Looking Good

Client appreciation reflects well on your professional image.

Todd Gold, CCIM, president of REOC Partners in San Antonio used to show clients his appreciation by employing typical entertaining methods. "Lunches, breakfasts, broker events, etc. It was nothing extra special," he admits.

"Then, someone in the office had the bright idea of sponsoring our own real estate forum event," he says. Now Gold and his partners host the REOC Partners Fiesta Forum to which they invite clients, vendors, sponsors, potential clients, and other guests annually. Attendees are treated to breakfast, a guest speaker, lunch, and golf at a high-end resort in San Antonio . The event has proven popular, doubling attendance this year to approximately 150 guests.

By combining an information-filled forum with luxury entertainment, Gold improved his client relationships and created a unique event that sets his company apart. But Gold's strategy isn't the only way to make clients sit up and take notice. Client appreciation can run the gamut from grand-scale events, to sending quirky and unexpected gifts, to quiet weekend fishing trips.

"The idea of entertaining is to build relationships, show our expertise, become recognized as a leader worthy of consideration on real estate projects" either now or in the future," Gold says. Commercial real estate professionals can accomplish these goals in a number of ways. No matter what the technique -- whether it's sending personalized gifts, utilizing community connections, or throwing your own lavish party -- originality and creativity are key to remembering clients and making sure they remember you.

Show Off

Like REOC Partners, Janez Properties in San Diego often hosts get-togethers for its clients. It, too, has found that displaying broad-based knowledge of the commercial real estate industry is an effective way to forge client relationships. While REOC uses well-known speakers from the commercial investment real estate industry, Janez puts on its own presentations.

"Holding short PowerPoint presentations that provide useful information and market insights is a great way to connect with small groups of clients and associates," says Barbara Kocmur, senior executive vice president of Janez Properties, who frequently hosts meetings at the company's offices.

Smaller events allow Kocmur to tailor the presentations to clients' particular interests. "The smaller the event, the better return," she says. "At large events, it's frequently difficult to make sure everyone is being taken care of. In our experience, smaller, intimate-size events are frequently more effective at building relationships," she explains. Her other advice: For a better turnout, hold get-togethers in the morning or at lunch time, instead of in the late afternoon and evening.

Gold, on the other hand, has found that the larger-scale events pay off. Arranging one-on-one get-togethers of the same quality would take far more time and money, he says. He also finds that high-profile speakers impress attendees. "Our speakers have been leaders of the local business and real estate community. This demonstrates our deep roots in San Antonio and our ability to tap into influential individuals that have broad circles of influence," he says.

Every year Elizabeth Belenchia, CCIM, SIOR, president of Carroll Properties Corp., in Spartanburg, S.C., uses her professional connections to invite clients to the local BMW/Charity Pro-Am Golf Tournament. "We invite our clients to be VIP guests at our Alliance Gallery at the 18th green. They enjoy having pictures taken with celebrities such as Kevin Costner or Alice Cooper, as well as meeting other economic development allies that can assist with their projects," she says.

Belenchia gets the VIP access and event tickets as a member of the Upstate Alliance for Economic Development in Upper South Carolina , which she joined for the networking opportunities. "The cost is my membership plus having the office prepare a friendly and timely invitation and making the arrangements to get clients the VIP passes," she says. "We get lots of thank yous, even when people can't attend."

Do the Unexpected

Tim Basler, CCIM, a leasing specialist with Hunt Midwest Real Estate Development in Kansas City, Mo., earns his thank yous using a different method.

"On Groundhog Day, Hunt Midwest gives out 15 to 50 pounds of roasted salted in-the-shell peanuts," he says.

Choosing a quirky holiday prevents his company's gift from being overlooked in the stack of presents that arrive at clients' offices during the traditional gift-giving season, Basler says.

But the choice of Groundhog Day as a gift-giving occasion is no accident. The holiday in honor of the subterranean-dwelling animal is a subtle reminder that Hunt Midwest's highest-profile property is SubTropolis, the world's largest underground business complex, Basler says.

Sending clients unexpected gifts on an offbeat holiday is a pleasant surprise that helps keep the company's name fresh in clients' minds. "Peanuts are unique and our clients love them," Basler says, "And the peanuts are a welcome treat because no one wakes up on Groundhog Day expecting presents."

Philip McGinnis, CCIM, associate broker of McGinnis Commercial Real Estate in Dover, Del., is also a fan of the unexpected gift. "I send flowers and wine to secretaries and assistants," McGinnis says.

By personally sending gifts to clients’ "gatekeepers," he finds that his name is more easily recognized. "When the boss says, 'Get whatzisname on the phone,’ they get me. I find that my calls go through, my interoffice mail gets straight through, my RFP gets out before the others in a batch. I even get alerted in some instances about the low bidder," he says.

Build Relationships

Sometimes creating a better relationship with a client is achieved by participating in an activity that they choose or enjoy. A. Nicholas Coppola, CCIM, president of Coppola Properties in Needham, Mass., says he takes clients to see their favorite sports team. "If I know someone likes a particular sport then I purchase tickets based on their preferences. I pay for the best seats so the experience is unique," he says.

Cliff Gustin, CCIM, MAI, owner-broker of Cliff Gustin Commercial Real Estate Services in Bellevue, Wash., uses a similar strategy. "I try to participate in their hobby, for example, golfing, fishing, hunting, traveling," he says, "I want the client to know that I am the same person in business as I am at leisure. It also allows them to share something they are passionate and knowledgeable about with me."

Gustin has also found a clever way to save on these activities: "Purchase items from various community non-profit events, such as guided fishing and hunting trips, romantic weekend getaways, golf trips, hot air balloon rides, and dinner train rides," he says.

Gustin isn't the only one who keeps an eye on expenses. "Over the top is a waste of money and a show of ego," says Aaron Weiner, CCIM, CPM, senior vice president of Newport Real Estate Services in Costa Mesa, Calif. Rather than throw lavish events, Weiner prefers to take major clients on relationship-building adventure trips. "We find these trips to be a bonding experience," he says.

Michael Hoadley, CCIM, president of Spinnaker Real Estate Ventures, LLC, in Chicago , also finds smaller, more personal get-togethers to be effective. He was employed by two large firms before recently starting his own company. At the larger firms grand-scale client entertainment was the norm, but now he finds that smaller get-togethers provide an opportunity to get to know clients better. "Just recently, I took a small group of clients and prospects with just me out on Lake Michigan on a sailboat that I chartered for the summer. It allowed for much more conversation and ability to get to know each other," he says. For a small company just starting out, this type of personal entertainment is more likely to generate the returns he is looking for, Hoadley says.

Weiner has had similar results. Last year he treated clients to a rafting trip and this year it was a Las Vegas trip. "Getting the key client in contact with everyone on our team who provides service in a casual, fun setting goes a long way toward establishing human, trusting, friendly relationships," he says.

And there is an added bonus to escaping the office environment with a client. "It's very amusing to see the characteristics of the client come out in non-business settings," he says, recounting a particular client who tried to take charge of the rowing on the boating trip. "Only in this context we laughed instead of grumbled."

Sheldon Good, CCIM, of Sheldon Good & Company International in Chicago, also appreciates the importance of forging a relationship with clients through entertainment activities. "If I have a good relationship with both [a client and his wife] we would consider inviting them to our winter home in Palm Springs for golf and tennis," he says. "Ours is a personal business and I work diligently at building a relationship if the client allows it and a continued business opportunity exists. Some of my best friends are my clients," he says.

No matter what the form of client appreciation, all of these activities serve essentially the same purpose, to keep your clients doing business with you and increase your returns. Whether you're taking them on a trip, or sending them a bottle of wine, the most important thing to keep in mind "is to keep the clients that you have already done business with very happy," says Coppola.

Carolyn Bilsky

Area report is written by Carolyn Bilsky, associate editor of Commercial Investment Real Estate. Contact her at (312) 321-4507 or


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