Amy Carroll | President | Trademark Properties | Is Commercial Real Estate a dinosaur?

Transcript

DA: Welcome to TEN, the Tenant Experience Network. I’m your host David Abrams. In this episode, we are connecting with Amy Carroll, President of Trademark Properties. In this episode, we learn about Amy’s career journey, having been born into a family that built custom homes and then landing an entry level position at a multi-family business, where she spent eight years learning all she could. Amy leveraged that experience and transitioned to commercial real estate and property management, which led to Trademark Properties and ascending to the position of President on the first year anniversary. Amy is a lifelong learner and feels strongly that this characteristic is essential to success. As a supporter of the new hybrid workplace, Amy has personally adopted this approach within her company. We discussed the need for buildings to be more competitive, especially when stacked up against newer construction. In Amy’s words, commercial real estate is a dinosaur, technology has been focused on the operations side of the business, but it’s not enough. With HR managers now involved in every real estate decision, now is the time to tap into what is most important, delivering what tenants really want. The operation of the building needs to be better connected to the experience. I loved hearing about Amy’s early response to the pandemic and how she and her team positioned the company for success during a time of tremendous upheaval. We’re excited to share this podcast with you. So be sure to subscribe to TEN, so you never miss an episode of the Tenant Experience Network. And now I’d like to welcome Amy to the show. I’m really glad you could be with us today.

AC: Thank you.

DA: All right, let’s jump right into it. Maybe you could share with us a little bit about your journey to your current position role. How did you get started?

AC: I love this because I get this question a lot, ’cause I have a very odd background. So I was born into a family that does real estate. My dad was a custom builder, we had our family business, my mom sold the houses, so it was fantastic. But I really got into commercial real estate by being at a student government breakfast. And one of the moms said, “I need someone to file papers this summer in my office.” And I said, “That sounds perfect.” So on my 15th birthday, I showed up with my worker’s permit in hand and I said, “I’m ready, I’m official, I can start today.” And I worked for that company, which was a multifamily company for eight and a half years. And at the end of it, I was over three states and 17 different apartment communities. So it was quite the journey from filing papers during the summer to that. And I decided that maybe multifamily wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do ultimately. So I did residential real estate for a few years and then a friend of mine said, “You’re really suited for commercial” and I didn’t even know what that meant. So I interviewed with a person who has become my mentor and he put me through the paces. I think I had to interview with him four times before he’d hired me to be a property manager. And he said the one thing working against me was my age. “You have a great resume, great skillset. You’d be the youngest person we’ve ever hired.” I said, “Okay, well, just bet on me, I can do this.” So bet on me. And I worked as a commercial property manager for years until I came to Trademark to take over the commercial property management division. And didn’t realize that I really worked with my hands across every division and it’s just how I operate. And I like for there to be processes in place and for everything to be streamlined. And I was ultimately working across every division. And so the founder of the company said, “You’re the one, you’re it. I want you to take over the company” on my one year anniversary.

DA: Wow.

AC: Yeah, I was stupefied and made weird noises and it was the last thing I ever expected to hear. And here I am four years later and it was exactly the right move at the right time. It’s just I think what I was meant to do.

DA: That’s amazing. It just mean to say about this particular question ’cause I just get so many interesting answers. It’s the most basic questions, the introductory question. And yet I love hearing the different stories about how people eventually made their way into commercial real estate, more often than not, not like you having no prior involvement or even awareness of the industry. So some pretty wild stories. So why do you think you were so uniquely suited for this opportunity? I mean, yes, your family was in the business, but what made it right for you? Skills, mentors, colleagues, books, DNA, what worked for you?

AC: think what’s incredibly important for people in real estate and commercial real estate especially, is you have to be a lifelong learner. You have to be committed to reading the news, reading, you have to be informed. If you’re not informed on the market, what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in finance, how does that affect the business, that’s really important. And you have to want to do that. I don’t think people are just, I think it’s innate in you. And I think that problem solving, not wanting to sit behind a desk and rubber stamp things 40 hours a week, enjoying the movement and the pace and the different hats that you have to wear. I think that’s important too, and really, I don’t know. I think it’s a work hard play hard industry, you want to be at the top of your game, but everyone there’s such great camaraderie and there’s so many reasons to celebrate that that really is fun for us too.

DA: Yeah, for sure. I guess when you first began in the family business, you probably did not necessarily see that vision where you’d be president of a company like this so quickly in your career.

AC: Absolutely not, I had no idea. I didn’t even know to want that, let’s just put it that way.

DA: Well, maybe that’s what makes it all that much more rewarding in that the evidence really was what you did and how you were recognized and it wasn’t necessarily something you had your site set on. So I would imagine that that really leads to a lot of satisfaction, personal satisfaction on your part as well.

AC: Absolutely, I think real estate’s in my DNA and I just love it and it feeds me, so it’s the right fit.

DA: That’s amazing. So I love the fact that you have the residential multifamily in your background. You eventually came onto the commercial side, would love to get your perspective on the commentary that we’re currently inundated with in and around the return to workplace. There are obviously some very extreme positions being articulated, sometimes confrontational, often polarizing. And they’re literally changing by the month, week and day. Here we are after Labor Day. And I think things are going to continue to take shape in the days and weeks to come. But I’d love your perspective. Our feeling is that everyone needs to live and work in the world as it is right now, that the industry and employers can’t continue projecting to a date in the future. It’s not about returning to what was normal, it’s about a new normal. And I think we live in a world with COVID, not post-COVID. So I’m just curious what you think that means for the commercial real estate industry and specifically, what does it mean for buildings? How do buildings still remain an important part of this new expanded workplace ecosystem?

AC: Yeah, I love that. So you’re exactly right, we’re in a new normal, we have to act on what makes sense right now. And everyone needs to be flexible. We have to learn to pivot and we just have to deal with the information and the situation that we have right now, which in my opinion is I have said definitively, and I’ll say it again, ’cause I love making ridiculous statements, but the 40 hour, 8:00 to 5:00 in the office day is gone. And if that is what you are sticking to and saying, if you work for this company, you will be here behind a desk for 40 hours, no flexibility, your business is going to suffer. So I do think that there’s important tasks that can be done at home. There’s things that make sense for you to do independently. But if you are looking for the mentorship, the creativity, the collaboration, that happens here at the office, and I’ve been coming back to the office, I come every day, but Wednesday just to give everyone a break.

AC: So I come every day, but Wednesday because I feed off of the creativity and the collaboration. And Wednesday’s the day that I make sure that I’ve done everything that I’ve said I was going to do that week, but I come in and that’s where I learn about deals, that’s how I connect with people, that’s how I see where challenges are happening. And without that, in my opinion things are moving much slower. If I can’t just talk to you and if I’m not seeing you and I can’t organically talk to you about a challenge or something that’s going on, I may not mention it to you at all. Am I going to really sit down and type it into an email? It’s going to have to escalate a little for me to do that. And people use the phone a lot less these days. I mean, it just is a fact, there’s less of that. So I think that the hybrid environment is critical and it’s critical in so many ways. And there are positions that can’t be hybrid. I mean, I am aware of that, we have some of those here, but creating perks and benefits for those people that support that when other people their benefit truly is the flexibility and the flexible work hours.

DA: That’s interesting. I agree with you that mandated return to work. Again, that’s one of those extreme positions that I suggested at the beginning of this question. But then when we look on the employee side, the employees that they’re signing petitions to large companies because they don’t ever want to come back. I mean, again I just don’t feel that’s realistic and I don’t feel that that’s fair and I don’t feel that necessarily that is an entitlement or a right that they should have. And it’s not that I always want to take the middle ground for the sake of being in the middle. But I do think that employers also have certain rights and expectations around the people that they employ. They are the ones that are entering into a financial arrangement with you and paying for your service, they should have some say over perhaps when and where you work at some point during the course of your week. Thoughts on that?

AC: Oh, I completely agree. I think that there’s always a balance and we’re having a real challenge for finding talent right now in our industry. And that has put more pressure on it. But the good thing is if you are flexible, there’s certain jobs that are just not, they’re not even 40 hour a week jobs. And if I am open to finding someone that’s working, let’s say find someone in Turkey that has the right skill set that is willing to do the 15 hour a week task that I need, I have just opened up my hiring ability tremendously. And it’s looking at it that way as well. And so I think employers do have more power than they think because we don’t have to just hire in our backyards anymore.

DA: Right, that’s a good point, that’s a good point. Is there anything that you think, again, looking across your portfolio, the buildings that you’re connected to, is there anything that buildings can be doing specifically to again, position their buildings as an important part of this workplace ecosystem where there are options about why the building should be seen as number one or two?

AC: So it’s interesting ’cause everyone is saying, this is a phrase that you probably heard 1,000 times, but the flight to quality, and I’m not sure that I completely agreed with that, because not everyone, especially in our Raleigh market is fleeing their class B office building and going to a tower downtown. It’s just not really happening. Now, are people attracted to that? Absolutely, and there need to be perks. And what you want to do is you want to create that reason for someone to come in and tack on to the end of their day, how convenient can we make things for them? How convenient can we make, while they’re here is there somewhere they can work out? Is there somewhere that they can grab food for dinner? Is there somewhere that they can meet with their coworkers after work and have some social connection there? And so I think it’s about the elongated office day, but it’s because we’re stacking in those things that you’re doing personally anyway, but we’re making a better environment for people to do them in.

DA: Yeah, I think the word quality around flight to quality is not entirely descriptive of what we really mean because it’s not just quality, I.e, new, it could be a B building that offers just great amenities or services or programs. So I think everybody can be competitive. So I think it’s the flight to quality of experience or programming or service delivery or all these other things, not just the flight to quality, meaning all the new construction that is now available. So I think there’s an opportunity for the B and C market to remain equally as competitive in my opinion, and be incredibly and even more creative perhaps because they can be more nimble, more responsive. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity. It’ll be interesting to see how it all falls out.

AC: You’re exactly right, and creating those differentiators. It gives these people with B and C buildings, you know what? They have that flexibility to be different. What can they do that creates a better experience? Not everybody wants to ride in an elevator with 40 other people to get to their floor. There are positives both ways. And I think that as long as you leverage those and set yourself apart, that’s all you can do.

DA: I totally agree. The pandemic has certainly recalibrated how the market looks at buildings and recognizes the value. What’s the real asset? I think we learned that empty buildings aren’t that great an asset. And so the real asset that was highlighted throughout this period was the fact that it’s the people, it’s the people that make up the vibrancy of that community. So if people are the real asset, we believe that tenant experience, workplace experience, workplace engagement are going to be the true differentiators as we just spoke of. And they’re in some cases becoming the driving force behind real estate decisions, perhaps more than the historical determinants like location and class. So just curious from your perspective, both what you’re seeing from within the industry, but also in your market, how can we go about creating the best customer experience for tenants? Share your thoughts on how we’ll define that in the future?

AC: So I think one thing that we can really thank the pandemic for is the acceleration of use of technology. And commercial real estate is a dinosaur in terms of how we do it, what we do, we’re doing the same thing generally. Maybe with different tools than people did 10 and 15 years ago. And it doesn’t work anymore. There’s so many more efficient ways to do that. And not only are business owners pushing for more technology so that they can figure out how to better operate their buildings. But tenants are asking for that as well. It’s like if you are at home and you can adjust your light level, your temperature, you can turn on music, you can cast at your home, why can’t you do it in your workplace? You think commercial real estate, you think savvy, you think better technology, better quality, better everything, and this incredible equipment that we use. But we’re not tying those two things together. And I think that that’s a big miss for commercial real estate. And I think that that’s something that tenants will no longer be okay with.

DA: Right, are you seeing any specific signs of that in your market? Are you seeing buildings look at technology in a different way? Is there talk of the adoption of technology in making buildings more tech enabled?

AC: Yes, but it’s been almost 100% on the operations side, which I think is great. And absolutely we want to have green buildings. We want to have lift certified buildings, we want to have well buildings, that’s fantastic. And that’s fantastic for the value of the asset. And that’s fantastic for that little box that people are looking to check where they’re going, should this be in our search parameters? But it’s not enough. And if you look at how real estate decisions are being made right now, the HR manager is involved in every single decision.

DA: Representing the masses, right? Representing the entire employee base.

AC: Yes, and that’s the value. Without them, you can move anywhere. You can move to the nicest building on the planet, but if your employees don’t believe that that’s the right move and they don’t want to go there, you’ve just lost a huge asset. And so it’s such a huge factor in terms of decision making and people are becoming more and more discerning. And with the pandemic, you’re looking at your work life balance, you have some time to really reflect on what’s important to you and what’s working and not working. And I think that employers are seeing that, is there’s more pushback on this, I don’t want to sit next to someone that’s three feet away from me, I don’t ever want to do that again, pandemic or no pandemic. And so things are changing, and I think that the faster that property managers and building owners understand that operations are important, but what is that link between operations and experience.

DA: Listen, you’re preaching to the converted, but I love it, I love that you said it and I didn’t have to, but obviously we’re concerned our company’s all based on that last mile. How do we look at everything that’s being done operationally, but anything that requires an interface with the end user and bring it all home in a single platform that people are going to love and find easy to use and just make it super easy for them to access. So we’re all about that last mile and really recognizing that that’s where the money is because the longer that customer wants to stay in that building, that’s dollar signs, retention is what it’s all about, and then ultimately, how do we use that as a tactic to attract new tenants to the building? So I hope that we’re going to continue to see building owners, building operators understand the business that they’re now in and that it’s all about the people. And they got to be thinking equal parts, not just about the operations, but how they deliver every day to the people that walk into their building. And we’re starting to hear and see that more. I’ve had several CEOs, the very large companies on the program over the last couple of months that have all now talked about and recognized that their customer is every person that walks into their building each and every day. I wouldn’t have necessarily heard that pre-pandemic. So that’s a positive sign for me.

AC: Absolutely, you’re exactly right. That was almost not even discussed when you’re talking about the value of a building, the marketability of a building, maybe parking ratio, but that was all tied to density, it wasn’t tied to user experience.

DA: Right, very interesting. All right, let’s continue this part of the conversation, but let’s take a short break and we’ll be right back.

Commercial Break

DA: We are back with Amy Carroll, President at Trademark Properties. Once again, I’m really glad you could be with us today. Living through a pandemic has been very challenging for so many people, but it’s also provided an opportunity for our team and I hope others, to now think about how we can be better, do better and build something better. The pandemic can no longer be an excuse. So can you share any aspects about your business? Any details about a part of your business, business as a whole, that you’re now reimagining as a result of the reality of where we are today?

AC: Oh, absolutely, so you’re exactly right, it’s an opportunity and what is that opportunity? And we are lucky that we are a small to mid-size company without a lot of hierarchy, so we’re very nimble. And we can pivot so quickly and that has become an advantage for us in the market and navigating COVID. So we already had everything in place to be paperless and to work remotely, et cetera, that wasn’t a big stretch for us, but what was a stretch for us was to figure out, okay, how do we use this opportunity to create something that we can do later? So we’ve retooled, we invested in technology, actually hired people during COVID, which was unheard of, but we built this depth of relationship with our clients and our building owners to say, “Hey, here’s the situation. Here’s what the tenants want,” we talked to lenders, we talked to building owners, we talked to tenants. We did work that was not necessarily monetized in that moment, build the platform and the relationship and the structure to crush it as soon as the building doors opened again, and we built the trust with our clients where they said, “Okay, it’s not just about the transaction. This is about the relationship, they’re going to hold our hand through this” when they don’t really there, there’s no real way to monetize it right now. I mean, the negotiations that we were doing with tenants, let’s just say they weren’t very exciting.

DA: So you really invested, you invested.

AC: We invested in our clients, we invested in the relationship there. We provided tools to our tenants of what resources were available. We made sure we were first to the market with any intel that we had or any resources that we had that we thought would help, whether it’s a business owner, a tenant or even just a person. And it was just a really exciting time for us and implementing new technologies to where you people do still send checks in. They really do, but being able to deal with those remotely and not have to go to banks and things like that, it’s little things like that that we did that made big differences and it changed the way that we look at our business.

DA: So I’m just curious, because I think there were many companies that put their head in the sand and kept looking forward to the next projection as to when we might be through COVID. And we’re hopeful that their businesses would carry on. It sounds like you took a very different approach. It sounded like you recognized you were in a window of opportunity and you either take action or you sit back and clearly you took action. I’m just curious, what were the conversations like internally to make that happen?

AC: I told you at the beginning, I’m a little bit of an oddball and this was proof of that. It was, okay, we’re a small company, our competitors are laying people off, they’re furloughing people, they’re cutting pay and benefits, we’re not going to do that. Let’s just not, matter of fact, let’s hire people. And that was crazy, but it was absolutely necessary. We were at a period of growth that, I mean, I could have, the stress that was already put on people from COVID, there was an extended period of stress there. And so we really needed to make sure we were giving people grace and that we were making the investments that we said that we do to set ourselves apart, we’re not your big firm, we don’t want to be your big firm, and you want to know why? Because we’re going to answer the phone and we’re going to talk to you about what’s in your best interest, but we’re also going to be talking to the next generation. You’re going to tell your son or daughter, “You know what? You know this land that’s been in our family for 50 years, if you need to do anything with this, here are the people that you call.” So we have turned that into this generational business, that is something that I think is new and different, and really just makes us different from anyone else.

DA: Well, I’m going to tell you, we’ve had many guests on the program, but I’ve really enjoyed hearing this part of the conversation. And honestly, so impressed because I think that takes a certain amount of commitment and passion and determination at a time of tremendous upheaval, to be able to think in those terms and see still the long-term value that commercial real estate had and will have, and know that there’s going to be an end to this and where you see yourself on the other end of it. So congratulations to you and your entire team. That’s big thinking from a, I don’t know, you said I think a small or mid-sized company, but that’s really phenomenal. We always like to get to know our guests a little bit more on a personal level as well. So we’re going to close out with a speed around, with just some questions to get to know you, Amy. And so I’m just wondering if you can share one way in which the pandemic has changed your outlook on life.

AC: Oh, it’s made me so grateful for my health. Having COVID twice actually, which is embarrassing to admit, that’s scary, it’s a scary thing to navigate something that’s so unknown. And I think the appreciation that I have for smelling and tasting and breathing is just so nasty now.

DA: Right, well, I know that I had COVID not long ago and it was not fun and I did lose my sense of taste, so I totally get that. What travel destination do you miss most?

AC: Oh, I would love to go back to Turks and Caicos. Loved the warm weather, beautiful sand. I think it’s just peaceful and perfect.

DA: It’s good for your soul, I’ve been there myself, I love it. Anything new on your bucket list that you’d like to experience?

AC: That’s a good one. I’m moving this up because I feel like that’s important, we’ve all learned, move it up, don’t wait. But European travel is on the horizon for me.

DA: Great. – And writing a book.

DA: Writing a book, let’s come back to the book. Any specific European destination, first or foremost?

AC: No, I’m going to hit several, but definitely Paris and I will definitely make my way to Italy, so we’ll see.

DA: Love it, very nice and a book, have you started the book already?

AC: No, but it’s something that I know is inherent in my being, like I know I’m going to write a book, I just know and it’s really interesting. I keep making definitive statements about it and I know it will happen, I will.

DA: That’s great, very good, all right. What’s your favorite technology that is new to your life?

AC: It’s not new, new, but is pretty new, but I drive a Tesla and I was nervous about adopting new technology, and was it too out there for me? It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, I can’t go back. I don’t know how people drive anything else. So it’s just been one of those things that’s shown me that adoption of technology, it really can change everything.

DA: Right, well, it’s a game changer and you still had to be an early adopter because it’s still relatively new. So that sounds exciting though. And certainly all the other car makers seem to be following suit pretty quickly these days. What’s your personal choice for days spent in person with your colleagues versus working from anywhere?

AC: So I love to, so I keep Wednesdays as my day from home. I work in the office mostly Monday through Friday, but I’m also that person that you can find in a coffee shop somewhere working. I like to organically move around and work and do what makes sense at that time. I am the quintessential person who I changed everything here with like dress for your day. I really feel like that’s just a lifestyle, it’s like, where do you work right now? What are you doing? What makes the most sense? And do that, be flexible.

DA: I love it, I love it. Don’t be surprised if I brush off my resume and it might land in your inbox at some point, but I think working with you and perhaps that your company would be pretty exciting. So Amy, thanks so much for joining me today. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation, getting to know you better. I look forward to continuing the conversation as we examine the future of commercial real estate and the return to work. And as you said, how technology can continue to penetrate into an old established legacy industry and more importantly, or as important as it is on the operation side, really be an amazing product for the end user, for our customers. So I look forward to continuing our conversation and thanks again for joining me.

AC: Thank you.

DA: All right. I want to thank Amy Carroll for joining me on this episode of TEN and for contributing to the global conversation around buildings being part of a robust ecosystem that can help to build great companies and that are vital in the effort to cultivate and support great people and teams. The future of the workplace will likely take many forms and we’ll continue to explore what that looks like together. Subscribe to TEN for more conversations with leading CRE professionals and experts who all have something to say about tenant experience and the future of the workplace. We love hearing from you, so if you enjoyed this episode of TEN, please share, add your rating and review us through your preferred podcast provider.

If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on a future episode, please reach out to me directly at david@hiloapp.com. And until our next episode, I wish you all continued success in building community where you work and live, thank you.

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Michael Beckerman | CEO | CREtech | Putting a spotlight on tech and innovation in the built world

Season 3 / Episode 13 / 36:12
In this episode, Michael shares his career journey from public relations for commercial real estate to launching a small news aggregator that has grown into something much bigger, now CREtech. Michael saw an opportunity to put a spotlight on innovation in the built world and create a global audience of startups, commercial real estate operators and venture capitalists.

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Season 3 / Episode 10 / 36:40
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Bob Knakal | Chairman NY Investment Sales | JLL | A titan in NY CRE shares his story and insights

Season 3 / Episode 9 / 42:36
In this episode, Bob shares his personal experience working through the pandemic and how his own thinking has evolved and changed. Bob believes that working in the office is more fun and hopes that people will continue to find their way back to the office and rediscover the many ways in which the commute can provide valuable time to read, listen to audiobooks or your favorite podcast.

Michael Beckerman | CEO | CREtech | Putting a spotlight on tech and innovation in the built world

Season 3 / Episode 13 / 36:12
In this episode, Michael shares his career journey from public relations for commercial real estate to launching a small news aggregator that has grown into something much bigger, now CREtech. Michael saw an opportunity to put a spotlight on innovation in the built world and create a global audience of startups, commercial real estate operators and venture capitalists.

Steven Rotter | Vice Chairman | JLL | Why every deal matters and now is the time to invest

Season 3 / Episode 10 / 36:40
In this episode, Steven shares his strong belief that businesses will continue to see NYC as an important location to have a physical presence, albeit with different use cases and purposes. Interestingly, a majority of the deals that are getting done today are with buildings that are offering new, or expanded services and amenities to attract new tenants.

Bob Knakal | Chairman NY Investment Sales | JLL | A titan in NY CRE shares his story and insights

Season 3 / Episode 9 / 42:36
In this episode, Bob shares his personal experience working through the pandemic and how his own thinking has evolved and changed. Bob believes that working in the office is more fun and hopes that people will continue to find their way back to the office and rediscover the many ways in which the commute can provide valuable time to read, listen to audiobooks or your favorite podcast.