Known for his ability to sniff out emerging neighborhoods in New York long before his competitors, the retail leasing veteran Benjamin Fox recently left Winick Realty, where he served for three years as president, and shifted to Massey Knakal, where he will now helm that firm’s new Retail Leasing Services group. Mr. Fox, 61, talked about his goals for the group, his plans for a major recruitment effort and what, exactly, prompted him to leave his seat at Winick.
The Commercial Observer: Why did you decide to leave Winick Realty, where you had been serving as the retail firm’s president for the last several years?
Mr. Fox: The question isn’t why I left Winick, but more so why I came here; and I’ve always believed that there was a synergy between retail store leasing and investment sales, in that in so much of investment sales or the sale of property, retail is a major component.
So our ability to analyze it more closely and carefully, and to let clients know that, in addition to selling property we can also lease their properties, is something that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time.
Does anybody else focus on that combination of investment sales and retail leasing really well right now in New York?
I don’t think so. We are basically starting something that should have been done a long time ago, whereby there’s no separation between the retail department and an investment sales department. We’re all looking at the same stuff, we’re all out on the street, we basically cover the same turf. And the ability to look at something–look at a piece of property from different perspectives–will allow us to uncover hidden value that owners of property may not even be aware of.
With the investment sales aspect, was that a focus you had considered introducing at Winick, or something you would have been able to install had you wanted to?
No, I think you really need a full-blown operation that really concentrates on investment sales the way Massey Knakal does. The amount of information that is compiled is massive, and that really plays into retail leasing. It’s not simply a question … You see, with a retail broker, you want to find out what’s going on with a particular property. You can go to PropertyShark and get the basic essence, or the basic facts as to who owns what and so forth. But that’s not perfect.
These guys, here at Massey, go way beyond that. They find out who all the partners are in the building. They find out what their motivations are, and what their reasoning is in making a decision one way or the other. Again, you go to PropertyShark you’re just going to see a name. Over here, not only do you have their names, but we know what they had for breakfast.
And the ability to use that information in a timely way, I think, can really bolster our efforts to use retail leasing and have that as a component where we know why we’re calling somebody-as opposed to it being a cold call.
It sounds like you’re starting the retail leasing group from the ground up. What’s your first order of business?
My first order of business is not very romantic or anything, but I’ve just been here for two weeks, so I’m getting a lay of the land and getting an understanding of the territory system. Already I’m working on a dozen projects that were referred my way by investment sales brokers who have this information and in the past have not really acted upon it-or they’ve referred it out to others.
So I’m just here getting a lay of the land and getting an understanding of what product is out there. And I’m devising a system whereby when we begin recruiting, I’ll have a much better understanding on how new individuals can be utilized so that the firm makes money and the brokers make money.
How big a group do you expect to have by the time you finish recruiting?
It’s tough to say. I’d like to eventually have a broker in a lot of the territories-most of the territories, actually. It’s a big job because it’s not just Manhattan. Manhattan alone has a dozen or 15 territories, and each one of these territories is almost a city in itself.
As I said, having a good understanding of each one of these territories and how active they are from a real estate leasing standpoint really determines how many brokers, how many retail leasing brokers, would match up in each territory.
When do you expect the new group to fully launch?
I would say that we’re starting now. We’re getting interest from brokers and other individuals. We’re just putting the piece together for the whole division, and I would suspect that within a couple of months, we’ll be expanding.
A year or so ago, would you have predicted that you would be leaving Winick?
No. I have to stress that leaving Winick wasn’t the motivator here. I think it’s the other way around: The opportunity came around, and a year and a half ago, I wasn’t really contemplating anything.