The Broker Who Makes Brands Happen
Jotham Sederstrom March 8, 2011, 9:38 a.m.
Although they might not know her by name, to young girls of a certain age in New York, the CB Richard Ellis broker Susan Kurland is something of a saint.
After all, it was Ms. Kurland who not only represented American Girl in its earliest brick-and-mortar pursuits in Manhattan and later the nation, but also apparel chains H&M and Mango. With each of those retail clients, the CBRE executive vice president has played a substantial role in helping to expand and nationalize the brands while ushering in a particular style of youth culture to the American masses.
“A girl can really go in, who doesn’t have a lot of money, and go out on a Saturday night and feel good about herself because she can put herself together in a fashionable way,” said Ms. Kurland of H&M in particular. “Nobody’s going to know that it cost $20, and that’s a great thing because girls are insecure when they’re kids.”
It was for a 36,000-square-foot deal she inked for H&M’s first Manhattan location, at 640 Fifth Avenue, that the veteran broker was honored in 1999 with the Real Estate Board of New York’s “Retail Deal of the Year” award. Besides steering the clothing store to the luxurious confines of Fifth Avenue, at the center of a shopping district known then for its expensive fashions, Ms. Kurland also successfully paved the way for a wave of more affordable retailers on the strip.
Since then, she has inked an estimated 45 transactions for H&M nationwide and 10 for American Girl, including an outpost in Seattle last month, she said.
“When we put H&M on Fifth Avenue, they didn’t really have that type of retailer,” said Ms. Kurland, who during the same time frame also located two additional storefronts for the chain that opened very soon afterward. “It was more luxury-ish, and now when you look at Fifth, it’s totally changed.”
More recently, however, Ms. Kurland’s retail transactions have tilted less toward youthful accessories and apparel and more toward outdoors equipment.
Indeed, in September the broker inked a deal on behalf of REI, the big outdoor gear and sports equipment superstore that will open its first city location in the Kushner Companies-owned Puck Building. In addition to being the first retailer to take space at the historic 295 Lafayette Street, the transaction also marks the Washington-based company’s first major push into the New York area. At 40,000 square feet, it will be one of the gear purveyor’s smaller outposts, but as a company with a devoted following across the nation it will no doubt cause a level of pandemonium when it opens for business this fall.
“When the deal was done, I started getting emails from several of the landlords that I do business with,” recalled Ms. Kurland, who also inked a deal for REI in Long Island. “They said, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you. Now I don’t have to go to New Jersey.’ If you’re a fanatic, you’re a fanatic. Outside of New York there are stores that are, like, 100,000 square feet, with rock-climbing walls and all that stuff.”
BORN IN WESTBURY, L.I., and residing for years in Westchester, Ms. Kurland, who now lives on the Upper East Side, had always had a knack for numbers and business, but chose instead to focus on the arts and her more creative tendencies.
A graduate of the School of Visual Arts, she labored for some time as a graphic designer, creating branding and logos for corporate clients as well as for brochures and other mediums. But in due time, her passion for the work began to wither.
“What I found is that it wasn’t sort of stimulating enough in that I’d get an assignment, I’d go back to my little studio, sit at the drawing board and there just wasn’t any stimulation,” said Ms. Kurland, who studied under Milton Glaser, the artist best known for the ubiquitous I Love New York logos. “It wasn’t stimulating because there was no chance to talk to people.”
As an alternative, she earned her real estate license and worked for several years as a broker before going on a brief hiatus. Since 1998, however, she has never looked back, first taking a job at Cushman & Wakefield before going to CB Richard Ellis six years ago. In 2009, she was the firm’s top retail broker nationwide.
It’s not surprising, perhaps, that as a creative thinker, Ms. Kurland, who also recently picked up photography as a hobby, prefers representing tenants over agencies, which she says requires a bevy of creative solutions to unique commercial real estate problems. “Tenant rep, to me, is just so much more creative,” she said. “Probably the reason I chose retail over office is I find it to be a much more creative type of business and thought process and so forth. With a lot of my clients, it definitely requires creative solutions for this particular New York marketplace.”
Although Ms. Kurland was not raised by a family of real estate agents, she has indeed succeeded in mentoring her two sons in the ways of the trade.
To be sure, her youngest son, Keith Kurland, recently departed a position at CB Richard Ellis for a lucrative new job at Meridian Capital-although not before first snagging CBRE’s in-house “Rookie of the Year” award. Her older son, Chad, meanwhile, has excelled by investing in residential real estate.
Asked if she tried to convince Keith to stay on at CBRE, the proud mother said she did right by her son. “I didn’t ask him to stay here, no,” she said. “I knew it was a great opportunity that he couldn’t pass up.”