Robert K. Futterman's gung ho nature has brought him a long way. From his start as an entry-level canvasser 20 years ago for New York retail broker Garrick-Aug Associates, Futterman rose to salesman, broker, then partner. Five years ago he left to start his own company, which has made its mark in the tough metropolitan New York market.
Now Robert K. Futterman & Associates has its eye on a bigger prize: the rest of the United States, where it hopes to establish its name with both tenants and landlords.
Futterman has created affiliations on a fee-sharing basis with tenant-rep firms in other cities, including the Harberg-Masinter Co. in Dallas and Fandel Retail Group in San Francisco, and he says he is considering opening satellite offices in other major cities. He also hopes to build on the company's landlord-rep business and build its national presence among developers.
“When you look around the country, most () are tenant reps,” he says. “We think we can bring our landlord rep to places like Las Vegas, Florida and California. What we think we can do is bring on specific staff to represent owners of new development in other cities.”
In creating a national network, RKF is following another New York broker's lead: Garrick-Aug has established a nationwide Retail Brokers Network of more than two dozen tenant rep firms. Faith Consolo, Garrick-Aug's vice chairman, also notes that the firm has an office in Paris and affiliates in Mexico and, more recently, Canada.
“I think today when you do tenant rep as we do you have to be able to serve those tenants across the country,” Consolo says. That has been especially true of European clients seeking U.S. locations, she says. “When you know the retail environment well, you can repeat your successes across the country.”
But do broker networks really work? “There have been many attempts to create relationships firm to firm to firm by those without offices in other cities, and they have not really been successful,” says Brad Mendelson, executive vice president of competitor CB Richard Ellis, which has 90 offices across the country. Such affiliations create the potential for disputes among the firms over fees and other issues, he maintains.
“Every company that's got expertise wants to capitalize on it outside its marketplace so that they can tell clients they'll be wherever they need to be,” says Mendelson. “And the only way to do that is to build business in all of those marketplaces. That's a huge, huge investment.”
Since its founding, RKF has booked transactions with lease values totaling $2 billion, and for the year through September it has done $615 million in transactions involving 1.1 million square feet of space. Its staff of 45 includes 21 brokers, 16 of whom are focused on New York's boroughs and suburbs and five who handle national representation.
Its success has been aided by the changing nature of New York retailing, a wave that Robert Futterman caught while he was still with Garrick-Aug and working with Gap as it expanded in the city. Soon chains of all kinds were arriving — The Limited, Nine West, Pizzeria Uno and Bed, Bath and Beyond among them — and the newly formed RKF was finding them locations, both as a tenant rep and a landlord rep.
“The business really started to evolve once the national chains decided they wanted to have a strong presence. Introducing national tenants to New York City landlords really changed the landscape,” Futterman says. RKF consulted with Westfield Properties on the World Trade Center's retail and later with Time Warner on the retail components in its new headquarters development at Columbus Circle in Manhattan.
“One of the areas that separates (Futterman's) team from others is its market intelligence and knowledge,” says Alan Barocas, senior vice president of real estate for Gap. “They have an outstanding network within the New York metropolitan area, and they seem to be aware of opportunities before the general public knows about them.”
But the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, helped Futterman decide that his company should expand beyond the Hudson.
“Sept. 11 created a void in New York City for about six months in terms of activity. Tenants put their expansion plans on hold, and that marked a real shift” toward a national presence, Futterman says. “We had been doing it piecemeal but we hadn't heavily invested in the concept. Now, our big focus is on expanding nationally.”
Among the clients RKF represents exclusively on a national basis are Allen-Edmonds Shoes, Caroline Herrera, Dooney & Bourke and the trendy Forever 21 chain. RKF has already placed Forever 21 in New York,and San Francisco, and is working on locations in Boston and Washington, D.C.
On the landlord side, RKF is advising the new owners of the 475,000-square-foot Desert Passage mall in Las Vegas' Aladdin Hotel. A group that includes developer David Edelstein and the German investment firm RFR Holding is buying the underperforming center from Trizec Properties.
When it comes to representing developers, Futterman believes that being from New York gives his company an advantage. “Owners want that ‘New York-type’ feel — aggressive and relentless in the pursuit of seeing projects through from beginning to end,” he says.
Clients also want to work with brokers that can spot what's hot, Futterman says — something he believes RKF has been especially good at. “We've been able to spot emerging markets and get a sense of what locations are up and coming,” Futterman says. “We try to spot trends in terms of retail and what landlords should be going after.
“The best-kept secrets in New York are Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx,” he adds. “The sales volume there is not to be believed. It's constantly growing.” Overseen by executive vice presidents and partners David Rosenberg and Barry Fishbach, “The boroughs are an enormous source of revenue for us,” Futterman says.
The suburbs aren't bad either. Futterman says RKF was recently hired as the landlord rep for Heartland Town Center, an ambitious mixed-use development being planned for 452 acres in Islip, Long Island. The center will include a 1.5 million-square-foot lifestyle center.
In the future, Futterman says, RKF may open offices in other major cities and regions, including Los Angeles, Miami, Las Vegas and the Midwest. “We're confident we can be a little bold and take the country by storm,” he says.
Only three years old at the time of the World Trade Center attacks, New York-based Robert K. Futterman & Associates found itself faced with a slowdown in the city's leasing activity as retailers put expansion plans on hold.
Futterman decided to build on its experience with national retailers in New York by establishing a greater national presence, in part through a co-brokering network.
The company is known for its market savvy in spotting emerging locations and hot new retail trends — skills that both tenants and landlords find valuable.
In the five years since its founding, RKF has booked $2 billion worth of transactions. CEO Futterman believes annual growth of 10 to 15 percent is possible.