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Seize the Day

01/15/2024 | By John Cumbelich

Over decades in the CRE industry, our team has completed hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of multi-market site tours with grocers, fuel brands, restaurants, pharmacies, home improvement and fitness brands, coffee and burger and chicken concepts, and many, many other users of quality real estate. Over that time, my appreciation for the art of the real estate tour has grown ever deeper. I’ve learned that in order to have real value, the successful real estate site tour always needs to be two things:  the journey has to be horizontal, from site to site or city to city; and also vertical, from one idea to the next.

That travel time with the client is a precious one-on-one window to discuss who their customer is, how they evaluate their real estate, how the brand is executing, growing and changing, what market pressures are helping or hindering their growth – capital markets, competitors, stock price, housing starts, unemployment data, etc. etc.

As the pro who is conducting the tour, you ask these questions, absorb the client’s answers, and create advice that reconciles the client’s needs to the marketplace where you are the expert. Your advice is the synthesis of the horizontal and vertical journeys. Sometimes, as the repartee unfolds in the car as we move from site to site, my questions receive a detailed and lengthy response. But other questions are met with a long silence and a thoughtful gaze out the window. The silence and mystery of the client’s non-answer descend on me like a benediction. Have we struck gold? Have we discovered a new way to capture the customer or frame the real estate deal that they haven’t previously considered? A good conversation about real estate sets the gears in the client’s brain turning, sharpening the focus on how we will execute real estate in this particular market. Like a talented actor who can inhabit the role of his character, the best broker learns the mind of the client, and makes it his own.

Our day long discussion is filled with questions, observations, coffee breaks, answers and non-answers. By the end of a successful tour, we’ve exchanged a great deal of information. Sometimes, the tour feels like a tiny, double espresso version of a trip to the therapist. We both complete the journey with new perspectives, with many questions answered, and a sense of direction about our efforts, both individual and collective.

The successful real estate site tour is less, far less, about sites, rents and terms, and much more about creating a partnership, a bond of understanding, that will inform all of the subsequent energy that we put into positioning the brand to thrive.

Invariably, I return home from the site tour exhausted – mentally exhausted. Imagine if you can, driving 200 miles in a day and visiting eight or ten locations, while conducting a thorough, day-long investigation into your client’s vision, needs, challenges and dreams. Simultaneously, you are navigating traffic, organizing lunch, dinner and coffee breaks, meeting with owners and brokers, answering questions from one or more clients sharing the journey, all sandwiched between a very early and a very late trip to the airport. I am wrung out, yet deeply satisfied when the journey is complete and the mission accomplished.

In some ways, ours is a young person’s business. The site tours can be taxing to the extreme. And, guess what? There’s no guarantee that any of the sites reviewed will result in signed leases or closed escrows. The prospect of a day spent fruitlessly can be daunting. Yet only with age and experience can we give the client everything that they need and deserve from a visit to our market. As a young man, I would simply jump in the car and drive. As an older man, I consider the journey carefully. Now, only when I am ready to go forth and conquer, like the ancient Romans who proclaimed “Carpe Diem!” do I embark. And we seize the day.