The Society of Industrial and Office Realtors’ New Jersey chapter hosted its Welcome Back Event on June 3, at the Montclair Golf Club in West Orange, in one of its first in-person gatherings since before the pandemic. The event featured the presentation of lifetime achievement awards to Sheldon Gross of Sheldon Gross Realty Inc., Kenneth Crimmins of The Blau & Berg Co. and Peter O. Hanson of NAI James E. Hanson (third, fourth and fifth from left). Also pictured: Alex Conte, Blau & Berg executive vice president and SIOR New Jersey vice president; Sheldon Gross Realty President Marcy Gross; NAI James E. Hanson President William C. Hanson and Jason Crimmins, Blau & Berg president and SIOR New Jersey president. — Courtesy: SIOR New Jersey
By Joshua Burd
Perhaps as much as anyone else in commercial real estate, brokers have been eager to return to the pre-pandemic days of in-person gatherings and face-to-face networking.
Local leaders with the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors are well aware as they plan the chapter’s own transition back to business as usual, following a year of virtual events and finding creative ways to keep their members engaged.
“The important thing is having that face-to-face — you can’t replace that,” said Jason Crimmins, a principal and president of The Blau & Berg Co. in Short Hills, who serves as this year’s SIOR New Jersey chapter president.
With that in mind, the organization has in fact resumed the types of gatherings that most brokers undoubtedly prefer. That has included a Welcome Back Event in early June in West Orange, where SIOR New Jersey bestowed lifetime achievement awards on three of its most esteemed members — Sheldon Gross of Sheldon Gross Realty Inc., Kenneth Crimmins of The Blau & Berg Co. and Peter O. Hanson of NAI James E. Hanson — each of whom boasts more than 50 years of industry experience and has been a key figure in the association.
It’s among several events that were slated for the spring, summer and fall, including an Investors Forum in October, leading to what SIOR New Jersey hopes will be a full-fledged comeback in 2022.
“You need to make a splash,” said Alex Conte, a principal and executive vice president with Blau & Berg, who will take over as SIOR New Jersey president in January. “People want to feel excited coming out of this, and I think we all do.”
Established in 1941, SIOR is a global association for commercial and industrial real estate brokers. Only the industry’s top performers qualify for the SIOR designation, which is currently held by nearly 3,500 professionals globally, including more than 70 in New Jersey.
When COVID-19 forced a statewide shutdown last year, SIOR New Jersey’s initial response included a focus on philanthropy and community service. Led by NAI James E. Hanson’s Tom Vetter, the chapter’s president for 2020, the organization donated $10,000 toward a Rutgers University scholarship, while also raising funds for the American Red Cross.
Conte said that helped keep members engaged while they continued to work on making deals and staying active in the market.
“SIOR at its core is a charitable organization,” Conte said. “We’re there to give back to the community, not just take, and during Tom Vetter’s presidency, that was one of the main things we focused on. While people were in need, this was a good time for us to step up and give back.”
Crimmins has continued that focus as the chapter’s 2021 president, Conte said, along with the kind of shift to virtual programming that has helped other organizations stay connected over the past 17 months. That began with a traditional video call in January for the chapter’s annual kickoff event, before it tried a new format altogether: In February, SIOR New Jersey launched a series of “fireside chats” in which Crimmins interviewed everyone from Robert Thornburgh, the recently appointed CEO of SIOR’s global parent organization, to renowned photographer DeWitt Jones.
Crimmins noted that the topics were both practical and philosophical, ranging from economics and global trends to technology and social media. The chats have been meant “to encourage people to go beyond their boundaries and to continually train their technique, put them in a place of most potential and leave themselves open to all possibilities,” Crimmins said.
With Thornburgh, a key theme was the concept of adapting and resisting the urge to say “we’ve always done it that way.”
“That approach, unfortunately, just doesn’t cut it anymore,” Crimmins said. “Real estate is constantly evolving in technology and to be successful you’ve got to be confident (and) hardworking, and have a desire to continually learn and improve your market knowledge.”
The programs seemingly struck a chord with members of SIOR New Jersey and those outside the organization, Crimmins said, noting that the association’s Chicago chapter took up the format.
The New Jersey chapter was due to hold its sixth and final fireside chat in August, but also resumed in-person programs as statewide restrictions were lifted during the spring. Those included an event in mid-May at Top Golf in Edison, where SIOR welcomed prospective members to learn about the organization, along with the recent Welcome Back Event at the Montclair Golf Club, where it honored Gross, Ken Crimmins and Hanson.
The association is also planning other in-person events through the final months of 2021, including its annual Investor Forum on Oct. 28 and a holiday party in December. As for what’s coming in 2022, Crimmins joked that Conte “is being really tight-lipped about the events, but … I have a sense of some of them and it’s exciting.”
In the meantime, SIOR New Jersey members will remain a key part of the state’s still-booming industrial sector and an office market that has shown signs of turning a corner. Crimmins noted that “people that are putting in the effort are thriving,” which is no surprise for an organization that is inherently made up of top producers in their field.
Conte added that learning how to operate during the pandemic, using videoconferencing and other technology, has also helped SIOR members do their jobs more efficiently.
“If you’re trying to do the same thing you did in 2019 in 2020 or 2021, you are not going to be successful,” he said. “Businesses that reinvented themselves and thought outside the box about how they can be successful during a pandemic or a COVID-era economy, they were successful.
“Similar to a restaurant that went to catering or went to outdoor dining, every industry had to reinvent themselves. And the commercial real estate broker is no different.”