Most consulting firms braced themselves for a rough ride about a year ago when clients sensed the coming recession and wanted to carefully manage real estate costs, a component of virtually every business enterprise. To achieve this, they needed strong managers without the related payroll costs.
Andrew Thomson and the rest of the team at True North Group were smiling.
“This is what we do best,” he said in a recent telephone interview from the firm’s Toronto office. “We can ramp up in a heartbeat and be ready to work with a client on their real estate requirements. They don’t have the cost of putting someone on their payroll, providing office space and paying them benefits. Once the initial work is completed we can stay on if they like. We are more like outsourced employees than brokers.”
It’s been a busy time for Thomson since he started his career over 20 years ago, working for major national firms like Marathon Realty Company Limited, Bramalea Limited, Cambridge Shopping Centres Limited and TrizecHahn Corporation.
In the spring of 2001, he decided to take a big step and open his own firm under the name Thomson Real Estate Advisors.
“There was a real need in the industry for someone who could look at a difficult project, see what needed to be done and provide services under a clear mandate,” he said. “Those first four years on my own I remember I was doing everything. It was almost non-stop.”
He was joined afterwards by his current partners – Chris Bobyk and Ronald Rivet – and changed the firm’s name to True North Group Inc.
“It’s interesting how we work as partners because each of us has complimentary skill sets. Chris is an expert at understanding communities; land uses, market forces and where businesses should locate to capture their potential.”
“I focus on site specific deliverables; asset management & development strategies, financial analyses, implementation plans, budgets and schedules”
“Ron really knows the construction side. He works with architects and engineers to create construction drawing sets, then tenders and administers the construction process through commissioning, opening & close-out.”
“Clients can use one of us or all of us,” Thomson explains.
Testament to the effectiveness of the True North Group team is its 8 years engagement with Home Depot assisting to deliver its aggressive new store development program in Ontario. It resulted in completion of over 15 new stores including Home Depot Canada’s first small market store which opened in the fall of 2008 in Parry Sound.
As part of their core offering, the firm also has a thriving real estate asset management practice, which Thomson says has expanded the past few years. “We will work with a client to look at their premises, building or overall real estate portfolio and see how they can get the most out of their assets,” he says.
True North’s role in the development of Cosmo Music’s new 56,000 square foot retail facility, the largest musical instruments superstore in the world, illustrates Thomson’s point. It began at the real estate discovery phase and lasted until substantial completion of construction. Throughout the process, their knowledge, expert advice and sound opinions proved essential in every aspect of the project.
More recently, True North Group has been retained by 317,000 square foot Agincourt Mall in Scarborough to provide project management and tenant coordination services.
Public organizations, like municipalities and hospitals that have been receiving stimulus moneys for new projects in their communities are under pressure to hold the line on operating budgets. Many have looked to the True North outsourced team to fill the resource void.
London Health Sciences Center has retained True North to conduct a development feasibility study and manage the application process for replacement and redevelopment of an existing long term care facility. The scope of work includes evaluation of a new LEED building designed to meet current standards set by the Province of Ontario.
“My view is that the economy is starting to turn around,” Thomson says. “I personally don’t see that the real estate market is going to rebound as quickly, but we will continue to see signs of a turnaround.”
“The last year has caused us to deviate from a primary focus on development services and more into asset management, project management and tenant coordination. I also see more of a focus on the public sector and Ron continues some great work greening real estate with the Canada Green Building Council and helping our clients obtain LEED certification,” he explains.
“There are all kinds of potential in the months and years ahead. This is a great industry to be in.”