Keith Lord is president and managing partner of The Lord Cos. LLC, a Chicago-based real estate brokerage, development, investment, and consulting company specializing in urban infill and mixed-use development and retail brokerage. He also serves as national president of Retail Brokers Network. Founded in 1994, it’s comprised of 66 independent North American retail real estate firms. RealPoints talked with Lord (who was gulping down his “lunch”—half of an Auntie Annes pretzel—between back-to-back meetings) at ICSC’s RECon 2012 to get more information on the network, as well as a national perspective of the North Texas retail market.
RealPoints: What’s your role in Retail Brokers Network?
Keith Lord: I’m president of the network. We’re in 38 states, with 60 offices, plus another six in Canada. Ours is one of the fastest-growing networks in the United States. When you look at last two years, with the decay in the economy and retail, most networks shrank and consolidated; we grew from 41 to 66 offices.
We’re one of the strongest independent networks—each office is principally owned. We are not a franchise. We are not governed by some controlling body that tells everyone what they can and can’t do. There are no institutional limitations. Each market is different and each office has a different set of characteristics and skills sets.
We are more of a fraternity than we are a network. Our mantra is “know, like, trust.” To be able to create that trust, you have to know and like one another. It’s very different from most other networks, some of which have restrictions on titles and logos and tell you what you can and can’t do. Those things limit you from being in charge of your business. In our network, there’s a lot of flexibility and entrepreneurship in each office.
RP: So the network is growing. What has been the client response?
Lord: Absolutely outstanding. We have gigantic clients, like Costco and Walmart, all the way down to smaller clients. We’re not just brokers—there are a lot of great brokers out there. We’re all developers, we’re landlords, we’ve built with our own money. We’ve worked on projects and have made a lot of mistakes clients could make with our own money. So they get the benefit of that. It cuts down on the learning curve for the client.
RP: How’s overall retail activity?
Lord: The market has been fascinating. It was generally pretty slow the last couple of years, until last November. Something has kicked in and everyone is reenergized. There are some areas that are still spotty across the United States, but major financial cities and financial centers—and any part of the United States that sits on saltwater—is recovering and coming out of the downturn. Class A cities and Class A properties are the first and fastest to recover.
We’re seeing volumes of tenants with expansion plans and development plans accelerating their programs. It’s going to take another year or year-and-a-half to get there, but we are well on our way to a very strong retail recovery.
RP: What’s your take on the North Texas market?
Lord: I know a little bit about North Texas. My first job in real estate was with Trammell Crow Co.
My take is that North Texas has a strong economy. Texas overall never really had the economic downturn a lot of other parts of the United States has had these past two years, because Texas has oil. When the economy went down, oil prices went up; it’s a huge economic driver in Texas.
When you look at the markets, Boston didn’t go down, Manhattan and Washington, D.C., didn’t go down, urban Chicago stayed strong, and so did Texas. It didn’t have near the economic melee that affected much of the rest of the country. Texas is doing just fine.