New Commerce Firm Off To A Fast Start

June 14, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — They’re not exactly the new guys on the block, as the partners have decades of commercial real estate experience under their collective belts.

But their firm, Commerce Realty and Management Co., is brand spanking new and the latest entry into the highly competitive field of commercial brokerage.

Commerce Realty and Management opened its doors for business last month on the eighth floor of the Commerce Building, an appropriately named location for the firm at 5 Lyon NW. Already, Commerce represents 40 properties for sale and lease that are worth around $30 million, and the firm manages more than 600,000 square feet of office space.

Not bad for a start-up.

So how does a new brokerage and management company start out with a full plate of real estate?

Well, in this case, it’s because of the principals. Ray Kisor, Dave Folk and Jim Peterson formed Commerce. Together, the three, who have worked with each other in the past and know each other well, have accumulated about 70 years of experience in various aspects of the business.

Kisor is a 30-year veteran of the local commercial field, having sold and leased properties for most of his tenure at SJ Wisinski & Co., the region’s largest commercial broker.

A few years ago, Kisor became the first commercial broker to win the Michigan Realtor of the Year Award. He heads the sales and leasing division at Commerce.

Folk has spent the last 13 years managing properties across West Michigan, and has 25 years of overall managerial experience on his resume. The former owner and operator of Anchor Chemical, a household and industrial cleaning solutions manufacturer in Kalamazoo, leads the firm’s property management division.

Peterson is an attorney with a broad background in real estate law and has been a licensed real estate broker for the past five years. He founded Borre, Peterson, Fowler and Reens PC, and currently is a partner in the Grand Rapids law firm, where his practice emphasizes the sale and acquisition of businesses and properties.

As anyone would expect, sales and leasing will be the key component for Commerce. But Kisor also pointed out that one reason they started the firm was because they saw a gap in the local market that he felt Folk would be able to fill.

“One area that I think has been sorely neglected in West Michigan is property management, and I think property management has a very strong role for the brokerage community to be involved with,” said Kisor. “Management is something I’ve always felt has a bright future and it’s one area that we’re going to spend a lot of energy on.

“And I saw Jim’s relationships coming out of the corporate world, as a corporate lawyer to many companies, as a nice adjunct to the brokerage business,” he said of Peterson. “My energies will be directed to where they always have been: to the area of sales and leasing.”

Kisor has known Folk for 15 years and Peterson for 25. He has worked with both, and the three became friends before they became partners.

The trio feels that Commerce will be successful because it has a good grasp of knowledge about the market and the latest technology to properly serve the market. All three have established their own relationships throughout the industry, including at the national level. The firm belongs to a number of nationwide real estate marketing associations that are independent of the large commercial brokers, so Commerce can compete across the globe.

“That makes it good for our out-of-state clients, as well as our local clients that are going out-of-state,” said Kisor.

For those who might think that the local market is overflowing with commercial realtors, Kisor respectfully disagrees with that notion.

“The market is never over-saturated with good people and good service. The service side of the business is something we feel very strongly about, and isn’t necessarily on everyone’s agenda,” said Kisor, who reported that he sold a building near the airport just hours before this Business Journal interview.

Commerce has five salespersons and four staff members providing support, and when the Business Journal spoke with Kisor the firm was still adding to its workforce. 

Kisor also said that it wasn’t easy for him to leave SJ Wisinski, where he led the firm in sales and leasing for many of his years there. But opportunity was knocking pretty loudly.

“It was with a great deal of thought that I left because Stan (Wisinski) does run a great organization and we had a great relationship. It certainly wasn’t for those issues,” he said. “I saw an opportunity to work with two people that I have done business with for many years who had a feeling about the real estate industry and the role they would like to play.”

The partners decided to locate downtown because it’s the hub of the real estate market, it provides highway access to all other areas, and the firm manages 600,000 square feet of office space downtown. But Commerce didn’t move into the Commerce Building for name recognition or for good luck. Nor did the partners name the company after the building.

“That was total irony. A total touch of irony,” laughed Kisor about any supposed link to the building. “But we are doing the leasing and management for this property, and that has become our pet project.”

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