Young Leads New Wisinski

July 23, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — After a string of consolidations and mergers last year, The Wisinski Group became the last of the large West Michigan commercial real estate brokerage houses to retain its West Michigan identity. With all of its peers now affiliated with national companies, the firm formally known as S.J. Wisinski & Co. is eyeing a strategy to leverage its classical approach in a market suddenly filled with global brands.

Leading that effort is Aaron Young, The Wisinski Group’s fresh-faced new president and COO.

“There needs to be a higher standard in the marketplace than there is right now,” said Young, a former S.J. Wisinski broker who set off on his own four years ago to develop small- and large-shop retail centers. “Having worked here, having worked with other brokerage companies as an investor in the marketplace, and understanding on a national level how brokers in other markets do it — from a property owner and a buying perspective — I can make a broad statement that the bar needs to be raised, period.”

Young sees opportunity for improvement in all aspects of the commercial real estate trade: the preparation that goes into a deal; the depth of broker involvement; the follow-up after the transaction is completed.

“There is an opportunity to raise the bar from a service standpoint,” he said. “We’re going to unveil something that does that. We’re going to come in with a service plan that differentiates us from everything else in the marketplace.”

The Wisinski Group hopes to introduce a new service model in the coming months that will build on its new brand and new team-oriented approach to brokerage. Firm patriarch Stanley J. Wisinski has assumed the role of chairman and is now more intimately involved in transactions than in recent years, leaving Young to manage day-to-day operations at the company. The new model is something that the firm intends to reproduce in other markets in Michigan and abroad, where Young’s development firm, Retail Development Group, will continue to make investments.

“People are going to be surprised by how different things are going to be here,” Young said. “When you affiliate with a national, they give you a program. Whereas we’re going to write a program that is unique to this market, one that we have artistic control over and can customize as we want.”

When Young left S.J. Wisinski, he certainly never imagined he would return to the company as its first officer, he said. Nor did he realize that so much of his life would be centered on the company’s current headquarters at 2618 East Paris Ave. SE.

The Muskegon native currently lives with his wife and children a few miles away in Ada. As a recent University of Michigan graduate and an intern at what was then U.S. Signal, he met his wife, Charlotte, who was a student at Michigan State University, during a company picnic at the former Splash Water Park on 28th Street.

As a 16-year-old, Young had begun his working life with 24 summer lawn jobs. Applying that same work ethic, he was able to bank enough money to finish college completely debt free. At 24, he launched Progressive Building Services, a cleaning company he built to 50 employees in three years and then sold.

“I drew a paycheck once in my life for about three months,” Young explained. “I’m not a real good employee. I like to be involved in how an organization should be run. It’s very difficult for me to be told how I should do things.”

Young freely admits that he was fired, with mutual agreement, from his first job after the cleaning company, a professional headhunting firm. Having learned from the janitorial business — where he managed 50 $8-per-hour workers — that he did not want to have employees, and from the headhunting job that he didn’t want to be an employee, Young began looking for a position where he could assert his creativity without the stresses of running a small business. He decided on real estate, a subject of his studies at U-M, and began investigating the local market.

“I called around to see what the best firm in town was,” Young recalled. “Everyone said this was it.”

He reached out to James Badaluco, today Wisinski Group senior vice president, and joined the company in 1997.

In his first three years with the company, he was exposed to every aspect of the business. He worked on industrial deals, office deals, land and mobile-home-park transactions, among many others. But his interest eventually gravitated toward retail, which became his sole specialty.

Retail was not a high priority for S.J. Wisinski. Young was the only person focused exclusively on that market, and his interest soon led to investment opportunities. In 2004, he opted to leave the company to operate as an independent.

“It was a tough decision, but it seemed to make sense for me to have my own platform,” Young said.

Eventually, Young aligned himself with former Irwin Union Bank president Steve Adams, whose U.S. Retail Inc., an operator of Pet Supplies Plus franchises, became a lynchpin of the diversified Retail Development Group.

Earlier this summer, an alliance was announced between Retail Development Group, S.J. Wisinski and a third firm, Edmark Development Co., creating The Wisinski Group and bringing Young, Mark Finkelstein who is the founder of Edmark, and a number of RDG and Edmark employees, including RDG Managing Director Chad Bush, to the new company.

Edmark and RDG and its various subsidiaries will continue to operate as separate entities from The Wisinski Group, which has no equity interest in either firm. Future development efforts will be focused outside of Michigan. Young indicated he has little interest in investing in local small-shop retail, such as strip malls, under the new arrangement.

“I never thought it was in the cards to do what I’m doing here,” said Young. “It’s really a great opportunity to come back here and take this great brand Stan has built over the past 20 years and implement a new vision for it.”

Young, Finkelstein, who is now Wisinski director of retail services, and Bush, who is now leader of Wisinski’s Investment Services program, are not the only new blood at Wisinski. Young was excited to announce the arrival of retail specialist Chad Clemens, formerly of Grubb & Ellis|Paramount Commerce in Grand Rapids.

Young also has a new face at home. Adding to biological children Skylar and Aaron, the Youngs last month adopted Jadyn, a 1-year-old girl from Guatemala.    

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