This SIOR Pulse blog series connects with SIOR members across the globe to discuss business and market conditions, while discovering the current events and issues impacting their daily lives.
In this edition, we speak with SIOR Global President Mark Duclos, SIOR, president of Sentry Commercial in Hartford, CT, as he navigates running his own business and leading the SIOR organization through these unprecedented times.
SIOR: Right this very minute, where are you working? And who or what (i.e. a pet perhaps) dictates your current work location?
Mark Duclos, SIOR: I’m currently working in Vermont! Starting in mid-May I transitioned from alternating locations (to stay mentally refreshed) to more of a traditional schedule (weekdays in Connecticut and weekends in Vermont!)
SIOR: What one change has been the most difficult to confront as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
MD: The most difficult change has been not being able to visit my clients! I miss seeing them all!
SIOR: What strategies have you used to cope with remote work and the current state of affairs?
MD: Our workday has always included remote work, but not to the level we have been forced to operate at. So we have added a couple of things, such as utilizing Microsoft Teams (I’m learning so much more about our Microsoft 360!) and virtual tours, to name a few.
SIOR: How is your company encouraging collaboration and unity during these times?
RG: We’re holding a lot of virtual company meetings, virtual cocktail parties, and virtual Best Practices meetings. We also hold “Ring the Bell” virtual events to celebrate our wins and have placed an increased emphasis on collaborative decision-making.
SIOR: Have any areas of your business come to a standstill?
MD: The primary area that has shutdown has of course been our in-person interaction with our clients and prospective clients. We are finding new ways to have virtual or limited interactions, but this definitely has been an abrupt change. I work primarily in the industrial sector, so I am fortunate that we remain busy with client development AND transactions.
SIOR: Are there areas of your business that are still going strong? What deals have you managed to continue to push through, if any?
MD: All three of our commercial services operations continue to do reasonably well, but as I mentioned, the industrial sector remains the most resilient. To no one’s surprise, e-Commerce transactions remain by far the strongest.
SIOR: What changes are you seeing in your market that you expect will remain after the pandemic subsides?
MD: As it relates to our economy and the effect on our local market, our commercial aerospace industry will continue to be challenged. There are varying opinions on just how long, but most say 18+ months. The office market will also continue to be challenged by the varying responses by local companies and their use of office space. The Hartford region continues to have a number of insurance and finance related jobs. The question remains on how much those companies will rely on at-home work.
SIOR: What is your confidence level in your industry and what most keeps you up at night?
MD: Overall, I remain optimistic with our industry. As the SIOR Global President, through my interactions with our members, I have the unique opportunity to be very in-tune with many aspects of the industry across the globe. Speaking with many of them, I am actually more confident that this crisis has accelerated our industry into better serving our clients and markets. Those firms that held back on their investment in technology (likely because of cost or the human/cultural pain-factor) will either step up or out and those that have stepped up will continue to refine and hone their trade and improve their service to their clients. Most importantly, I’m so impressed with how many of us have stepped up and helped our communities and risen in the face of adversity.
What keeps me up at night? I don’t lose sleep much, but when I do, I worry about the extended timeline of the crisis and how it will affect human interaction (not virtual interaction, but REAL human interaction). I worry about when we will once again share smiles, hugs with friends, and unfettered human interaction.
SIOR: What do you predict reopening businesses and workplaces to look like and what needs to happen—or what is currently happening—to facilitate that in your area?
MD: Right now it’s all about social distancing, sanitation, and best practices (please, wear your mask!) Debates rage about whether we need less office space (due to working from home) or more office space (for social distancing). In my opinion, no one knows…time will tell. We really won’t know about office space needs for some time because many companies are not bringing companies back to the office until after Labor Day at the earliest!
SIOR: Prior to COVID, how was the market in your area?
MD: Despite a local economy that trailed the national economy, our overall commercial real estate market in Q1 was strong and strengthening—We were feeling very good about 2020.
SIOR: How do you expect the market to look two months from now? Six months from now?
MD: As of this writing (July 6, 2020) I remain concerned about the next six months. While our overall numbers through this crisis have been better than I thought they’d be, I believe Q3 & Q4 could reveal weaknesses in a number of small and medium sized companies in our region.
SIOR: Are there any changes you’ve implemented that you personally hope will continue?
MD: We’ve added a little more spacing in our office. We’re conducting more frequent cleanings of our lunchroom, copiers, etc. that likely should have been happening prior to the crisis. I expect the increased use of the technologies we had and the technologies we obtained during the crisis will continue, as well as the use of virtual tours and video conferencing.
SIOR: What has been your biggest takeaway from all of this? What’s the one thing you have learned that has impacted you the most?
MD: My biggest take away is the realization of the value for human interaction. The value of a smile, a hug, and a handshake.
SIOR: If you could go back in time one year, what is one thing you would tell yourself to best prepare for this upcoming year?
MD: Have your financial house in order.
Mark Duclos, SIOR, is president of Sentry Commercial in Hartford, Conn. He has been a member of SIOR since 2003 and is serving as the 2020 SIOR Global President. He can be contacted at email@example.com.