Times were lean for commercial real estate brokers during the recession, but Dan O'Berski decided to start a brokerage firm anyway.
O'Berski remembers having just $17 in three bank accounts in January 2010. But one year later, in 2011, he had obtained his broker's license and launched Trinity Commercial Group in Naples with partners Matt Fredickson, Walt Nelson and Tony Mangione.
Last year, Trinity handled $50 million in transactions for retail tenants and landlords in Southwest Florida. The firm has 14 people, including seven primary agents, and it has landed clients such as Dunkin' Donuts, Culver's restaurants, the Wawa convenience-store chain and Aio Wireless.
O'Berski learned the trade at CBRE, the national commercial real estate brokerage with offices in Fort Myers and Naples. He specialized in retail properties, helping tenants and landlords with their space.
“We sold a lot of bank branches in 2010,” he notes.
But by 2011, the recovery was starting to get underway and retailers were once again scouting for sites in Southwest Florida. Furthermore, changes at CBRE gave O'Berski the impetus to start Trinity.
“We thought that the timing made sense,” he says.
O'Berski laughs when he recalls the firm's humble beginnings in a tiny space at agribusiness Alico's corporate headquarters near Interstate 75 and Daniels Parkway in Fort Myers. “It was a storage closet and a small room,” he chuckles. “The storage room was a conference room.”
O'Berski says the firm landed new business because of the relationships he and his partners had developed with previous employers. “All business is relationships,” O'Berski says. “We'd always executed for them in the past. We convinced them that we could service them like we could at CBRE.”
Still, O'Berski and his partners kept overhead low as they grew Trinity. They followed this rule of thumb in commercial real estate: “Wait three years and you might get a check,” O'Berski smiles.
In its first years in business, most of the work Trinity did was representing retail tenants looking for space. Recently, Doug Olson joined the firm as senior director and will broaden the firm's scope to include landlord representation.
Retailers are back in Southwest Florida scouting for sites as the recession continues to fade, says Dan O'Berski, managing director and principal with Trinity Commercial Group in Naples.
A specialist in retail, O'Berski says the hottest retail corner in the region today is the intersection of Collier Boulevard and U.S. 41, where residential development is active. “We love southeast Naples,” he says.
Other hot areas include Naples Boulevard and Pine Ridge Road in Naples, Daniels Parkway and U.S. 41 in Fort Myers, Bonita Beach Road in Bonita Springs and Gulf Coast Town Center in Estero.
In some highly desirable areas, rents are in the $40-per-square-foot range. “We're at or beating the rents of 2007,” O'Berski says.
Still, tenants aren't rushing in without carefully examining multiple competing sites. “Retailers are still cautious,” O'Berski says. “A lot of these guys have options.”
In particular, larger retailers aren't taking as much space because consumers are cautious and shopping online. “The Internet has a lot to do with retail softness,” O'Berski says.
Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss