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Rebranded Colliers International Moves Further From Network Roots

Colliers And Soon-To-Be Former Affiliates Trade Claims Over Superiority of Their Business Models, But All are Abandoning Networks in Favor of Banding Together Under a Single Brand Name
January 6, 2010
The big news this week that Colliers International and FirstService Real Estate Advisors will join their U.S. and global operations together under a single platform, doing business as Colliers International in 61 countries, was followed almost immediately by word that five local and regional Colliers affiliates would also end their relationship with Colliers and launch Cassidy Turley, a new national company, effective March 1.

Three other companies -- NAI affiliate BT Commercial in San Francisco, and Grubb & Ellis BRE Commercial affiliates in San Diego and Phoenix -- also announced plans to shed their network affiliations to join Cassidy Turley.

The combining of Colliers and FirstService under the Colliers brand culminates a gradual move away from the global network brokerage model that began when Toronto-based FirstService Corp. (NASDAQ: FSRV) entered commercial real estate in 2004, buying a 70% stake in the largest Colliers International affiliate.

The real estate arm, FirstService REA, continued its aggressive expansion by acquiring controlling interests in various brokerages and CRE-related service firms such as FirstService PGP Property Valuation, PKF Hotel and Hospitality Consulting, MHPM Project Leaders and FirstService Williams, formerly known as GVA Williams, which is now the company's New York Tri-State area brokerage hub.

FirstService REA has also expanded globally, acquiring significant stakes in Colliers International operations in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, Russia and several other Western and Eastern Europe and Asian Pacific countries.

Douglas P. Frye, global chairman and CEO of Seattle-based Colliers International, described the company's transition from a group of independent affiliates to a centrally owned and operated entity with local partners owning significant stakes in their own operations as part of a fundamental shift in the industry.

"We don't think the independent network model is effective. Independently owned businesses operated across the board is not the best way to service a client," Frye said in an interview with CoStar Advisor. "And we haven't been in that [line of] work for a long time -- although many of our clients and competitors still think of us as a network. We look like a network because of where we came from, but 70% of our organization is now controlled by one entity."

Colliers has been more successful than other networks largely because of growth fueled by FirstService's platform and hefty capital investment over the last five or six years, Frye said.

"We're evolving that investment and infrastructure into this new model, with equity for the partners in the local offices," Frye said.

Integrating the various businesses and brands under the Colliers and FirstService umbrella has "involved a lot of moving parts," Frye said.

"We joked it was a little like playing three-dimensional chess. Even though they've been different brands, we've been working closely together for some time, integrating major pieces of the business. But now, it's something the client and the market will be able to see more clearly."

Not included under that umbrella are four soon-to-be-former Colliers affiliates, including Washington, D.C.-based Cassidy & Pinkard Colliers, New York-based Colliers ABR, Colliers Turley Martin Tucker based in St. Louis, and Colliers Pinkard in Baltimore, both of which merged rather than join Colliers International under FirstService in August 2008. They will be joined by Colliers Houston & Co., one of the oldest CRE firms in greater New Jersey, and the Grubb & Ellis and NAI affiliates in California and Arizona to form Cassidy Turley.

The rebranding of the eight local and regional companies under Cassidy Turley will be complete by March 1, Mark Burkhart, the St. Louis-based CEO of the new company, told CoStar.

Local and regional CRE brokerage firms have been consolidating for several years as smaller companies join forces to compete with the industry's largest players, with their global platforms and one-stop service offerings.

Burkhart, however, disagrees with the notion that affiliated local or regional real estate companies are in danger of extinction in an era of national and global full-service players.

"In St. Louis, where I grew up, there are national competitors that are not doing well. And there are strong local competitors that are winning more than their fair share of the business. I know those CEOs and they're doing OK during this downturn. If you're a quality, class operation that provides high service to clients -- whether a single firm in one city or a national, international company -- everyone can survive. That's been proven over and over."

Like previous restructurings in which businesses go their separate ways, the combining of FirstService and Colliers and the exodus of the Colliers, Grubb & Ellis and NAI affiliates has provoked competing claims about how the moves will boost the various players' size and share of the national and global CRE brokerage market. Of course, each firm uses somewhat different math in staking those claims.

Burkhart cited the property management and national corporate services capabilities of the firms that are merging into Cassidy Turley, which he said will have 900 brokers and 420 million square feet under management at startup. "We're much more than a brokerage; in fact 60% of our business is non-brokerage."

“By expanding the company’s service offerings, we broaden our business, increase our geographic footprint, and enhance the company’s infrastructure," Burkhart said.

The combined FirstService and Colliers International says it has more than 15,000 employees in 480 offices worldwide and generates more than $1.9 billion annually, boasting that it now ranks as the third-largest real estate services firm in the world behind CB Richard Ellis and Jones Lang LaSalle.

In its own announcement Wednesday, Cassidy Turley said it will rank among the nation's largest firms, with 57 locations and $15 billion in completed transactions for 2008, including 21 new locations and 449 new brokers coming from the new California and Arizona operations..

“Branding our companies as Cassidy Turley not only reinforces our unity as a singular company, and connects us together with a legacy we are proud of, but it also reflects our expanding capabilities,” said Wally Pinkard, chairman of Cassidy Turley, who served as global chairman for Colliers International several years ago and twice served as chairman of Colliers USA.

Turley Martin Tucker has long been a regional force in the Midwest, while Cassidy and Pinkard have enjoyed strong brand recognition in East Coast markets. Adding BT Commercial and the two BRE Commercial companies in Arizona and California will immediately give Cassidy Turley a coast-to-coast presence, noted Joe Stettinius Jr., CEO of Washington, D.C.-based Cassidy & Pinkard, who will serve as president of Cassidy Turley.

Both Colliers International and Cassidy Turley vowed to expand and compete vigorously for broker talent and business in each other's markets - though neither would discuss specifics due to multiple layers of confidentiality agreements signed between the parties.

"We wish them the best luck in the world," said Frye. "Sometimes, businesses go different directions, and hopefully it will be good for everybody."

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