Real Estate & Retail

Leading Edge ready to expand its territory: South-side real estate player eyes regional growth

August 18, 2008

The signs for Leading Edge Commercial Real Estate Services are hard to miss on the south side. And soon, they could be popping up all over central Indiana.

The 3-year-old, Greenwood-based brokerage firm has grown from three employees to 14 and now is looking at adding two new offices, including one on the north side. The firm has more than 120 listings, up from about 60 at the start, mostly for office leasing and sales of smaller commercial properties.

The founders of Leading Edge-Brenda Richards, Cathy Richards and Lori Pfeiffer-split from Grubb & Ellis Harding Dahm & Co. in October 2005. In just one week, they established the company, designed the logo, and put up new signs on their old Grubb & Ellis listings.

The distinctive signs feature a green logo with three partial triangles, each representing one of the owners. The three women are a rarity in a male-dominated industry, an attribute they say provides several advantages.

One is an ability to set aside ego to get a deal done. Another is teamwork: Brokers alternate office duty and help with one another's listings. They avoid working weekends. Women also are more likely to get the full story from clients, Brenda said, since men tend to tell one another business is great even when they really need to unload a property.

"Sometimes they need a shoulder to cry on," she said.

But it's more than X chromosomes that set Leading Edge apart. At the top of the list: plenty of relationships in a part of town where few commercial brokers pay much attention. About 75 percent of the firm's business comes from referrals.

The three partners are well-connected on the south side thanks in large part to networks they began building when they attended local high schools: Brenda Richards, 54, graduated from Center Grove; Cathy Richards, 29, got her degree from Whiteland; and Pfeiffer, 45, was a Greenwood Woodman.

The company is seeing more north-side competitors migrate south, but the owners aren't worried.

"We just do business differently than they do on the north side," Brenda Richards said. "We love for them to come down here because we usually get the listing the second time."

Few brokers focus on the south side since there isn't as much industrial or office property as other areas, said Dawn Lyon, a vice president of retail sales and leasing for locally based NAI Olympia Partners who focuses on south-side retail leasing.

That has helped Leading Edge. So has the fact that many of the south-side buyers are "mom-and-pops" and not institutions, meaning local connections are more vital than national reach. Brenda Richards' ties to the residential market and local farmers also are big assets, Lyon said.

Brenda, a longtime residential broker who switched to commercial in 2000, focuses on land sales for Leading Edge and has brokered deals for more than 20,000 acres in the last 10 years. Her daughter-in-law, Cathy, handles mostly office sales and leasing and began her real estate career as marketing director for Prudential Dickson Hughes Commercial Services, a local Prudential affiliate that closed in 2002.

The third partner, Pfeiffer, focuses on investment sales. Previously, she was a real estate analyst for L.J. Melody & Co., now part of CB Richard Ellis, and Collateral Mortgage Capital LLC, an Alabama company later acquired by BB&T.

A recent sampling of the firm's listings included a small Greenwood office building for lease called Eau Claire Parke, several lots for sale at Interstate 65 and Keystone Avenue, a 109-acre development tract available in Bargersville, the former Suds drive-in of Greenwood, churches Greenwood Christian Life in Indianapolis and Berean Missionary Baptist Church and School in Greenwood (they have a church specialist on staff), and a former Nissan dealership in Columbus.

And they recently added a handful of listings in Noblesville, part of the firm's plans to spread out in the next several years. The owners are looking at two new offices, on the north side, and another near the booming area at Emerson Avenue and County Line Road.

They hope to start franchising the Leading Edge concept in the next five years.

"It's kind of like seeing a baby develop," Cathy Richards said. "We've passed the terrible twos and we're moving on."
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