Another Option: Leasing Takes Off for Small Businesses
Benson Ratliff decided to open his own automotive shop in Sandhills Industrial Park after a bad experience at what he calls “one of the big shops” in Moore County.
“I’ve got nothing against the big shops, but I don’t want people to be overcharged if they can come to an alternative like me,” said Ratliff, 50, who began working on cars when he was 14 years old. “I want the average person to have access to affordable car care, such as an oil change for $30. We also want to get you in and out in a timely manner.
“I love cars and I love helping people. It’s a dream for me.”
Initially, however, it was a nightmare for Ratliff as he looked along U.S. 1 for affordable commercial space.
“I didn’t want to pay that kind of rent,” he said.
In January, he called Holly Bell, of HSP Commercial Real Estate in Southern Pines, who had the 4,500-square-foot building and its 3,200-square-foot neighbor along Fields Drive listed for rent on behalf of Partners in The Pit LLC.
“They probably weren’t listed for more than eight weeks,” Bell said. “Commercial leasing is hot right now because it makes sense financially. Buying commercial properties is tough today because of the lending environment.”
The buildings were crammed with golf course maintenance and repair equipment, among other golf-related items.
“This space was extremely full of stuff. You couldn’t walk through the building. We hauled five tractor-trailer loads out of here,” said Ratliff, who spent almost six figures to upfit the larger building and open Ratliff Auto Services. “The upfit was monumental. We were here from 5 a.m. to 3 a.m. for almost seven weeks. I’m still not getting any sleep.”
Ratliff created four new jobs, including one for business manager Sheila Iacobucci, who had recently been laid off by another company.
“Benson impressed me and our personalities complement each other,” Iacobucci said. “I like new businesses, and I like helping people grow their businesses.”
Ironically, Iacobucci learned about the job opening from Bell.
“I ran into Holly at the grocery store. We were both getting items to make brownies,” Iacobucci said with a laugh.
The small building was leased by Justin White and Chesley Kennedy, owners of A Affordable Home Improvement. They then worked with Ratliff to improve landscaping and parking issues behind the buildings.
“We did all the work ourselves,” Kennedy said.
White praised Bell for making it happen so quickly.
“We even agreed on a purchase price when we leased it, and we have a year to execute that agreement,” White said. “Holly was awesome. She was aggressive. We were in big-time need of a place.”
White and Kennedy, who have residential and commercial clients in Moore and five surrounding counties, previously ran their business out of five storage units.
“It’s harder to have credibility when you do that, but that’s not an issue now that we’re consolidated in one location,” White said.
Bell said the commercial leases are two of eight her company has brokered since Jan. 1.
“We’ve done a tremendous amount of leasing because it gives people an option,” she said.
Susan Clift Brown, CEO of Clift Commercial in Southern Pines, said commercial leasing “picked up hugely” during the recession.
“People are leasing in Moore and Cumberland counties versus buying because they can’t get the money from the banks to buy. It’s part of a national trend,” Brown said. “We’ve probably done about 10 leases in Moore County and 30 in Cumberland since the first of the year. They’re going under contract quickly.”
Janice Dixon, owner of Synergy Commercial Properties in Pinehurst, said her company is also doing more commercial leases than commercial sales.
“The banks are not lending on investment-grade properties,” Dixon said. “They are loaning heavily on owner-occupied. Typically, it’s a startup business or a new business coming to town.”
Like White and Kennedy, Ratliff hopes to purchase his building within a year.
“I have enough work here right now to last me the next two weeks,” he said. “I’m not making any money yet, but things are good because everyone else is getting paid. Purchasing the building will take care of itself as long as we take care of business.”
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or email@example.com.
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