Robert Phillips has been in the commercial real estate business for more than two decades and he has a very good memory. A better memory, in fact, than the computer he used when starting in the business.
“When I was starting out, I can remember that the computer that was out there, that they were touting as 'the' computer, was an Altos and it was a 10 megabyte computer,” said Phillips, a San Diego native and the president and CEO of Pacific Coast Commercial. “And I can remember the salesman telling us that 'with 10 megabytes, you will never run out of memory, there's more memory than you can even imagine.' Ten megabytes.”
Phillips and his partners founded the company, a commercial real estate brokerage and property management firm, in September 1994, buying out what was then known as East County Property Management and East County Properties. Although technological advancements have, Phillips said, “allowed us to communicate better, store data better and actually do a lot more work,” he has not forgotten that first and foremost, commercial real estate and property management are relationship-based businesses.
“There are people behind the properties. We don't really deal with institutional owners. It's mostly people like you and I. That's probably the most rewarding part of it for me,” said Phillips, whose day-to-day responsibilities at PCC include leasing, management, personnel supervision and overall guidance of the company.
“It's really a diverse business, especially when we do both sales and leasing and property management. There's really never a dull moment,” Phillips said. “Every day is different and you really never know what you're going to be confronted with, whether it's dealing with the people and their problems or the buildings and their problems, or the successes of turning a property around, which we do quite a bit of.”
Phillips is proud that PCC still manages the 18 properties and 800,000 square feet that were inherited when he started the company 20 years ago. The “original 18,” among others, have also been an ongoing and invaluable source of word-of-mouth advertising.
“I have clients that don't just say we do a good job, they really rave about us. You could talk to any one of my clients and they would rave about our service and what we do,” he said, adding that the company has 94 employees, including 30 commercial real estate agents and about 25 to 30 members of the administrative and executive staffs. Many have been with PCC for 10 years or more.
“We don't have turnover in terms of managers. Property managers are the lifeblood of what we do. They have knowledge that is very difficult to transfer from person to person. And when you have management transition, that's when you get loss of information and it really degrades the service that the tenants are getting and the quality of service that the owners are getting,” Phillips said. “Everybody here knows we want every one of our clients to feel as though they're our only client.”
Phillips said PCC covers all of the bases -- sales, leasing and management -- for all types of commercial real estate. PCC's properties range in size from about 5,000 to 175,000 square feet, the latter being a self-storage facility in Eastlake. The company now manages “about 125 properties and right around 5 million square feet,” Phillips said, between Bakersfield and the International Border, including Imperial and Riverside counties. Glasshouse Square Shopping Center in Point Loma is, perhaps, PCC's most high-profile property, as well as one of its largest.
Asked to identify the biggest challenge facing his company, Phillips replied, “growth.”
“We're growing like crazy. This year has been historical for us. We've never had this kind of growth. We have grown more this year – probably 150 percent – from what we started the company with.
"That's our challenge, handling the growth.”
Not a bad problem to have for Phillips, who has good memories of the past but is enjoying the present and is optimistic about the future, especially in his home town.
“The market itself, from a real estate standpoint, is very stable and I think it will continue to be as long as our government can hold it together,” Phillips said. “San Diego is just an incredible place to do business. You can't go wrong buying real estate in San Diego. I just don't see how you can.”
-Lovitt is a La Jolla-based freelance writer.