From New Jersey to Florida: The STRO Companies Find Success with a Long-Term Approach
Since its inception, the STRO Companies (STRO) identity has been defined by “follow through, discipline and opportunistic speed.” Their Northern New Jersey (“NNJ”) 40-building portfolio, which totals over 3 million square feet, has taken over 30 years for founder Steven Millstein to compile through the boom-and-bust cycles of the savings and loan crisis, dot-com bubble, and Great Recession. With this wealth of cyclical-market and deal-based knowledge, STRO has brought its experience to the high-growth Florida markets. Staying on brand, STRO’s plan is to acquire last-mile, industrial assets, proximate to the dense populations of the Miami-Palm Beach submarkets, Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa while providing a full-service real estate platform for the Millstein Family Office (MFO).
STRO’s Opportunistic Speed
With a strong, long-term “boots on the ground” presence in NNJ, STRO’s roots provide them an edge over competitors, as they know the nuances of the local municipalities, vendors and hidden gem industrial pockets. While last-mile industrial space became recognized as the darling asset class after the Amazon effect commenced, the robust fundamentals and infrastructure of the NNJ market pre-existed. “The one trillion dollars of consumer spending, with much shifting to eCommerce over the past two years, 20 million consumers within an hour drive of STRO’s properties, and exceptional port and highway infrastructure are the catalysts for our properties, by always having significant tenant demand. Moreover, our portfolio provides a wide range of space sizes, ceiling heights, parking and loading which enables us to really separate from the competing spaces, while giving us real-time market data,” says Millstein.
STRO’s ability to conduct business expeditiously offers the firm a significant competitive advantage. “This has created many opportunities to differentiate ourselves from all the other buyers because we have the flexibility and resources that others don’t,” says Millstein. “We can move immediately on leasing, sales and financing transactions, as there is no investment committee, and we do not rely on institutional equity. This allows us to keep the transaction simple and work efficiently with all parties,” adds Jack Shulman, STRO’s senior director of acquisitions and capital markets. Due to instability in the capital markets this summer, STRO acquired a 50,000-square-foot building that had fallen out of contract multiple times, submitting a non-refundable deposit within one week, providing extremely favorable due diligence terms and a closing in 30 days.
We are recognized as a game changer for our speed, which is a huge advantage given how quickly the market moves, says Millstein. Our goal is to make sure every broker knows we are out there and ready to move fast on acquiring industrial properties.
“No question, our team loves working with STRO. They are outside-the-box thinkers and extremely creative dealmakers,” said Cushman and Wakefield Vice Chairman Bill Waxman. “Working on transactions with them is easy, quick and thoroughly enjoyable.”
STRO’s Staying Power: Long Term Capital Thrives in Today’s Uncertain Economic Climate
Demand from both tenants and investors for last-mile industrial distribution assets has increased swiftly and dramatically due to consumer habits shifting to purchasing online, which was accelerated by COVID lockdowns, supply chain issues and volatile gas prices. Over the past two years, these market conditions have created historical value and rent inflation which, when combined with all-time low-interest rates, enabled Millstein and STRO to perfectly time the refinancing of 20 of their buildings with loans in excess of $300 million. STRO is in a strong financial position to take advantage of the ensuing economic uncertainty. While the “party” has been put on pause, STRO’s long-term banking relationships will create an even larger competitive advantage, while less experienced firms are challenged to identify debt and equity or are just unable to focus on growth since they are preoccupied with restructuring. STRO’s long-term track record of discipline, focus and buying for the right basis provide their lenders peace of mind in an uncertain time.
Expansion in Florida
As migration patterns have changed due to COVID, STRO is following the population growth and building a last-mile portfolio in the southeast. This aligns well with MFO’s geographic diversification objectives and the perceived long runway Florida has on its investment appreciation potential. Naturally, with many New York metro residents pivoting toward residency in Florida, STRO has chosen the Sunshine State as its first market for expansion.
“We see many parallels between NNJ and the Florida submarkets where we are focused on, including the dense population, strong consumer spending, great highway network, ports and rail access, and access to South America,” says Shulman. “Population growth is a catalyst for the demand of our buildings to house the necessities we all need – food, clothing, construction materials and health supplies,” Millstein notes.
We like the inflation potential this growth will create for our family’s property valuations. Today all generations – Gen X, millennials and Gen Z – are focused on the tax advantages, cost of living, quality of life and job opportunities the Florida markets provide, and this will benefit the MFO for the foreseeable future.
Kevin Bramhall, STRO’s boots-on-the-ground representative in Florida, had previously been working in the Tampa brokerage community, specializing in industrial acquisitions, dispositions and leasing. “I immediately recognized the opportunity to replicate STRO’s success in NNJ,” says Bramhall. “STRO’s ability to identify underperforming industrial properties with environmental ‘hair’ or challenging sellers in superior locations often enables them to be the sole buyer. They truly see value where others don’t and are able to work through entitlement and environmental risk that are non-starters for most.”
STRO is Ready for the Next Chapter
STRO is poised to finish 2022 strong. Despite the challenges in the capital markets and seller’s pricing expectations, STRO will close on five new acquisitions and complete construction on a fully leased, ground-up, 205,000-square-foot building. Millstein and STRO are patient but always ready to take advantage of dislocations in the market that benefit them as long-term holders with ample dry powder. Considering treasury rates increased 1.5% to 2.0% since the end of 2021, which has significantly impacted the cost of capital, these increases translate into property valuation decreases which sellers are slowly adjusting to. STRO is bullish that they will be very busy closing on acquisitions in both the Sunshine State and NNJ throughout the fourth quarter of 2022 and the first quarter of 2023.