Ep #40 | Small Team, Big Growth

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Jeff is the owner and managing principal at Pollock Commercial, an Atlanta-based commercial real estate services firm founded in 2009. Jeff has completed a wide variety of transactions including tenant representation, single user-building sales, landlord representation, purchaser representation and development consulting services.

Jeff is also active within the commercial real estate community.  He serves on several boards and is the current President of the 350 member Georgia CCIM Chapter.  He has developed continuing education seminars for his peers on the topics of social media and productivity strategies and was recognized by the Atlanta Commercial Board of Realtors with the President’s Award in 2011 for his contributions.

Prior to forming Pollock Commercial, Jeff led marketing and brokerage initiatives for Parkside Partners, a commercial real estate development and brokerage firm.  Jeff was responsible for the branding, advertising and public relations for the firm and its developments.  Prior to joining Parkside Partners, Jeff was the Southeast Director of Cityfeet, a leading commercial real estate marketing company now owned by Costar. Jeff joined Cityfeet after serving as a Marketing Representative at The Griffin Company.

Since 2003, Jeff has been a big brother in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta program.  He is also active with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and was selected for the Emerging Leadership Program in 2011. He grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and graduated from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

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Shantel: Hi Jeff, welcome to the Imagine More podcast. 

Jeff: Hey there, thanks for having me. 

Shantel: Yeah of course. We're excited to chat and I know we're in the same EO group and organization so we have a lot to chat about. I find that I know our listeners are eager to learn more about you and how you got started. To kick things off, can you tell everyone a little bit about your company and what you guys do? 

Jeff: Sure I'd be happy to, and thanks for including us. I've been enjoying listening to all the other podcasts, so glad to be in such great company. Pollock Commercial is an Atlanta based commercial real estate firm, and we have two primary lines of business. We help entrepreneurs and business owners identify and move into new office space, or in some cases retail or industrial space. And then we also work for building owners here in town, and help lease their buildings. So we offer both of those different services. 

Shantel: That's great. And how did you get into commercial real estate? 

Jeff: I got interested in real estate really at a pretty young age, and in college in my hometown in the summers, I worked for a local entrepreneur real estate company for a couple of summers. And then the following year I worked for a big corporate real estate company, and just sort of validated my interest in the industry and finished college and then picked Atlanta as sort of the big city in the southeast. And was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to work with a development company in Sandy Springs, and have kind of been on this track ever since. 

Shantel: So what sparked the shift in gears to start your own company? As opposed to working for others.

| SHIFTING GEARS AFTER THE 2008 CRASH |

Jeff: Well I'd love to tell you that it was part of a grand plan. I had been working for the company that I mentioned I had started out with was a larger, real estate company, and then I transitioned into kind of an online entrepreneurial venture, back in sort of the dot com era. And that was a wonderful experience, but I realized I was becoming sort of a vendor to the industry that I wanted to serve. So I reached back out to my old boss at the real estate company and said "Hey, I'm thinking about going to law school because I want to ultimately get back into real estate development." And he sort of cut me off and said "Well wait a minute. If you want to get back into real estate, why don't we work together again. I'm starting a new company. Why don't you come on board?” And it was kind of a fortunate timing type of situation, and we reconnected and I avoided law school, and he still jokes that I owe him a lot of money for that for the savings. And we had a great run for about seven years, developing a lot of kind of in town office, loft properties in areas like Edmund Park and Grand Park, East Atlanta and sort of throughout the metro area. And when the economy slowed quite a bit in 2008 and early 2009, our pipeline was not as robust as it had been in the past and so I elected at that point to sort of branch off on my own and focus more on third-party services that we provide. As opposed to doing it just for our own development company. And so that was in August of 2009 that we started. 

Shantel: Wow. So was that a peaceful goodbye and separation? 

Jeff: Yes it was a very peaceful goodbye and separation. And the separation really didn't last very long. We ended up reconnecting a short time after I started my company and started working together again under a slightly different arrangement. But working together on a lot of the projects that we had been working on previously and that continues to this day, so it's a very friendly and ongoing relationship, and that company is still very much an ongoing concern and doing great things really throughout the city. And we're fortunate to work with them on some projects, and then we have other clients now that we service as well. 

Shantel: I'd like to dive a little bit into your team and structure and how you've, I know this from just chatting with you, but doubled every year or this past year. And is it just you or do you have a team? Can we talk a little bit about that? 

Jeff: Sure. No it's not just me fortunately. But we have a team of four and all the folks here at our company are licensed real estate brokers, and they service clients on their own that they're able to find in the marketplace and work with. And then also the firm generates opportunities for them to work on, and it's a pretty collaborative environment. Most of what we work on is sort of team oriented. However, there are some projects that people run with on their own. And so I'm very much a player coach where I have clients that I work with directly, but many times in many cases I'll get the help of my team or we'll work on things together. So it just sort of depends on the opportunity, what's required. We have different expertise as it relates to sub markets and property types and things like that. So we try to put the best hands on the project, on a case by case basis. 

Shantel: And how did you find that team of four? And additionally, that first hire, I guess second question to that, did you have to kind of just get their buy in as a new business? We'd like to touch on that. 

Jeff: Sure. Well my longest teammate is a woman named Katie Sentelle who just celebrated her seventh anniversary working with us. So she's been with us almost the entire time and she had worked for several larger real estate companies in the past and took some time off to focus on her family. And when she was starting to re-enter the workforce it was just very fortunate timing, we were able to offer the flexibility she was looking for and we benefited from her years of experience working with much larger companies. So she's a very talented individual and we started slow, kind of part-time and now she's full time and kind fully engaged in the business. So we've kind of grown together, which has been great. And the other two folks that work with me also came from other real estate companies and we had known each other just sort of through the industry and socially a little bit. But just sort of the timing for where they were trying to go with their career and my desire to grow our company just sort of aligned. And so we were able to kind of plug-in together and it's been a pretty good situation. Where they're able to grow their business and help us grow the company. But it's been sort of a slow and steady process. We've got four over an almost nine-year period, so we're not hiring in huge numbers but we are looking to grow. And fortunately our business has grown not necessarily just through people but with opportunities and client work, and our clients are growing. So we're doing a higher volume of transactions on an annual basis with sort of this core crew, and if we could find the right fit we'd like to add a couple more folks. We're actually in the process of moving our office and we'll have room for a few more. So that's on the horizon for 2018. 

Shantel: Well that's exciting. And with Katie, the first teammate, has she helped build out a lot of the process and kind of the operations side of things as you bring on a larger team? Or is that more of what your day to day is now? 

Jeff: Yeah, so she started with me in more of an administrative type role, kind of running the operations of the company, and really just a Swiss army knife capable of handling whatever's thrown at us from office management to the real estate, compliance activities that we had to do to run the business properly. And then also a fair amount of marketing activities that we do. But she's a licensed real estate agent and has transitioned really into a full-time real estate professional and maybe a minor part-time support role. And we'll be looking to backfill the support role as part of our growth plans moving forward.

Shantel: I don't know if I've heard anyone called a Swiss army knife, but that is a really good analogy. 

Jeff: She can do it all. 

Shantel: That's great. So I kind of breezed over the fact that you doubled last year, which is incredible. And what do you attribute that success to? 

| DOUBLING OVER THE LAST YEAR |

Jeff: Well we were fortunate last year in particular to have a number of client activities, just the timing of their leases rolling and things like that. It was just sort of a perfect storm of positive client activity and certainly the Atlanta market right now is about as robust as I've seen it in my career. It seems to be that there are large corporations relocating to Atlanta. The existing companies here are growing. There's a lot of new and exciting real estate projects that are under construction and opening. And so I think it's fair to say that most people in commercial real estate experienced a tremendous year last year, and we were sort of part of that. And I'd like to say that we've been doing some things internally. We have improved some of our marketing efforts and some of our outreach efforts and so it's been a combination of maybe some of our own efforts and also just being a beneficiary of all of the good things happening in the greater Atlanta area. 

Shantel: That's great. Well yeah I imagine a lot more of that success comes from you and the team, the relationships, but I've also heard the market is crazy hot right now. So that's good to hear. 

Jeff: Yes, we focus a lot of our time and energy in sort of the in town markets and there's just a tremendous amount of momentum that's really been ongoing for a number of years. But we're seeing more and more relocations from both out of town altogether but also some of the suburban locations where a lot of these companies are attracted to the lifestyle, and the amenities, things like the beltline and other in town restaurants and shopping and things like that. So there's just been a lot of momentum towards in town and we're fortunate on the tenant side to have some great relationships with growing companies. And then on the property side we've got some pretty well-located assets in markets like Decatur and West Midtown and Inman Park that are just areas where people really want to be. So it's been a combination of both of those things. 

Shantel: Well and so I think anything real estate wise, well at least I often times think of the crash. And are there any ways that you've kind of been thinking how to alleviate some of that risk if something like that happened again being in the business tied closely to that? 

| DIVERSIFYING THE BUSINESS |

Jeff: Well it's certainly something we think about on a regular basis. We're enjoying a pretty good run here but things certainly could slow. Although we haven't seen those signs. But history tells us that it's coming at some point. And I think for us the key is sort of we have a diversification both of services that we offer but also the different property types that we serve. So our hope is that Atlanta is mature enough as a market that even if there is some level of a slow down, that we have the ability to still represent companies that are in transition one way or another. And then also representing properties that are still looking to fill those assets. So the terms of the deals may change and potential volume could go down a little bit, but we think we're pretty well situated to weather those future storms. And I think this last cycle was a little more intense that most of us have experienced even though we've been through a few of these now. It's hard to imagine that we'll experience such a negative economic outcome again. So even if there is a slowdown, we feel like it should be not quite as bad as it was last time around. There's a lot of healthier underlying dynamics that are giving us that confidence. So we hope that that's the case and we try to focus on the positive side of economic activity and our clients seem to be growing so we don't stay up at night worrying about it but it's certainly on our minds for sure. 

Shantel: Well speaking of kind of staying up at night. I think this is always an interesting question to ask entrepreneurs. Is there anything that does keep you up at night? So it may not be that, but just developing your team, or payroll or just to kind of get inside your mind a little bit more. 

Jeff: Well I think we are always trying to pursue the latest and greatest technologies. And we're also trying to be on the forefront of marketing activities, and things like that. So what keeps me up at night is really more of an ongoing to-do list, more than it is so much a stress of day to day profit and loss type of things. We're trying to launch a new video series and we're trying to put ourselves out there with social media and all kinds of other things in addition to just providing really great customer service for our clients. And so just the combination of all those various activities, just puts a lot on our plate on a daily basis. So a lot of fun work to do and just trying to get it all done in a timely fashion. 

Shantel: Yeah, and I'm certainly continuing to learn and kind of have to settle with the fact that it is never ending and there's always a new project or something you can be doing to grow and continue to learn. So I certainly can relate on that ongoing to-do list. And I've had to me personally, because it can become really overwhelming is just write that down in a separate piece of my task list, like the back of the book. So I don't see it every day. Or it can just be all consuming. 

Jeff: That's right. There's plenty to do, but it's better than the alternative. 

Shantel: Certainly. So how do you optimize your day? 

Jeff: Well it's a good question. I don't know that I've mastered that. My days are very different depending on the client activities that we're working on. When we are working for property owners, we're really subject to the schedules of the brokers and the tenants that are coming to see our buildings. So those tours can come up somewhat last minute. And so we want to make sure that we're available to meet those demands. And then on the tenant side we have the ability to schedule those with our entrepreneurial clients, in their schedule. So my weeks are usually kind of laid out a week or two in advance with those tours. And then just our other marketing activities. But it's not a scientific method. I don't have my days blocked certain activities, certain times, just because I'm really subject to the schedule of others. But there's a rhythm to it, and fortunately we have a team so if one of us is pulled in a direction then there's usually a plan in place for all those different what-if scenarios. We also try to build in enough time for activities where we're very active in the commercial real estate community with a number of organizations here. Some charitable work that we all pursue individually. And then, of course, we value our family time as well, kid activities and sports and things like that, so we try to fit it all in. And it makes for a very interesting and fun weekly outlook. Every week's a little bit different for sure. 

Shantel: Are you a pen and paper type of guy or do you have a program or piece of software that you use to stay organized? 

Jeff: It's all of the above. We try to be cloud driven in terms of all the paperwork. Real estate still is a fairly paper intensive endeavor. But we utilize the Google platform for our email and calendar and Google Drive. And then there's just a variety of different technologies that we use for our market research and our marketing activities. So we have a long list of software that we use essentially on a daily basis, but it's all cloud-based, which is great. And we try to scan the documents once we're completed with the transaction and try to keep a nice clean digital archive moving forward. So we're probably somewhere in between. And then we work on a CRM platform just for our relationship management, and to keep all the deal points and pertinent facts kind of top of mind and available to us. So that kind of keeps us on track at a high level. 

Shantel: Are you using a platform specific to commercial real estate for that CRM? Or something that could be used-

Jeff: It's really not out of the box a commercial real estate platform. It's called Solve 360. But it allows for customization and we have invested many man hours and dollars to customize it for our use. So we track a database of clients of course and all that activity, but we also have a comprehensive network of brokers, architects, lenders, contractors and on down the list of partners that we work with to get a deal done. And so we track all of those people by category so that we can reach out on demand. So we've got very good access. We don't have to look for post-it notes with names and numbers and things like that. It's pretty organized in that way. So it's been customized for our use, but it's an off the shelf product, but you can change all the fields and activities and things like that. It kind of feels like our own but it's a third-party service that we use. 

Shantel: I'll have to look into that. Now Jeff did you grow up in a family of entrepreneurs? Or surrounded by people that owned their own businesses? With the exception of that first job out of college. 

| GROWING UP AROUND A FAMILY THAT INSPIRES |

Jeff: Well my family certainly, I don't know that you would call them entrepreneurs by definition, but my father and one of my sisters are doctors. And so I don't know that people think of doctors as entrepreneurs, but really they're running a small business in some cases a larger business. So I certainly was able to observe some good habits from them outside of the science part of course. And then my mom had a stationary business at home that I was able to observe. And she's very entrepreneurial with that. She had all the books where you could go pick out your invitations and your stationary and things like that, so I was able to observe some of her activities growing up. And then I started, I guess my first entrepreneurial venture was in high school, or excuse me in college. I started a car wash business in the summer to pay for a semester abroad that I had planned. And so I remember printing the fliers and essentially it amounted to our friends and family hiring me to wash their cars as a good gesture to help support my effort. But it felt like I was running a small business at the time. I had to buy supplies and schedule the man hours and go do the work. So that was probably my first taste of it. But I think growing up around motivated and smart family members was certainly inspirational. Although not necessarily entrepreneurial ventures in the traditional sense. 

Shantel: That's fair. And I think those are great examples of ... Like you said, you don't necessarily think of doctors as business owners but they do have to do many of the same tasks and have the same issues that a business owner would have. So that's a very good point. 

Jeff: Absolutely. 

Shantel: And there is anything you wish you knew when you first started Pollock Commercial? 

Jeff: Is there anything I wish I knew? Probably, many, many things. I think when Katie came on board a number of years ago and really allowed me to delegate some tasks that were bottle necks, it was very eye opening and liberating to some degree. And so I have tried to model that behavior on an ongoing basis. And so we leverage consultants for a lot of different services here. So we're able to benefit from some very good talent that we don't have in house and get sort of best in class results, depending on what the project is. So I would say I wish I would have been faster to that conclusion, of how beneficial that can be. Because it really allows you to get best in class services outside of your organization and let you focus on really drive the business forward. So I probably would have done that a little faster and I just need to remind myself of that moving forward as well. 

Shantel: What is an example of one of the industry or the consultant that you would use? Is it ... 

Jeff: Well one of the things is outsourcing a lot of our web management type of stuff. So we have a fair amount of property listings and things like that, that we need to communicate to the marketplace. And so we work with a partner who designs a lot of that creative material for us and they're very talented and capable at that. And they do it much faster than we were able to do it in house, and it looks better. So that's one example where we have kind of a workflow now, where when we get a new property listed we're able to communicate the key data points and get that out into the marketplace as soon as possible, which is really what our clients want. But we're not  ... Resourced as we had internally to get that done, we have a partner that can run with that for us. 

Shantel: Gotcha. And what would you say is your top strength? 

Jeff: That's a tough one. I guess I would say I'm sort of a people person. I'm very comfortable in a variety of situations, just meeting new people, trying to understand what their goals are. So when we sit down with the business owner, we don't really know where the conversation's going to go until we have the conversation about what they're looking to achieve. So I think we do a good job of trying to understand what they'd like to accomplish and then we go execute. So I guess that maybe touches on listening or comfortable with people, but I'd probably say that. 

Shantel: Well on the less up side, what do you feel like you're not very good at and can't wait to get off your plate? 

Jeff: I'm certainly not a numbers as it relates to keeping the books. So that's one of the other areas that we've found some success. Outsourcing the bookkeeping and the invoicing and things like that. So we have a partner that runs with that part of our business for us. And that's allowed us really to not spend an inordinate amount of time on the day to day record keeping and accounting that comes with a high volume of real estate transactions. So I'm not great at that, and I'm happy to have someone who is kind of looking over our shoulder and making sure that everything's in line, and that seems to keep my accounting folks happy. Because they get a nice clean package around tax time and we're on time and nice and clean books. 

Shantel: Yeah I, before we outsourced that as well, it was totally a guessing game. I was like "Well maybe I'll categorize it this way," and "Maybe it goes in the balance sheet. I don't know but I'll get it there." So I'm sure it was a disaster when our team took it over. But yes that's one thing that I'm equally happy to have off my plate.

Jeff: We were fortunate to recognize that very early. So we have a QuickBooks account that goes back really to the early days, and everything in nice and tidy. And that's served us well just for various applications we've needed to produce over the years. It's nice to have that in order just to have your financial data tidy when you need it. 

Shantel: Well Jeff I've got two more quick questions for you. First being where do you see the company going? I know you're moving soon and that's really exciting. But maybe in the next five years and goals for the business.

Jeff: Sure. Well we're going to get through this office move in the next few weeks and get situated in our new space. And hopefully we're going to add the support person I was describing and a couple of new real estate professionals to add to the team. And as far as our long term goals, we just want to continue providing excellent real estate service here in Atlanta. The market continues to flourish and we feel like we're well positioned to continue to grow with our clients and add new people to the mix. So it's kind of a long term proposition for us. I don't see us building this company and selling it as an exit strategy. I think it's kind of a ... Real estate allows a long run in terms of your ability to work as long as you'd like to, and as much or as little as you want. So I don't have an early retirement plan. I'm fortunate that we like the clients that we work with and the properties that we work on and I just enjoy what we do. So I think it's going to be a long run but it's been a lot of fun so far and we're looking forward to kind of keeping that going. So that's what we want to do. We want to continue to grow and serve our clients well and just kind of keep it going. Enjoy all the benefits that come with that. 

Shantel: That's great. And Jeff how can people get in touch with you and learn about your journey or possibly your services? 

Jeff: Sure. Our website is pollockcommercial.com. That's a great way to find us, and there you'll find some content. We have a blog that we publish and some other articles and things that we post. And we're on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn as well. And of course my email is just jp@pollockcommercial.com. That's a great way to get me. And hopefully we'll have a chance to connect with some of your audience. 

Shantel: Great. Well thank you so much Jeff for carving out the time and being on the show. 

Jeff: Well thank you so much for having me and congrats on all your success. 

Shantel: Thank you.