Steven B. Greenberg, The 30-Minute Interview, NY Times
The 30-Minute Interview
Steven B. Greenberg
Credit: Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
Mr. Greenberg, 67, is a founder and the president of The Greenberg Group, a real estate advisory and brokerage company based in Hewlett, N.Y., that focuses on retailers. Clients include the luxury brands Gucci and Façonnable.
Mr. Greenberg started the firm with his wife, Louise, the chief executive, in 1987.
Interview conducted and condensed by
Q. How does your role in the company differ from that of Louise?
A. She’s on the marketing side and heads up client recruitment. Her team researches leading retailers around the world and approaches them and explains to them what we do. Once we secure clients, then it comes over to my side. We run research, strategic planning and deal making.
So if it falls under marketing, it goes to Louise, and if it falls under client services, it goes to me.
Q. How did The Greenberg Group come about?
A. Louise and I had started a retail chain, built it up, then sold it. It’s not around anymore — it was Olympic Village, a competitor to Footlocker. So we sold the company, and I had been back in business school and decided that I would create a retail service company.
We only represent leading retail brands. Clients have been Gucci, Lacoste, Façonnable, Lalique; Barnes & Noble, Eddie Bauer — almost exclusively public companies who are always expanding.
Q. Tell me a little more about your services.
A. It’s all about demographics and psychographics.
When someone retains us, we go through a 60-day period of analyzing their business: what works, what doesn’t work; do they perform better in a different climate or a different part of the country. Then we write a strategic plan and present it to them that says: This is how many stores we think you could have; these are the best markets to be in. Once they approve that, then we physically start to look and investigate space within those markets. So it’s really a very analytical process that takes a little bit longer but ensures their success.
We have a very sophisticated software system that is able to slice and dice all this information to the client’s best advantage.
Q. You must travel a lot.
A. Three days a week. That’s why we’re married 45 years — we’ve actually only been together for 21.
Q. How much of your business is in the New York area?
A. New York metro makes up about 25 percent of our total business.
And that’s why we’ve been able to avoid many pitfalls in the economy. Because if the economy is bad in Vegas and Phoenix — as it was in 2009, 2010 — we just didn’t go into those markets. We shifted to Miami or to Houston. And of course New York seems to always bounce back more quickly than any other market.
Q. So business is good?
A. Phenomenal. We had about a 30 percent jump in revenue in ’13 over ’12.
Q. What has been your largest transaction so far this year?
A. The Crocs deal on 34th Street. We net-leased a building, so it’s about 20,000 square feet.
Q. What’s the range in rates for retail leases in Manhattan these days?
A. They start at high and they go to ridiculous.
Frankly, I don’t know how some retailers can make a profit. We have on many occasions suggested and advised clients not to do deals, because we can’t figure out how we’ll make money. Now quite possibly a Tom Ford and somebody who has a big perfume business is using these stores as loss leaders. But with rents now in Madison Avenue anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 a foot, and Fifth Avenue at $3,000 a foot, it’s questionable how many of those stores are really profitable.
All the big deals I’ve made in New York — the Lacoste deal on Fifth Avenue, the Lalique deal on Madison Avenue — stood on their own merit and always made a handsome contribution for the company. It was never an ego trip.
Q. Are you concerned about the growth in online shopping?
A. Our clients do use both channels. And we use the online sales for our clients, because it tells us where there are pockets of strength. One of our clients is Penguin, the brand, which is owned by Perry Ellis, and so we just opened a store on Broadway in NoHo, and a lot of that came from information that we gained through their online business.
Q. Do you like shopping?
A. I’m a big shopper, yeah. I wear Ralph and Armani.
Q. So I understand that you ran the Boston Marathon last year.
A. I’ve done it 17 times.
I ran it last year in 4:04, and I finished four minutes before the bomb went off. I crossed the finish line and jumped in a cab to go to my hotel, and that’s when the bomb actually went off. So in that four minutes I was able to leave. I didn’t know about it until I got to my hotel. I think that God propelled me on that day.
Q. Will you be running it next week?
A. I pulled a muscle so I gave back my number. I’ll do it next year.