JACKSON — Around 1970, Pete Stribling, broker with Stribling Realty Corp., experienced a watershed moment. It wasn’t a fat commission check, a professional designation or an award. It was a simple piece of one-sentence advice that he has never forgotten.
“I was going to schools all over the country, trying to learn all I could about commercial real estate,” said Pete, who earned a degree in accounting from Mississippi College before going back to the classroom to learn about real estate. “The instructors were the cream of the crop, and I always took them out to dinner just to learn from them. I was out at dinner with Palmer Burge, a sharp guy — he went on to write most of the real estate computer software. Palmer looked at me and said, ‘I started to be successful in this business when I stopped trying to sell real estate and started trying to help people solve their real estate problems.’ That was a defining moment for me and this company.”
Today, approximately 35 years after its founding, the commercial real estate firm Stribling Realty houses five licensed agents and offers brokerage, site selection, management, development and consulting services. It has sold property in 29 states and counts some of the largest national concerns as clients. However, the “Burge Philosophy” is still alive and well at the firm that has offices in Jackson and on the Gulf Coast, which opened approximately 10 years ago.
“We take a rather different approach to the business,” said John Stribling, broker and son of Pete. “Most real estate firms list properties and then find the buyers. What we do is find sites for clients to meet their specific needs. In essence, businesses outsource their real estate concerns to us. It’s all about solving real estate problems. Sometimes you make minimum wage, sometimes you make more. But it always pays for itself somewhere down the line.”
Broker Joe Toler was more succinct. “We’ve never let a commission check stop us from doing anything.”
This service-first, sales-second concept seems out of place with Pete’s reason for getting into real estate in the first place. The native Jacksonian read that the vast majority of people who became millionaires following World War II were in real estate. And he liked the creative aspect of the industry.
“You’re limited only by your imagination, your background and your knowledge,” Pete said. “Plus, you’re doing something that has a long-lasting value. That building you help site will last longer than the commission check. It’s very satisfying.”
Originally, Pete concentrated on building facilities then leasing and managing them. Perhaps the most familiar of these projects is the LeFleur’s Bluffs Office Building just off Interstate 55 in Jackson. But, after earning his license and eventually adding John and long-time friends Toler and broker Stewart Barry, the firm’s emphasis shifted to the brokerage side of the industry.
That has proved a lucrative decision. Stribling Realty has sold tens of millions of dollars worth of commercial property all over Mississippi and the US. (Only 10% of the firm’s business is in Jackson.) These clients, most of whom have been with the firm for many years, include such heavy weights as Wal-Mart, Sam’s Wholesale, Kroger, Applebee’s, Chevron and most other oil companies, fast food and drug store chains and more.
Current projects or ones recently completed include a chain of 85 convenience stores, six locations for a national fast food chain, eight sites for a travel center chain in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana and a golf course and upscale development that was at press time a guarded secret.
Secrets are common at Stribling Realty. Not only do the brokers have to often be tight-lipped about their work with others, sometimes they cannot even discuss their work with each other. However, the fact that the men are family or nearly so and enjoy each other’s company is a definite asset.
“Some of these projects often take two or three people to work them, so working well together is important,” Barry said. “I guess you can say it’s friendly competition. You have to be somewhat competitive to make it in real estate. But we’re all working for a common goal, and we enjoy what we do. This is really a fun business to be in.”
The principles at Stribling Realty are all optimistic about the future. The industry is nearly recession-proof — in bad economic times owners generally sell and in good times they buy. John said other factors should also keep the company in good stead.
“Tough economic times not only forces some to sell their surplus property, it often also forces them to cut their real estate department, which is usually small to start with,” he said. “Thus, our clients are going to be outsourcing more of their real estate problems to us. And this is where our efforts to serve the client’s needs first pay off. They remember that we helped them out before, and they’ll call again.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org.