Jeffrey Garibaldi Jr., director of support services for The Garibaldi Group, is pictured at Bell Works in Holmdel, where the real estate services firm maintains an office and serves as the leasing agent for the complex’s office space. — Photo by Michael Bruchert/Courtesy: The Garibaldi Group
By Joshua Burd
Five years later, Jeff Garibaldi Jr. thought back to his expectations for Bell Works.
“Expectations are a funny thing,” said a smiling Garibaldi, recalling when The Garibaldi Group was hired as the leasing agent for 1 million square feet of vacant office space at the former Bell Labs in Holmdel. The team believed in the plans that Ralph Zucker and his firm, Somerset Development, had crafted for repurposing the iconic campus, but “there was so much unknown when we walked into that situation.”
“Our expectations were that Ralph was a serious guy who had a serious vision,” Garibaldi said. “He clearly had the town behind him, which was a huge step for that project, so as long as he could live up to what he was proposing, we thought it would be successful.
“But by no means did we think it would be this successful.”
The definition of success? The team has all but filled the vast office space at Bell Works, which is now on track to become an iconic, mixed-use hub for technology firms that has drawn widespread acclaim for Somerset Development.
For the Garibaldi Group, the project is now a high-profile feather in its cap, especially as the fourth-generation business positions itself for the future.
The firm, which is based in Chatham, is set to mark its 100-year anniversary with a major push to recast itself and expand the services it provides to the commercial real estate industry. That includes a “soup-to-nuts” rebrand that it will unveil this fall, Garibaldi said, along with new strategic hires and a plan to create a new co-working and property management platform.
The firm is also planning to continue its push into the tech sector, one that was largely sparked by its experience at Bell Works.
“We’re a small family-owned business,” said Garibaldi, the firm’s director of support services. “We pride ourselves on our agility, our ability to change direction and shift to wherever the market’s going. And I think that right before Bell Works, we had probably fallen victim to not living up to what we like to tout about ourselves.
“So Bell Works just gave us that ability to change on a dime.”
It’s not the first time Garibaldi has sought to evolve during its storied history. Most recently, in 1999, the firm began to grow its corporate service business, which today is responsible for a portfolio of over 35 million square feet nationwide. That has often meant consulting on how clients could consolidate their footprint, along with lease administration, site selection and other duties that the companies increasingly looked to outsource.
Today, corporate services remains one of the pillars of Garibaldi’s business. And it aims to continue that growth even as it expands elsewhere.
The company, an affiliate of CORFAC International, has also devoted considerable time and resources to the technology sector and the landmark Bell Works project. It has been an ongoing focus since Garibaldi was named the project’s office leasing agent in 2013 and has only grown as the campus has attracted fast-growing tenants in fields such as software and IT consulting.
Most notably, Bell Works is home to the 350,000-square-foot headquarters of iCIMS, which makes software meant to help companies manage the recruiting process. The building also houses a host of other firms in technology, financial services and other fields.
But Garibaldi sees an opportunity to build on that exposure to the tech sector. For instance, the Morris County Economic Development Corp. has sought out the firm as a consultant in hopes of attracting tech companies to the county, seeing the potential to create a hub in places such as Morristown, Chatham or Madison.
The borough of Chatham has also called on Garibaldi in a similar capacity, with an eye toward a “refresh and rebrand” that could be anchored by technology businesses.
“There’s a lot of development potential being talked about locally here in Chatham,” Garibaldi said. “So they’ve tapped us to be consultants in the process because they really do want to start advertising more effectively toward the millennial generation, who’s now for the first time starting to show trends of moving back to the suburbs.”
Still, Garibaldi is casting an even wider net and taking steps to not rely on any one or two areas. Over the past year, he said, “we’ve really needed to step back and change, not so much from a structural perspective,” but when it comes to where the firm focuses its attention.
“I think what we’ve realized along the way is that our business has gotten somewhat homogenized,” Garibaldi said, noting that the firm takes pride in its expertise in office leasing, “but I think as a company, historically, we’ve always had a large arsenal of tools at our disposal that I think had become neglected. And it was a good time for us to re-evaluate. So we’re looking to expand, we’re looking to change.”
For instance, Garibaldi is now looking to expand in property management and reinvigorate a service line that was once a large part of its business. And it’s taking a similar approach by rededicating its focus to the investments sales market.
Those initiatives go hand in hand with the firm’s efforts to expand its team.
“Our philosophy has been, and continues to be, focused on cultivating an entrepreneurial-spirited, boutique and independent real estate firm,” said Jeffrey Garibaldi Sr., the firm’s president. “We strive to have a company of quality individuals, who are both highly skilled and of high character. This enables us to be nimble and agile, always in a position to pivot when we see change in the business climate.
“We made an investment five years ago to build our ‘farm system,’ and we hired a young stable of associates. In a short time, we mentored and trained these young men and women to be best in class real estate experts.”
It also plans on overhauling its longtime headquarters in downtown Chatham, which involves modernizing both the building and its space usage. Garibaldi notes that the firm’s employees are now accustomed to working remotely or are spread across other offices, including locations in Bell Works and the Lehigh Valley, so it now has excess space at its headquarters.
To that end, Garibaldi also plans to introduce a new co-working area on the ground floor. The 4,200-square-foot space is set to open in early 2019 and could expand if demand rises. In the process, it will provide something of a testing ground and a training center for its own business as it looks to grow property management.
“You see that now it’s going more toward a landlord-driven business, because the cost is just more efficiently managed when you’re actually owning the building versus paying a lease,” Garibaldi Jr. said. “And we see it as an arm that property management businesses will probably start adding to what they offer, so we wanted to get our hands around that.”
All that will take place as the company officially unveils its rebrand in the months ahead, including everything from a new logo and website to new marketing materials and technology platforms. The firm is casting itself as a “100-year startup,” Garibaldi said, which undoubtedly honors the history of the business while positioning it for the future.
As that history goes, the firm started in Hoboken before shifting its focus to the growing suburban real estate market in the 1970s. Its efforts going forward include refocusing on key urban areas such as Asbury Park, thanks in part to the city’s proximity to Bell Works. It also plans to remain active in Newark, which has been a longtime focus for the brokerage.
But Garibaldi was quick to highlight the indicators that millennials are now beginning to return to the suburbs. The company “has been studying what drew people into the urban environments over the last two decades,” he said, pointing to the fact that the suburbs had become homogeneous and that young professionals were looking for greater diversity of people, job prospects and recreation. But Garibaldi and others in the firm “think that there’s a lot of work to be done in the suburbs” to accommodate the return of millennials.
Its experience in Holmdel will once again prove important, he said, noting that “Bell Works is obviously a blueprint on steroids, but it is the blueprint in terms of the diversity that it offers.”
“That’s what has made Bell Works interesting and successful — that you’re not just going there to hit a floor on an elevator, go to your office and just stay there all day,” he said. “You’re going there because there’s dozens of businesses and people that you can learn from and talk to. And eventually as the retail starts taking shape … everything you need will be right there, just like it would be on five city blocks in Manhattan.”
It is, after all, a family business, and Jeff Garibaldi Jr. recalls the advice from his father: Don’t come into the business immediately. Go out and learn a different skill — or start at another commercial real estate company — and come back to the family firm with that knowledge in hand.
The younger Garibaldi took that to heart, choosing a vastly different path when he spent the first decade of his career in concert promotion and live music. Then, in 2011, he co-founded a digital marketing firm, 929 Media, whose clients came to include residential real estate companies.
It marked the beginning of Garibaldi’s journey back toward the family business. In the ensuing years, 929 Media became a consultant for The Garibaldi Group, he said, as the firm ramped up its corporate services business. Then came the Bell Works pitch in 2013, when Garibaldi recalls getting “a frantic call from my dad to help them put together a last-minute presentation over a weekend.”
It wasn’t long until Garibaldi became part of the fourth generation at The Garibaldi Group, which is led today by his uncle, Jim Garibaldi, and Jeff Garibaldi Sr. Five years later, he is spearheading the effort to reposition the firm alongside its recently hired marketing manager, Michael Bruchert.