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Bold brokers

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Commercial real estate executive Scott Dobbins discovered a quirk in the market right around the time leasing business began to dry up about two years ago.

The managing partner and founder of Tampa-based Gulf Coast Commercial, which focuses on the retail sector, Dobbins found people more often sought to sell their business, not lease space for it. Yet Dobbins thought the business brokerage industry in Tampa, and on the entire Gulf Coast, actually, was a haphazard muddle that lacked sophistication. That, Dobbins believed, presented an opportunity to capture market share.

So Dobbins and his partners launched their own business brokerage operation. Now Dobbins says Gulf Coast Commercial can assist with three phases of running a business: Help lease space for a startup, help find more space for expansion and help set up an exit plan and sell the company. Says Dobbins: “We are the only firm on the west coast of Florida that I know of that has successfully merged those three things.”

The business brokerage unit, under the name CII Gulf Coast, is a partnership with Orlando-based Corporate Investment International and has fostered a recent growth spurt for the firm. Dobbins, for example, projects revenues will increase 35% in 2013 over 2012; the firm doesn't disclose specific annual sales figures.

The firm has hired seven agents over the last year or so, and now has 12 employees. Dobbins expects to hire at least two more agents this year, and he also intends to open a new office in the Fort Myers-Naples region, possibly by mid-2014. Gulf Coast Commercial currently has a main office in Ybor City and a satellite location in downtown in St. Petersburg.

“We are an ambitious firm,” says Dobbins. “We don't wait for the phone to ring. We go out and seek business.”

Gulf Coast Commercial also diversified its client base. The company opened a property management division and it expanded geographically, to the point where it now has clients from the Gulf Coast through Gainesville. Says Dobbins: “We have retooled for the next cycle.”

The niche at Gulf Coast Commercial, however, remains retail real estate. Its clients lease space in properties that include shopping malls, lifestyle centers, strip centers and freestanding retail buildings.

Dobbins, from a small Illinois farming town, played football at Purdue University. A linebacker, Dobbins befriended his college teammate, running back Mike Alstott, who went on to become a star for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a local entrepreneur.

Alstott called Dobbins with some real estate opportunities in the late 1990s, when the latter lived in Atlanta and worked for a franchise development company. Dobbins moved to the Gulf Coast and the pair got into real estate flipping and commercial real estate development. Their first project was to convert a gas station in St. Petersburg into a Starbucks.

Dobbins founded Gulf Coast Commercial in 2005. The firm's recent growth follows his long-term projection that the population on the Gulf Coast will double in the next 20 years. “We think we are in a very unique market,” Dobbins says. “We believe in west Florida.”



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