CHARLESTON, SC—Yogi Berra once said that a certain restaurant was so crowded no one goes there anymore. Unfortunately, not the same can be said of the net lease space. The field is getting crowded, and still they pour in. Or fortunately . . . because Chris Sands, founder of Sands Investment Group, says it’s a good thing. He sat down with GlobeSt.com recently to talk about the changing field.
GlobeSt.com: What’s the competitive space like now in triple net?
Chris Sands: There are a lot more people trying to do net lease brokerage than there were in 2010. And there are many who originally focused on a different discipline in the past and now are trying to shift a portion of their business.
GlobeSt.com: Is it a retreat to relative market safety?
Sands: The writing on the wall is that there are a lack of alternative investment options out there. Yes, people are looking for the certainty. We’re also seeing a transition from wealth creation to wealth preservation, especially given the volatility in the market. Net lease has become a major asset class in terms of both the velocity and volume of transactions, and real estate brokers gravitate to that.
GlobeSt.com: How do you get your voice heard in an increasingly noisy field?
Sands: First, and this might sound a bit cliché, but I really look at other brokers as allies. To put some framework to that, last year we did 159 deals, and of those, 68% we co-brokered. The value of what outside brokers bring to the table is unbelievably underrated. And it forces us to do better and gives us momentum to keep our sword sharp and differentiate ourselves. It forces you to be better.
GlobeSt.com: But how do you differentiate yourself?
Sands: In 2012, we recognized the net lease space was getting crowded and we decided that in order to differentiate ourselves we would have all of our agents specialize in a sub-product type to become masters in their craft. Being true experts in a specific niche has allowed us to evolve to be able to bring tenant relationships to the table and provide a holistic approach to helping our clients whether they’re private investors, developers or institutional clients.
GlobeSt.com: But doesn’t everybody else out there say the same thing? Won’t everyone say they have either the expertise or the specialization?
Sands: When we made that strategic play, we were alone. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And there are people these days who will say anything just to get the business. But at the end of the day, you have to be true to who you are, and clients can see that.
We can demonstrate market value, we understand all of the variables that allow clients to maximize value and we can create a market for your property and get the best price and best buyer. We can address all of the interests of our clients. But, there’s plenty to go around. I subscribe to a philosophy of abundance rather than scarcity.
GlobeSt.com: What marketing strategies work? Which don’t?
Sands: There’s power in technology and of course there are the traditional marketing channels such as email campaigns that must be strategically done to be effective. But having a very strong proprietary website where you can control the inventory is key. We drive traffic because of the volume of our listings. We currently have 163 exclusive listings, and that naturally brings activity and value.
But, while technology increases the efficiency of marketing, there’s a missing link – and that’s personal touch. I am so committed to this. When we list a property, our brokers pick up the phone and call buyers. They’re still focused on proactively selling. No matter where technology goes, this is a business based on personal interaction and relationships. I don’t see that changing despite advances in technology.
GlobeSt.com: And social media?
Sands: LinkedIn is the most powerful tool for commercial real estate but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. While we have a dedicated team to handle all of our marketing efforts, they work hand in hand with each of our agents on our listings to ensure the most successful marketing campaign. Social media comprises just one piece of the overall marketing strategy we use to effectively get the results that we do for our exclusive listings.
GlobeSt.com: So, let’s talk outlook.
Sands: I know there are questions and concerns about where the economy is headed. I believe the net lease sector will continue to see demand but there will be ripples. Consolidation in the drug store sector and downsizing in the big box space are two immediate shifts that we are seeing in the current market. But overall the demand from the investor market with concepts that provide daily needs (such as Grocery, C-stores, etc.) will continue to remain strong as we have seen in the past.
GlobeSt.com: And what of your growth in that space?
Sands: We have built a strong group of advisors in the marketplace. We’re at 24 brokers and I see us growing that in the next several years, but I’m not married to a number. We have always been focused on quality not quantity. From where we are today, I see a lot of upside, and we’re just scratching the surface.