Ready-made for retail
Connie Nielsen’s persistence pays off with Wegmans and other clients
There was a round of cheers from foodies across Central Virginia when sought-after grocer Wegmans announced it was building not one, but two, stores in the Richmond market. No one was happier than the woman who brokered the deal, Connie Nielsen, senior vice president and head of the retail services group for Cushman & Wakefield|Thalhimer.
She knew Wegmans’ reputation for being extremely selective in expanding the company’s footprint. But she was determined to set the deal in motion.
Nielsen started talks with Wegmans seven years ago and was in front of company officials continuously pitching sites she thought would work. “I wouldn’t leave them alone,” says Nielsen, who describes herself as “intense.” “I am persistent, but in an understanding way.”
A 20-year veteran of the commercial real estate industry, Nielsen has produced more than $150 million in transaction volume since 2006. Her national clients range from Chipotle to Gold’s Gym. Nielsen’s first big deal 15 years ago was a rollout for Panera Bread when the chain came to Richmond. “That took me three years, and it wasn’t easy,” she recalls. “They have been a great client ever since, and I have expanded my territory with them.”
Today, Panera has nine locations in the Richmond market. Kirk Esherick, senior real estate manager for Panera, appreciates the fact that Nielsen “understands the mechanics of getting deals negotiated and stores opened while simultaneously staying focused on the long-term development strategy of the companies she represents.”
A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Nielsen, 49, happened into the industry when she took a four-hour temporary assignment in commercial shopping center management. She moved into lease and asset management before working as a broker in commercial real estate. “I am a broker that can read a lease and not all brokers can do that,” she says. “It helps you understand what a deal entails.”
All of her deals start with a vision, from a strategy to a location she feels suits a specific retailer. She has a “creative approach,” says Laura Lee Garrett, a partner at Hirschler Fleischer who has worked with Nielsen on real estate transactions. “She drives around and looks at sites over and over again. She thinks about what works, and she presents that to potential clients.”
When it’s time to negotiate, she is hands-on. She handles all the details that go into the lease, from location and signage to terms and rent. “My clients appreciate that,” she says. “It goes back to my background. Understanding the intricacies of the deals and terms and how they play out is very important.”
Many of her deals are years in the making. Carytown Place in Richmond, which now houses a Fresh Market and Panera Bread, took 10 years to complete. “It was a $5 million purchase but at the end of the day it was over $12 million with leases,” she says.
Neilsen also takes on smaller deals in the range of 1,200 square feet. They can be “just as difficult as the 100,000-square-foot deals,” she say, “because I work both sides, landlord and tenant representation.”
Her best advice regarding the art of the deal: “Don’t give up and think like your client. It’s not just about today’s deal, it’s about tomorrow’s deal. This is a relationship business. That’s the bottom line.”