Mark Masinter has been coming to ICSC‘s annual event for the past 35 years. This year he has something new on his business card: The self-made retail veteran recently joined Newmark as its new global head of retail.
Masinter founded Open Realty Advisors in 1987, a real estate investment firm with clientele that includes Apple, Tesla, J. Crew, Warner Bros. and Fireside Pies.
Masinter chatted with Commercial Observer at Newmark’s ICSC booth in Las Vegas Convention Center. He shared his view on the retail market, his career journey, and his secret of running a successful company plus enjoying a happy marriage for 34 years.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Commercial Observer: How did you get your start in the real estate industry?
Mark Masinter: I started a business right out of college with not even two nickels to rub together and a couple of credit cards. The vision was to build an advisory business that would focus on helping emerging retail restaurant brands, essentially acting as an outsourced real estate department. I got lucky along the way, and actually started to create a really good business around that. We had some very special brands [that] allowed us to do that and then fortify our place in the real estate world. And then, from that advisory business, we started investing and developing in real estate and investing in certain consumer companies as well.
Did your interest in real estate come from any kind of family influence?
I was fascinated by real estate. My father actually told me: “Don’t be a lawyer. You’ll work too hard and you don’t make enough money.” I said, “OK,” because his dad has told him that as well. So, I was just following my grandpa’s advice. When I started to study real estate, what interested me about retail and restaurants was that it seemed like very much a “common sense” business, in that a good location choice or a bad location choice could have major ramifications on your business.
Understanding the math behind what makes a retail store or restaurant business work or not makes common sense to me, so I was fascinated by it. And I’ve always been fascinated by consumerism. It enabled me to use some of my creative desires about how to create stuff.
What’s your view on the retail market right now?
My view today was probably no different than it was in 2019 or even 2018. I believe physical retail now is more important than ever. If you look at the best brands that are growing right now, they all realize it. Retail stores and the physical manifestation of your brand is actually the best and least expensive customer-acquisition tool out there. Look at Warby Parker as an incredible example. They had an amazing online experience. It’s as good of an online experience any retail brand can have. It’s phenomenal. When they started to open up stores, you could walk in, touch and feel the merchandise and there was a certain ethos when you walked into the store. Consumers would say, “I can see myself being associated with this brand.” And you can’t do that virtually. If you know how to operate a store or restaurant very well, you create a ton of loyalty. And I think that brands really see that now. The pandemic was terrible, but it was terrible for a lot of reasons. But as soon as people started waking up and being able to come out of their homes, we wanted to be together. We wanted to be out experiencing life again. So I’m bullish as heck on the retail, food and beverage business.
Which markets are doing better than others?
I would say no one is saying no to L.A., but they might say no to a certain part of L.A. No one is saying no to Northern California. They might say no to a certain part of San Francisco. But in general, because we’re involved in a lot of brands that are growing, in every major market, people are open to doing business and growing. That’s what gives me my excitement. And that’s what gives me my bullishness about the future. That’s why I’m really excited about being part of Newmark.
What’s your view on big malls and power centers?
I think that the mall world is evolving. There are some incredible malls out there that have built moats around themselves. They’re just so good. And they’re going to be around forever. And there are certain malls that have lost a certain level of relevance and have to reimagine and be something a little different than what they are today. And I think that’s going on in all different types of retail development.
You recently joined Newmark. What’s the story behind that?
I think there’s an entrepreneurial spirit in this company that doesn’t exist in others. Of course, there are other great companies, but what I found very powerful is the spirit of the company and its leadership. That’s what attracted me is that there’s a real commitment to being the best and client-centric. It’s a very aspirational company. If you have a great idea, they’re going to get behind it, and they want to get behind it. [Newmark has] great human capital, and this is a human capital business. We’re not creating software here. We’re providing services to very important clients. We have the best human beings executing that strategy.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I have an entrepreneurial spirit. And if you look at my old company’s name, “Open,” the most exciting part about doing real estate, in my mind, was getting your clients open for business. If you own developments, you work really hard and spend a couple of years to get the leasing done and building something to open, and that’s really exciting. You’re providing jobs for people. You’re providing opportunities for people and it’s kind of the American way.
What does your daily work look like now?
I travel a lot. I’m in New York at least once a month. I’m in L.A. at least once a month. So I’m everywhere. I’m lucky I have a wife of 34 years and she is OK with it. When I started my business we were dating. I didn’t have any money. I would come home and eat saltines and tuna fish. I only had enough money to go have really bad Mexican food and drink margaritas, maybe go to a movie. So we grew up together and we built this life together.
What’s your secret to success?
It’s definitely not intellect. I was a C-grade student. My secret was just effort — working hard and never doubting myself, just believing [in myself]. One thing that has served me well is my instincts. A lot of times, people thought I had crazy ideas. I was like, “OK, I think I’m onto something.” So follow your instincts. I think it’s one of the most important things that you’ve actually naturally been given.
Emily Fu can be reached at email@example.com.