” with networking being “critical” for independents. “I’ve been a CCIM for 25 years; it’s really good for education but they lack in the networking — primarily because SIOR has a production requirement, more weight and gravitas, it’s especially good for independents.”

Gibbons also participates in a number of other networks, including membership in an international association — the Alliance of Tenant Representatives. He led a group of independent brokers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He has membership in local/regional associations, “making a point to network with people in other specialties to share referrals.” He also is a member of non-CRE business groups.

“First and foremost, the most valuable resource we have is what we learn from other independent firms in different markets, so our participation in the SIOR IBG group and communication with other tenant rep firms is key,” adds Nurrenbrock. “Most, if not all, of the tools/services we are using today were either tested first by another firm, or vice versa — this includes everything from our data sources to virtual assistants, to sales training services, to CRM.”

“Under the direction of fellow SIOR Ed Redlich, the SIOR Florida Chapter has created a strong IBG Group,” adds Lightle. “This unified group of independent SIORs gives our clients an advantage of truly being able to select the best broker in an area for the job.”

“Couple the technology with the SIOR network, and small firms can equally compete,” Hamilton summarizes.

However, notes Steinbauer, the bias towards larger firms is still a factor that must be addressed. “I've been an independent broker since 1974; I've seen a lot of ups and downs from the beginning, when there were only a very few national brokers,” he says. “Today the big national brokers appear to be the ones major national companies use. However, oftentimes we independent brokers who have been in the local market have personal ties with some of the national firms' managers and often are selected to represent them due to close relationships.”

Steinbauer creates these relationships, he continues, by belonging to many organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, church, and serving on city committees and local University Advisory Boards. “Of course, we also utilize our relationships with our SIOR independent brokers nationally and internationally,” he adds. “We use CRMs and our Realtor Board's tools in our day-to-day operations.”

He utilizes those associations, he explains, to connect with leadership of various corporations, investors, and local prospects or company services. “In addition, we subscribe to services such as LoopNet and CoStar,” he shares.

Lightle adds that he has an advantage, working in a market where there are no large firms. “It allows us to be the local boots on the ground for the firms that have the large client relationships, a win-win for all parties involved,” he says, adding that exceeding his clients’ expectations also helps him compete against the larger firms successfully.

“Our firm strongly believes that continuing education and both industry and civic involvement is critical, and to that point we have three SIORs, and hold many leadership positions within these organizations and local not-for-profits,” he states. “Our LBR property management team uses the AppFolio online system, which works very well for our clients and gives them direct online access to their information at any time.”

In addition, he says, his firm has invested in training and coaching with The Massimo Group as well working through books such as “Thrive and Adapt” by Blaine Strickland and “Fanatical Prospecting” by Jeb Blount, “and believe that this level of skillset also helps level the playing field.”

Finally, notes Steinbauer, it’s also possible for independents to gain access to major clients — another avenue for competing with the ’Big Guys.’ “We deal with many national and international firms and find that our working with their local representatives on a one-to-one basis allows us to obtain business due to our personal relationships,” he notes. “This gives us an opportunity to be equally competitive.”

Sponsored By SIOR Foundation
This article was sponsored by the SIOR Foundation - Promoting and sponsoring initiatives that educate, enhance, and expand the commercial real estate community. 
The SIOR Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-forprofit organization. All contributions are tax deductible to the extent of the law.




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Steve Lewis
Steve Lewis
Wordman Inc.

Steve Lewis is a freelance writer and president of Wordman, Inc. He can be contacted at wordmansteve@gmail.com.