It’s why six years later he took another plunge — starting his own business — even if it meant leaving behind the infrastructure and support system of a national firm.
“Was I a little nervous? Yes, but I’ve always had a no-fail attitude,” Pierson said. “You have to have a no-fail attitude, and you can’t be an entrepreneur if you don’t have that.”
The 38-year-old Pierson hasn’t looked back. Nearly four years after he founded Pierson Commercial Real Estate, the retail brokerage and advisory firm has built a client roster that includes prominent national retailers and restaurant tenants, along with several known New Jersey developers and shopping center owners.
That has helped the Marlboro-based firm grow its deal volume and revenue 20 to 30 percent every year, while also carving out a niche in some of the state’s most high-profile urban development projects.
For instance, the firm represents New Brunswick Development Corp. in the The Yard @ College Avenue, a 14,000-square-foot retail space within a major redevelopment of Rutgers University’s main campus in New Brunswick. Devco President Christopher Paladino said Pierson “was part of the thought process that we really wanted a strategic mix of national and regional brands, along with more geographically local brands that Rutgers kids will identify with.”
Finding that mix — which will include eateries such as House of Cupcakes, Krispy Pizza and Jersey Mike’s Subs — resulted from Pierson doing “terrific research with respect to the operators, background, where they’ve had stores before,” Paladino said. It also meant showing up to meetings prepared, to the point where he brought food samples from prospective tenants.
Biz in brief
Name: Pierson Commercial Real Estate
Executives: Jason Pierson, president
Revenue: Not disclosed
One more thing: Pierson explained that he “never liked institutionalized situations,” whether it was high school or corporate America. It’s why he feels like he “was destined to start something” — as in, his own business.
“He really hustles,” Paladino said. “Not only will he have done a lot of background work, he also seems to drive that extra mile, drive that extra two miles to bring us the pizza that he’s trying to tell us (to bring to the space).
“He does his homework with the tenants and his colleagues in the brokerage community before we have our first meeting with the tenant, because they seem very prepared. They will have visited the site, he will have taken them to the site before they come in to see us.”
Pierson said it’s important to bring that focus to all of the firm’s leasing assignments, which make up about 1.5 million square feet of retail space in the state. All told, it also represents about a dozen retailers, most of them national brands, such as Qdoba Mexican Grill and Wells Fargo, though he declined to provide revenue figures.
And while his team might still be modest in size — with four brokers and seven total employees — it’s a far cry from when Pierson was the firm’s lone broker. Not to mention that commercial real estate wasn’t his first career.
Riding the wave
With a growing list of assignments in places such as New Brunswick, Newark and Jersey City, Jason Pierson is riding the wave of urban redevelopment that’s taking hold across the state.
He will tell you it’s a mix of working hard, good relationships and, of course, good timing — considering when he started as a retail broker in New Jersey.
“It was just a year and a half before the economic downturn, so the urban areas were the ones that were suffering,” said Pierson, founder and president of Pierson Commercial Real Estate. “And now they’re coming back again. Retailers are focusing on secondary markets, they’re focusing more on urban areas, whereas they weren’t doing that in the last six or seven years.”
After graduating in 1999 from the University of Maryland at College Park, he spent about two years in sales and recruiting jobs in California. The Monmouth County native then returned east to become a broker for Nextel in New York City, selling to major corporations such as JP Morgan and Tishman Construction.
It was 2005 when Pierson met a commercial real estate broker at a fundraiser and latched onto the idea as a new career for himself. By August, he was working for CBRE in New York City, joining the firm’s New Jersey retail group about two years later.
By 2011, “I was at a point where things were going really well at CBRE,” said Pierson, who was one of only two retail brokers in New Jersey for the company. At that point, he was ready to make his next career move.
“I’ve always wanted to do my own business,” Pierson said. “And I just wanted something where I could control it a little bit more.
“I think the hardest thing about doing this is just making a decision to say, ‘I’m going to do it’ — and start doing it. It’s just like anything else that’s process-oriented: You make the decision to do it, and then you just go full force. That was just my mentality.”
The firm’s continued growth has led Pierson to move away from outsourcing certain functions, such as marketing and mapping for tenants, and bring them in-house. And he is now looking to stay on that track and expand the business, albeit at a controlled pace.
“You always think about growing faster and think about growth. But to me it’s not about the revenue, because that will come,” Pierson said. “It’s really more about servicing your clients.
“I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew. I manage people’s expectations if I can’t handle something, but it’s almost like a see-saw: it seems to be kind of balanced, with the amount of business and the amount of support that we have.”
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