Jason Crimmins, president of The Blau & Berg Co., joins his father, Kenneth Crimmins, the firm’s chairman and CEO, at its headquarters in Short Hills. — Courtesy: The Blau & Berg Co.
By Joshua Burd
Ken Crimmins joined The Leslie Blau Co. in 1972. He wasn’t expecting to stay very long.
Certainly not upwards of 45 years.
“That was a fluke,” said Crimmins, the chairman and CEO of what is now The Blau & Berg Co., “because I joined the firm primarily to look for real estate for my father, who was a builder.
“And then a temporary job turned into a pretty permanent job.”
Not only has Crimmins led Blau & Berg for more than 30 years — becoming the major principal in 1990 — but the Crimmins name has become synonymous with the 86-year-old real estate brokerage. Consider that the firm of about 35 includes seven members of the Crimmins family, creating a support system and the type of shared responsibility that have become deeply ingrained in the company.
Those principles have long guided Blau & Berg’s growth and overall business — regardless of the market — and will continue to do so in the years to come.
The Short Hills-based firm has made several key hires in recent years in order to expand its platform, with a sales team that has grown from 13 to 28 over the past five years. Its revenue in 2017 represented a 300 percent increase from five years earlier, thanks to its historical strength in the industrial market, but also growth in office, retail and other sectors.
The firm has also gone through many changes since its founding in 1932 as The Leslie Blau Co., whose namesake began by collecting rents in Newark. The next six decades included several key events for the company, including its expansion into industrial with the hiring of Ted Stein in the 1950s, its acquisition by Berg Enterprises Inc. and the growth of what became a well-known mortgage and residential businesses.
The Blau & Berg Co. was sold in 1985 to American Can Co., which later became Primerica Corp. But by 1990, Crimmins and fellow broker Charles Kavanagh acquired Blau & Berg as part of a divestiture by its parent company.
The firm exists today with deep ties in the industrial sector and in port-centric areas like Newark, Jersey City and Secaucus. Its brokers are now benefiting from that focus perhaps more than ever, as the soaring demand for warehouse and distribution space has caused a surge in rents and property values, especially in northern New Jersey.
“It’s really paying off for us these last five to 10 years as the port is becoming vital to not only Newark and Elizabeth, but to the state and to the country,” Crimmins said, also pointing to the region’s large population and consumer base and the utter scarcity of land. He noted that property values have roughly tripled over the past decade, with some parcels in North Jersey hitting the market for $2 million per acre.
For instance, Blau & Berg last year brokered the $29.5 million sale of two mostly vacant sites in the Port Newark-Elizabeth submarket, which total about 18 acres, to Terreno Realty Corp. According to its brokers, such prices are not uncommon.
“The product is tough to come by,” said Peter Murano, a 20-year broker and senior executive director with Blau & Berg, “and the user who wants to lease or buy is at a disadvantage, especially with the REITs and other people who are coming in and paying astronomical numbers — numbers that we haven’t seen.”
As for how the firm’s industrial brokers compete for deals and find new opportunities, its membership in groups such as the Society of Office and Industrial Realtors can go a long way. Company executives proudly note that Stein was a charter member of the global association when it was founded in the 1940s. Blau & Berg has four brokers who have attained the prestigious SIOR designation and others in the pipeline, and the association continues to be important for networking, leads and education.
Jason Crimmins, the firm’s president, also said it’s important to stick to the basics.
“It’s still a people business,” he said. “We like to keep things simple. Relationships and hard work go a long way.”
Those fundamentals are central as Blau & Berg has bolstered its sales team in recent years, in part by adding experienced brokers. The company in mid-2017 hired industry veteran Scott Savastano to establish a capital markets group, allowing it to provide financial services and source new deals on behalf of investors.
Just a few months later, Blau & Berg added Christian Benedetto, who brought some three decades of experience and a book of business in retail, office and hospitality.
“With the addition of Christian and myself, we’re going to attack areas that the firm has not been specializing in, in order to expand the business, the profitability and the success of the company,” said Savastano, the firm’s director of capital markets. The team hit the ground running last year, representing both the buyer and seller as several of its brokers collaborated on the $14 million sale of a 200,000-square-foot office building in Newark.
As several of the firm’s newer brokers will tell you, the boutique size and the family-oriented nature of the company have appealed to those who come on board. That’s especially true for those who are hired without any prior experience in real estate sales, as is the case for several members of the Blau & Berg team.
For instance, the firm in recent years has attracted Scott Geller, who spent some 25 years in the supermarket and wholesale food service industry, as part of a multigenerational business before joining Blau & Berg. He also benefited from the company’s training program, which can last anywhere from 60 days to a full year and involves learning under its team of established brokers.
“The heart of the company is its people and we are very cohesive and work well together,” said Sheryl Crimmins, the firm’s controller. She touted the fact that there is very little turnover and added that having such a heavy family influence allows its leaders to “understand everybody’s schedules and lives. I think that’s a very solid foundation for the company.”
The company also continues to proudly brandish the Blau & Berg name, even though the Crimmins family and its other principals have long since stepped to the forefront.
“There’s a lot of worth to that name,” Jason Crimmins said. “People know Blau & Berg.”