Press

November 01 , 2004

Connecting Texas

Connecting Texas

The Retail Connection has quickly made its presence known in the Texas market since its launch earlier this year.
November 2004 - by Randall Shearin | Shopping Center Business.
In 10 short months since its launch, The Retail Connection, L.P. has taken Texas by storm. Founded by Alan Shor, former president and chief operating officer of Zale Corporation, and Steven Lieberman, former president of The Weitzman Group, the company quickly expanded its infrastructure with seasoned professionals, state-of-the-art research, technology and a knowledge driven platform.
The Retail Connection (TRC) is a full-service real estate services and investment firm, entirely focused on retail. Tenant and landlord representation are prime areas of concentration for the company and its brokers. The company started off running with a strong base of retail and restaurant clients that has grown to over 90 today. The company's tenant list is impressive - it includes top credit retailers like Gap, Bed Bath & Beyond, The Sports Authority, OfficeMax, JoAnn's, Pei Wei Asian Diner and Houston's. If TRC was solely a tenant representation firm, the company would be the largest retail tenant representation firm in Texas.
"Our clients have been extremely supportive and, in many cases, have been the catalyst for what we have created," says Lieberman. "They are truly our partners."
On the project leasing side, TRC represents many of the leading investment companies in the business. Landlords like Rreef, Florida-based Equity One, Transwestern Investment Company, and Investco have contracted with the company to lease some of their properties in Texas. Currently, TRC leases more than 8 million square feet of retail projects. The firm is leading the leasing efforts of several million square feet of proposed developments including such projects as the mixed use Park Lane Place development across from NorthPark Mall. The firm also handles surplus property dispositions.
"We have tremendous relationships on both sides of the equation. The time was right to build a premier real estate services and investment firm exclusively focused on retail," says Lieberman.
Initially, TRC is concentrating its practice on Texas and neighboring states. Starting with its office in Dallas, the company has since opened an office in San Antonio, led by Sherman Hinkebein, which covers Central Texas, with plans to open offices in Houston and Austin next. As clients' demands warrant, the company will expand into the surrounding southwestern states.
Lieberman is the CEO of the company, focusing on strategic direction, business development and delivery. Shor is president and chief operating officer and concentrates on the business operations, strategic direction and merchant banking aspects of the company. The company has several senior members, including Steve
Greenberg and Terry Syler, who are both executive vice presidents and partners, and who lead the company's tenant representation, project leasing, and investment sales programs. In addition, senior executives Dennis Leibovitz, Jill Tiernan and David Levinson lead the company's restaurant, specialty retail, and project leasing programs. David Wilson serves as the president of Connected Development Services, a division of the company that facilitates retailers with the development requirements of their retail clients, and Michael Ablon leads Connected Acquisition Services, which helps developers and owners with financing and other capital needs. The company currently has about 25 professionals and a support team of 11 - numbers which have steadily grown since the company's inception. Many have worked as teammates for 15 years or more.
"Although our company is new, we have a deep history of working together and our relationships with our retail clients go back 10 to 15 years in many cases," says Lieberman. "The team has deep roots and is very seasoned."
"This is a new company, but a new company with a very mature business face," says Shor. "One key to hitting the ground running is the number of relationships that followed these individuals. "
Shor adds that the company has the added advantage of the perspective gained from his years with Zale, where - as a retailer - he sat on the other side of the table.
"We have spent much of our time and energy making sure that we had the necessary processes and procedures in place to deliver what we promise our clients," says Shor. "The focus so far has been on getting the infrastructure in place and having the right people in the appropriate positions to support all of our businesses. Our culture is to over-deliver on what we promise."
While doing that, Lieberman and Shor also had to make sure that the on-going transactions were handled efficiently and that the clients did not miss a beat with the execution of their strategies. It is a balancing act that can be challenging at times, especially when dealing with public retailers who have committed an aggressive store delivery program to Wall Street.
"We have to make sure we meet their schedules, developing and implementing strategies to meet our clients' commitments to their boards and shareholders," says Lieberman.
TRC has added capabilities as it has grown to make sure that it can service its clients' expanded needs. As clients need strategic guidance and execution for their real estate programs, TRC has the platform in place to be the one resource that can help them with all of their needs. As a recent example, the company assembled and structured a joint-venture to acquire a $60 million shopping center.
"Every way that we can connect with the retailer and deliver meaningful value to their business is a discipline that we will pursue," says Lieberman.
In addition to its landlord and tenant representation, TRC will grow its business through its three retail investment services divisions: Connected Development Services, Connected Acquisition Services and Connected Capital.
Connected Development Services facilitates tenant-driven, ground-up development. This encompasses everything from single-tenant build-to-suit projects to large scale power centers. The company has a number of projects underway. David Wilson, who heads up Connected Development Services, has built over 100 shopping centers in his 26-year career.
Connected Acquisition Services helps clients acquire retail assets, from single-tenant assets to shopping centers. Mike Ablon, a former REIT executive, heads up this division. The company's largest deal to date has been the $60 million acquisition of Village on the Parkway shopping center in Addison, Texas. TRC structured the joint partnership - with Birming ham, Alabama-based Colonial Property Trust as the lead - to acquire the 380,OOO-square-foot open air center, which is anchored by Bed Bath & Beyond, T.G.I. Friday's and Blue Mesa Grill. The center is Colonial's first acquisition in Texas.
Alan Shor also heads up Connected Capital, which arranges financing, operating, and strategic planning for local and national retailers' growth plans. This includes roll out and expansion capital, as well as and merchant banking services.
While Texas is its home state, TRC's geographic reach has no limits and the company is actively involved in a number of national tenant rep assignments such as Golfsmith superstores and Sherlock's Baker Street Pubs. However, the company intends to expand its reach responsibly. "The wonderful thing about being in this business in Texas is the amount of opportunity this state provides," says Lieberman. "We want to make certain that as we expand, we continue to deliver the same level of performance that we deliver here."
One of the primary reasons TRC desires controlled growth is because the company has developed a team culture that is unparalleled in the retail real estate industry. The company has implemented a number of elements in its businesses to align its team, eliminate conflicts and boundaries, and facilitate the total sharing of knowledge. The company encourages accounts being shared by multiple brokers. Several people work on the team for each account, giving the brokers a depth of knowledge about the client, but not resting the client  with anyone person. A lead broker is  the retailer's main contact so that  there is one point of contact. Other  team members work to provide the depth necessary to deliver the optimal program. TRC finds that through this method, the company finds better locations faster than having a retailer work with a single broker.
"We know that by focusing on our clients and taking care of them, our rewards will follow," says Shor. "This approach has led the team and the company to be cohesively focused and disciplined. When our retail clients sit down with any of our people, they very clearly see that we are a part of their team."
In its markets, TRC sees continued success.
"Texas continues to be a strong market," says Lieberman. "Housing and economic growth in the area continue to provide a strong base of support for retail in our markets."
Retailers continue to look to grow their share of the Texas market as they roll out their concepts. New retailers, also, gravitate to these markets to take advantage of the strong demographics of the state's consumer base and economies.
Although the future growth of its clients will continue to be dynamic, The Retail Connection is well on its way to connecting the retail industry in Texas.