Wilkinson & Snowden Inc. helped lead the industrial warehouse revolution in Memphis at a prescient time.
It was the 1960s when the commercial real estate firm founded by Russell Wilkinson and Robert Snowden began developing Airport Industrial Park. The firm was the brokerage arm of the development, and it was just before the founding of a company called Federal Express.
“With the advent of FedEx, the entire business began to change more and more, and it gained momentum as the years went on because of the FedEx factor,” said Gene Woods, president of the modern-day Memphis company.
In 1991, Wilkinson & Snowden partnered with a global real estate concern to become Colliers Wilkinson & Snowden and, in 2010, became Colliers International.
Andy Cates, left, and Brad Kornegay help lead Colliers International.
(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)
These days, the company of 50 employees is broken into two distinct offices – Asset Services and Brokerage Services. Though they work closely together, they keep two physical addresses, separated in East Memphis by the wide moat of Poplar Avenue.
“It’s a good way for our customers to see the differentiation between our two business types,” said Andy Cates, executive vice president of Brokerage Services, while emphasizing the synergy within the company, “but I would imagine that I talk to the guys in that office (Asset Services) 10 to 12 times a day about deals I’m working on, what they’re doing, the market and everything else.”
On the other side of that six-lane, asphalt fissure is Brad Kornegay, president of Asset Services, representing the institutional ownership and landlords of warehouse, office and retail spaces.
When Kornegay made the move to Colliers from Trammell Crow in 2004, it was with assets of 9 million square feet in tow. Today, he and his team lease or manage approximately 35 million square feet encompassing nearly 300 buildings and 477 tenants. The vast majority of that property is industrial warehousing and distribution.
While the company formerly known as Wilkinson & Snowden has built itself into a powerhouse of property buying, selling, leasing and management over the past six decades, there is no avoiding the depressed real estate economy in recent years.
Kornegay, though, said the market is showing signs of life.
“It’s improving – I think that’s a fair way to say it,” Kornegay say. “Would I say it’s strong? The answer is no.”
While corporate America is somewhat flat, he continued, there is plenty of activity among smaller and regional users, which signifies consumer confidence. The uptick is coming, Kornegay said, albeit slowly and steadily.
“We tend to believe that it’s not going to be a switch that’s going to flip on,” he said.
Woods has been with the commercial real estate company since 1971 and has seen these ups and downs. But he said the first collapse he experienced, in 1974, was “the most sobering.”
“As the market here developed and grew to the extent it has, we see the downturns and they’re pretty heavy swings, but there’s still a basic activity that’s going on, whether it’s lease renewals or lease workouts or whatever it happens to be,” he said. “I think in my early years, without the major economic growth factors that were occurring in Memphis, I think the downturns were probably more extreme than they are today.”
One advantage the Colliers team seized upon during the recession was in the retail sector. Taking hold of the trend, they set up an entity as a special servicer and receiver of retail centers whose owners had defaulted on loans. Building upon already established relationships, the team took on an influx of centers. Kornegay handled property management with Andrew Phillips and Ed Thomas of Retail Services overseeing leasing. With the activity in office space and retail, Cates’ enthusiasm for his industry, and for Memphis in particular, is infectious. Kornegay, too, sees nothing but growth for Colliers International’s slice of the Mid-South, which includes real estate south of the state line, an area he calls a “hot spot” since 2006.
“I do expect development and activity down there to continue, even more so than Memphis,” Kornegay said. “What’s good for North Mississippi is good for Memphis; what’s good for Memphis is good for North Mississippi. It’s a benefit to the region.”