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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 28, 2019 4 months ago

Real estate 'chameleon' can adapt company on the fly

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A primary factor for Andrew Saluan’s commercial real estate success: a nifty ability to hyperfocus while remaining flexible.
by: Andrew Warfield Lee-Collier Editor

Entering the recession, Andrew Saluan knew to emerge successfully on the other side, he had to re-orient his all-purpose commercial brokerage firm, AJS Realty Group of Naples. With property management comprising about 20% of his business in 2008, “After doing it for almost 20 years, it was time to grow up,” he says, and hyper-focus on a niche.  

A decade later, after gradually leveraging long-standing relationships with fellow brokers and commercial property owners to grow his portfolio, Saluan's firm has grown up, and, in the process, recently surpassed a milestone: one million square feet under management. Commercial property now makes up 40% of his business.

The keys to the success, Saluan says, include staying in his lane, remaining nimble and resisting the temptation to outgrow his capacity to deliver. All that, combined, has helped earned the trust of his clients. 

“I had my hand in a lot of things for a lot of years, and life was good,” says Saluan. “It was just me and an assistant or two. And then the recession came and it was time to build an organization and use what we've built up to that point to crate a boutique commercial real estate company.”

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Saluan moved to Naples in 1988 straight out of law school. He never practiced law, and instead went to work with well-known land broker and family friend, Clyde Quinby. Saluan worked with Quinby until 1992, when he founded his company.

Saluan acknowledges one million square feet under management for some firms, particularly in larger metropolitan areas, is no big deal. But for a small firm whose footprint covers Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties, it’s a sign of success.

“The reason it is significant for us is we are doing 10,000- and 20,000-square-foot properties, one at a time,” says Saluan. “Obviously we have some larger ones, but that's why a million square feet is a milestone.”

'When the phone rings and you answer, you won’t believe how many times they say they have called other companies and never got a call back.' AJS Realty Group owner Andrew Saluan

With a team of eight, AJS’ property management sector specializes in high-net-worth family-owned properties, from small office buildings to small to medium-size retail centers. Those include high-visibility properties such as Marketplace at Pelican Bay and Park Shore Centre, both in Naples, as well as properties on iconic Fifth Avenue South, including the new mixed-use 505 Fifth Avenue luxury condo/retail building. That’s the steady part of the business. Some 60% of the company’s work is in brokerage, leasing, entitlement and site development. 

“That's where the bigger ticket items are versus the day-to-day property management grunt work," says Saluan. "But property management is where the consistent business is.”

Like many of the properties he manages, Saluan found a niche in new projects either too small or too challenging for firms that concentrate on larger, more easily deliverable properties and projects. “We don't compete with the bigger boys who do the larger office buildings, and in Collier and Lee counties, there are only a handful of them anyway that are over 50,000 or 60,000 square feet,” says Saluan. “We don't get into that world. We can, but we're happy in our little niche.”

Not that all his work is small. Saluan has brokered properties to national homebuilders D.R. Horton, Pulte and Toll Brothers. Although he declines to disclose revenues, he says the company’s average 20% growth year-over-year since emerging from the recession stems from a book of business largely the result of his 27 years in Southwest Florida, and relationships  forged over that time.

“There's no secret to it. It’s just good old-fashioned doing good work, and by doing good work word-of-mouth passes from broker to broker,” says Saluan. “From the day I got into the real estate business — and I've always believed this — it's answering the phone. When the phone rings and you answer, you won’t believe how many times they say they have called other companies and never got a call back.”

Saluan is prepared to reinvent his company again, should there be a reason. Meanwhile, nimble versatility is the key to his diverse menu of services.

“I'm a chameleon,” he says. “We can change to meet whatever we need to do. There is nothing cast in stone.”

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