In 2005, Spectrum was ranked fifth in The Daily Transcript's list of commercial property management companies, based on the total square footage of real estate under management. A good performance, but at 4.6 million square feet, it was a distance behind the winner CB Richard Ellis. But here comes the kicker: Spectrum only has 15 full-time staff, compared to the leader's 200.
Spectrum's Real Estate Director Colleen Nemeth is a calm figure who describes herself as a "hands-on boss." She was formerly at Burnham Real Estate for 15 years, then with an individual investor for three.
Spectrum's Real Estate Director Colleen Nemeth Photo: J. Kat Woronowicz for The Daily Transcript
Spectrum has a flat management structure with regular all-company staff meetings. All personnel are on first-name terms, with decision making delegated down the line. Like many smaller businesses, customer service is first, second and third on Nemeth's list. Simple things, like always returning a phone call and calling a client immediately, are high on Nemeth's priorities. She says: "Whether you have good news or bad, you have to get back to them."
Prominently emblazoned on Spectrum's Web site is the slogan, "Managing properties as if they were our own." And for Nemeth, that is the core of running a successful business. She says the company acts as though "it is our own checkbook, our own tenants. We don't overpay for things and we deal with people differently."
The company also knows something about owning property. Spectrum is owned by Brenda Tworoger, who is married to John Tworoger, the owner of the real estate investment firm Aspen Properties. Approximately 30 percent of the company's business comes through this route, with the remaining 70 percent from third-party investors.
The company manages a diverse portfolio -- with some large industrial complexes that elevate the overall square footage -- commercial, retail, industrial, research and development, office and mixed-use properties.
For mixed-use properties in particular, which typically involve ground-level retail operations and condos above, conflict-resolution skills are key. Nemeth says that Spectrum always seeks to work out a win-win situation, where the issue is tackled quickly and events move on. Nemeth stresses the importance of maintaining good relationships with tenants, adding: "At the end of the day, tenants are the ones who pay our bills."
She is cautious, though, on the current trend in San Diego for mixed-use residential and retail properties. These are difficult to manage economically, she warns, noting they are much more management-intensive than industrial-use properties. She cites the example of water from a washing machine in a residence flowing into a retail property, and the difficulties associated with gaining access to a private residence.
So what does Spectrum offer that is different from the multitude of other property management firms in San Diego? Perhaps one of Spectrum's unique selling points is its blanket insurance policy that offers coverage of up to $7 million. Nemeth says this can typically save clients $500 to $2,500 a year on their insurance premiums. This is particularly beneficial for the owner with only a small number of properties who would not be able to negotiate such a deal on his or her own.
Aside from the other normal offerings -- such as a subcontractors database for things like landscaping -- the company maintains for clients a 24-hour help line, which is staffed on a rotating basis by all employees.
Nemeth ascribes winning contracts to Spectrum's people. She notes an increasing trend for property owners wishing to interview the person who will be the named contact on their account, noting, "The company might be great, but if the person you have to work with isn't..."
Staff members are also given responsibility early on, and managers are encouraged to develop areas of the business in which they have a specialization.
But while the personnel are one of Spectrum's strengths, it perhaps mitigates against any major expansion of the company. As Nemeth herself admits, if the company were to expand its portfolio substantially, more staff would be needed. And in such a tight-knit workplace, recruiting is a tricky subject, as hiring the wrong person could upset the entire office balance. She also admits to being "fussy about who you work for" in terms of clients, and is keen to ensure they share the same vision of management.
The growth that Spectrum has seen has been entirely organic. The company doesn't advertise widely, preferring instead to be heavily involved in various industry organizations. Nemeth says new business mainly comes from "lots of referrals."
For Spectrum, the secret of success is not such a secret: It is being hands on, local, flexible and working hard at saving clients' money. And the proof is in the pudding: Nemeth says proudly that, excluding buyouts and takeovers, Spectrum has never lost one of its property management contracts to a competitor.
Just the Facts: Spectrum Property Management
Business Description: Professional management services for owners of commercial, retail, industrial, R&D, office and mixed use properties throughout Southern California.
President: Brenda K. Tworoger
Director of Real Estate: Colleen Nemeth
Address: 8799 Balboa Ave., Suite 260, San Diego, CA 92123
Phone: (858) 569-8799
Year Established: 1988
Number of Employees: 15
Number of site managed: 65
Total Square Footage Under Management: 4,795,000
Largest Project(s) in San Diego 2005: Palomar Crest, Aston Views, GWPID, Brown Field Business, N. Marshall