When I started my own company it was small. Very small. Actually, it was only me. A good friend of mine used to remind me as often as he could that my company was too small to even be considered a “mom and pop” – it was just pop.
Fast forward a few years and we’re still small, but we now have 700% more people than we had on our first day. If you flunked fourth grade math, that means we are a whopping team of seven. But we’re lucky. We are in the business of commercial real estate, which allows us to remain small and nimble. We are also lucky to be doing business in Gainesville where there are zero national-brand, commercial-only firms as competitors.
As commercial real estate brokers, we work with a variety of companies. Some are big and some are small, some are local and some are national. We do business with retailers, restaurants, office users and manufacturers.
In the retail segment of our business I’ve noticed an interesting trend over the last several years. I’ve referred to it as the “Franchising of America.” It seems like everything new is a bright and shiny concept with a national or, at a minimum, a regional brand. I get it, and I understand the reasons why. Franchising and nationals brands have scale that gives these concepts leverage and power with suppliers, marketing, advertising and brand awareness across markets and geography. I also understand it from a real estate standpoint. If you were a landlord, would you rather sign a lease with a large, financially strong company with a proven concept or would you roll the dice on someone with only an idea, a business plan (maybe) and whatever savings they were able to scrape together? These are extreme examples and there is obviously a wide chasm between these two examples, but you get the point.
Compared to larger cities in Florida, Gainesville is relatively small. We have a population of about 250,000 in our Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Yet we have nine Starbucks. Nine. This is pretty impressive for an area our size and probably a result of our being a university city. People visiting from other areas tend to flock to the familiar. But if they took a little extra time to check out some local places, I bet they would get a better latte at Patticakes, Volta or CYM Coffee Co..
We are fortunate in Gainesville to have so many long standing retail businesses and restaurants that have managed not only to fend off their larger, national competitors but have also thrived. Do you think the national pizza chains even consider Satchel’s Pizza when they look at our market? Satchel’s breaks just about every rule for success in the restaurant business. They are in a terrible location, they are slow and they don’t even take credit cards. But their pizza is awesome, it’s a cool place to hang out, the staff is great and people line up to hand over their cash. Loyal customers actually chipped in to help have the place rebuilt after it burned down!
Have you ever shopped at Down to Earth in Tioga Town Center? I honestly can’t stand shopping, but coming here is an experience I actually enjoy. First of all, the owner, Gina Fox, remembers me when I walk in. To my wife’s disappointment, I am not in there very often so it’s really impressive she remembers. She also remembers what my wife likes, her size and her style. She picks everything out and nails it every time making me look like a hero. Have you ever had an experience like that at the mall?
Is the mom and pop done for? I hope not. First of all, and somewhat out of selfish self-preservation, I want to see small, locally-owned businesses prosper. It is in these small entrepreneurial settings that I think we have always seen the most creative and inventive ideas emerge. Here we also receive the best customer service from these companies, whether it’s from your local insurance agent or the family-owned restaurant down the street.
So here’s to you mom, and here’s to you pop. Keep up the good fight, keep innovating and keep dazzling us with great food, great service and amazing products. We’ll be here to support and encourage you along the way.
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Nick Banks is the managing director of Front Street Commercial Real Estate Group located in Gainesville, Florida. Front Street offers brokerage, management and mortgage banking services to its commercial real estate clients. Nick is a graduate of the University of Florida where he serves as an advisory board member to the Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies. www.FrontStreet.net