When asked to describe his overall working style, Sam Firestone without hesitation replies “focused and efficient”. Both qualities have been the cornerstone of his success as an entrepreneurial commercial real estate broker and president of Primecorp Commercial Realty Inc.
Firestone, a University of Ottawa Law School graduate and veteran commercial realtor with over 25 years’ experience, had a clear business model in mind when he started Primecorp five years ago. He wanted to create a “boutique” style commercial real estate brokerage where each principal broker would focus on a particular specialty, and also develop an infrastructure which would enable each of them to penetrate larger geographic markets beyond Primecorp’s base in Ottawa.
Since Primecorp’s inception, Firestone has been successfully involved in the bro¬kerage of more than 8,500 residential units in over 15 cities with a value of approximately $620 million-most probably more than any other single broker across Canada in that short a time. As a result Firestone has developed a reputation for commitment, and an ability to execute and integrity.
In implementing his strategy, Firestone approached three experienced individuals in Ottawa’s commercial realty scene, Steve Lerner, Aik Aliferis and Nick Pantieras, with 70 years’ experience among them. They formed Primecorp in April, 1998, which has carved out a “niche” for itself in Ontario and Quebec markets based on leading edge specialized services to many clients in widely dispersed markets.
“We’ve created a niche for ourselves,” says Firestone. “We distinguish ourselves from other brokerage firms, offering investors one individual who is able to provide investment opportunities, information and market data in various markets. Investors don’t have to source different brokers, from different firms, in each of the markets they wish to conduct business.”
Firestone credits his “edge” over the competition and Primecorp’s success due partly to the principals not deviating from their respective specialties, no matter how tempting it might be to consider brokering other types of product. “We’ve maintained our focus and stayed true to our areas of expertise,” says Firestone. “We believe in becoming highly specialized and developing a reputation predi-cated on that specialization.”
Firestone and Aliferis focus their energies on the sale and purchase of multi-unit residential apartment portfolios while Lerner and Pantieras specialize in the sale, leasing and development of retail properties, with a roster of clients including most major Canadian retail tenants and developers.
Firestone’s concept has enabled him to penetrate numerous markets, giving clients more opportunity to invest in any market as they continually feel the pres¬sure of a lack of available product.
Over the next five to ten years, Firestone expects the industry will experience greater consolidation with pricing remaining strong.
Unfortunately, it will become even more difficult for small players to grow their portfolios or new investors to enter the market.
Primecorp’s share of the market start¬ed in Ottawa, but has expanded to include most major markets throughout Ontario and Quebec. Firestone is looking at developing opportunities in other Canadian provinces and possibly in the United States.
Firestone believes that an element critical to his overall success is Primecorp’s considerable investment in human resources and exhaustively finding opportunities. Primecorp has devel¬oped vast databases and information resources that enables the firm to provide clients with investment advice, but also relevant data and market research information with which they can make their own decisions.
Firestone credits the exemplary work of his partners and his support staff, and specifically, his collaborative, interdependent working relationship with Aliferis, which he says allows them to cover more territory more effectively. “Due to time constraints, it’s very difficulty to leverage our own skills and abilities and still accomplish as much as we want to accomplish,” says Firestone. “My strength in business is recognizing an opportunity and getting a deal done by working it through to its finality. Working with Aik as a team, on some transactions, helps us leverage our own abilities and bridge time constraints, an arrangement which provides the opportunity for both of us to reach out to more markets and achieve our own personal goals.”
Over the next five to ten years, Firestone expects the industry will experience greater consolidation with pricing remaining strong. Unfortunately, it will become even more difficult for small players to grow their portfolios or new investors to enter the market. As a result, individuals will look to REITs and public companies specializing in multi-unit residential, to access this investment category. To this end he has worked with most of these entities, along with small and larger independents province-wide. Firestone will undoubtedly continue to find new and innovative ways to increase Primecorp’s reach into the marketplace. His fundamental entrepreneurial character and core values will also entice him into continuing his foray into the restaurant industry, where he has developed such successful concepts as the Blue Cactus Bar & Grill, one of the hottest upscale eateries in the heart of Ottawa’s trendy Byward Market. With its ongoing research and commitment, Primecorp should not find it a problem continuing to grow its brokerage business.
Francie Greenspoon is an Ottawa-based publicist.