You’ve Got to Have Faith! …Saying Goodbye to a CRE Icon

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Over the recent holiday week the commercial real estate industry lost one of its retail icons, Faith Consolo. I was deeply saddened to learn Faith suffered a fatal heart attack at the young age of 69.

I had the honor of getting to know Faith some 7 years ago when I wrote my first book, Brokers Who Dominate. Faith was gracious enough to let me sit down and interview her in her Manhattan office. Immediately, I knew Faith had to be included in my book. Her story is one of perseverance and inspiration.

I had the privilege of speaking with Faith every year since the launch of the book. She would always ask me how she could help sell more books and how she could help my business. She was the closest thing to Zsa Zsa Gabor I ever met. She simply made me smile.

I thought I would share an interview I conducted with Faith, as her approach to success is timeless.

1. What do you think is your “secret” to success?

Beyond the obvious credos, i.e., service, tenacity, determination, staying on top of the marketplace (which in my case is retail real estate), and implementing endless global outreach to prospective clients — the most important tool any consultant or broker can have is the “silver lining” mentality. I call it Shoptimisim – positive outlook and uplifting spirit. It’s contagious!

During the downturn in 2008 and 2009, my team never stopped making deals. In fact, we had one of our best years ever in 2009! We discovered innovative retail businesses in out-of-the-way places, such as India, Brazil, Korea and China — and brought them to New York. Working on deals with landlords to attract new businesses and help them develop into successful tenants. Leasing the first luxury “pop-up” stores along luxury corridors, such as Madison Avenue and in Soho. Working our way uptown to Harlem and across the bridge into the boros landed national retailers. Always positive by being creative, as a result, everyone benefited. And now that the market in New York is starting to normalize, we are continuing our march to take many of our clients to expand nationwide.

2. Please share a story that reflects the value you bring to your clients.

In 2009, we were given the exclusive agency for the multi-level retail portion of a gorgeous brownstone on Madison Avenue’s Jewel Coast, between 63rd and 64th Streets. The market was abysmal at the time, but we came up with a broad-based marketing strategy that brought millions of eyeballs to the space from around the world. First, we hosted a party at the site for New York’s top commercial brokers, using a famous caterer. Concurrently, we offered a Mini Cooper as a prize to any broker who could lease the space – in addition to full commission. The slogan, “You Give us Your Maxi, We’ll Give you a Mini,” was featured in direct marketing, advertising and public relations campaigns and went viral around the world. Not only did our local daily newspapers cover it, the marketing caught the attention of cable news programs, German and Spanish broadcast networks and online media as far as China. Next, we helped organize a weeklong charitable pop-up store to benefit the New York City Opera. Top designers like Carolina Herrera and Donna Karan showcased their clothes to thousands of shoppers and opera buffs who bought fashion for less to benefit a great institution. Again, the exposure was astounding and attracted a global pantheon of luxury fashion retailers. I am delighted to say that Soignè K, a luxury joaillerie and fashion house with stores throughout India and in Dubai, took the space at the end of last year and opened to much fanfare in September 2010. We represented both the landlord and tenant on this transaction. Moreover, we are the exclusive representatives for the tenant’s newly planned U.S. expansion.

3. Tell me about your team.

I have been fortunate to work with some of the best people in the business who share the same dedication to our work. I may be the face of the brand, but it’s an entire group that makes the magic by working together tirelessly to maintain the highest standards and service to our clients. Overseeing both seasoned and junior brokers in our group, all of whom put in many long hours to grow their careers. We love what we do and, I like to think, inspire each other.

4. What advice would you give to a junior broker just starting out?

Walk the streets of New York or your designated market until you are intimately familiar with every block, every building and the names of every building owner. Read a variety of newspapers daily to know what’s going on in the world and you’ll understand the impact it will have on your work. Keep up with relevant television programs on CNBC, Bloomberg and Fox Business News. Follow that up by subscribing to the business and trade publications, so that you get to know the people driving our industry. Most importantly, focus on developing a good rapport with both landlords and tenants by providing best possible service and always keep them in the loop on your progress on representing them and what you are doing on their behalf. Be a joiner, I recommend being involved in industry associations to get to know the other players on a more convivial, yet strategic, level.

5. Every successful business person is driven. What drives you? Think as far back as you can. What event or habits were instilled in you to make you so driven by success?

Having Faith in yourself – passion is my fashion! I was raised by my grandmother, who was a very loving disciplinarian and instilled in me a commitment to excellence in everything I did, whether it was schoolwork or keeping my room tidy. That ethos has stayed with me throughout my life. My approach to anything is giving it my all, from the simplest tasks to my career. And the strongest quality that drives me is passion. I am absolutely passionate about my work!

6. What if anything did you do prior to your brokerage career, and what led you to commercial real estate?

I have had dozens of careers, but they’ve all stemmed from design, which was my major in school. In the early 1980s, I moved back to New York from Los Angeles, where I’d had my own interior design firm and a client roster that included many boldface names from the entertainment industry. My plan was to continue working in the field and I already had introductions to several prospective clients. But soon after arriving here, I connected with Garrick-Aug, at that time the City’s top retail real estate firm, and accepted the offer to become one of the first women in commercial real estate. It was quite a challenge and, at the same time, a perfect fit: Retail is My Detail; I have always loved shopping and the idea of helping retailers find the right space to attract people like me, was exhilarating. Eventually, I convinced Garrick-Aug to let me open an office in Paris. I spent the next three years traveling between Europe, Asia and New York, helping dozens of fashion designers and other retailers open their first U.S. flagships. My background as an interior designer certainly helped lay the groundwork, but I am also naturally drawn to creativity, which is the backbone of retail. Every day, I get to use so many of the skills developed through past experiences and careers, that in the 20-plus years I’ve been doing this work, I’ve never looked back.

7. What tips do you have about prospecting effectively?

Provide the very best service, always being accessible as constant contact is key, toss a wide net and maintain your stature. Learn from experience – knowledge from the past becomes precious pearls of wisdom in the now.

8. What tips do you have about creating a market presence – being top of mind?

We use all marketing disciplines to their greatest advantage, whether it’s direct marketing– online and/or print – advertising or public relations. Then we get out there and meet-and-greet almost daily at industry events, conferences, parties, seminars, breakfasts, lunches and dinners. I also help cultivate future stars by lecturing at universities working closely with intern programs and I recognize that we need to pass on our gifts. I have my finger on the pulse of the market and I am called upon as a source for trend tracking and industry data by the press constantly. All of these initiatives take time and are inherently demanding, but in the long run, it’s well worth the effort. We have been through the worst of times but we made it the best of times. Confident and well-positioned for the next boom!

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