As a retail broker with Jameson Commercial Real Estate for nearly 10 years, Chris Irwin would get referrals from peers at Colliers International, which didn’t have a team dedicated to retail leasing.
Now Colliers will be able to keep those referrals in-house after hiring Irwin to lead its retail sales and listing division.
“Eventually they said, ‘Why don’t you just come work for us?’” Irwin said. “I was really good at what I did in the small playground I played in. I knew I could do more.”
In the newly created position of senior vice president for retail sales and leasing, Irwin will lead Colliers’ efforts to grab a piece of the local retail market.
Colliers isn’t the only brokerage building up its retail division amid a changing industry. In February, Cushman & Wakefield hired Gregory Kirsch, then Newmark Knight Frank’s top retail broker, to start up its retail division after the entire team decamped for CBRE in early 2018.
Colliers has been planning an expansion into retail services for some time, and it picked Irwin because of his knowledge and 17 years experience in the local retail market, Collier’s executive managing director Jim Carris said in a statement.
Irwin started the job in March.
“Chris understands the many nuances of the Chicago retail market and is the right person — with the charisma, skill and network — to help us successfully launch this platform here in the region,” Carris said.
Irwin will be charged with staking out a corner of an increasingly changing retail market and an increasingly competitive retail brokerage industry.
Thanks in part to the popularity of e-commerce, the Chicago-area retail vacancy rate hit 11.6 percent in the second quarter of 2018, the highest rate since 2010. Even prestige retail destinations in the Loop are being impacted, with Downtown’s retail vacancy at the end of 2018 at its highest level since 2011.
Despite the continued increase in online shopping, Irwin said there are still plenty of opportunities in Chicago’s retail sector. While some traditional retailers have either gone out of business or have focused their efforts online, Irwin said the city has seen new users take their place. That includes cell-phone carriers, fitness centers, healthcare providers and even medical marijuana firms.
“It’s evolving,” Irwin said. “You’re going to see a lot of service retail. You can’t get your haircut on the internet.”
With the shakeup on the local retail brokerage scene, Irwin said there is a chance to corner a portion of the market. To help in those efforts, Irwin said he plans to take a page out of the residential brokerage playbook by marketing individual brokers as the face of the operation.
“That’s a way to help make those longstanding relationships” with clients, he said.
Irwin’s plan is to have as many as 10 brokers on his team by the end of the year. Within about three years, the goal is to have about 15 brokers with 250-300 listings, he said.
There’s plenty of opportunity in Chicago’s retail market to achieve just that, Irwin said.
“I can’t return the calls fast enough,” he said. “It’s not enough to just list on LoopNet. If the marketing is right and if the platform is right, you’re going to move it quickly.”