Universal Commercial Built On Deep Family Legacy

By JEFF IRELAND

For some people, the prospect of working with one’s brother, wife and mother on a daily basis would be a less than enticing proposition.

Darrell Cobbins, right, is president and Donnell Cobbins is vice president of Universal Commercial Real Estate.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

But as far as Darrell Cobbins, the owner, president and CEO of Memphis-based Universal Commercial LLC, is concerned, there’s no other way he’d rather do business.

“I’m real big on trust,” said Cobbins, who founded the real estate business that focuses on tenant representation and brokerage services four years ago. “Nobody will have your back, or your best interests at heart, like your family. For three generations we’ve been a real estate family. It’s not a hard hurdle to get over. It’s actually very rewarding to continue a legacy that was started more than 50 years ago.”

In the 1950s, Cobbins’ grandfather, Samuel Cobbins, developed one of Memphis’ first black middle-income neighborhoods, Lake View Gardens, located in Southwest Memphis off Horn Lake Road.

The 400-house subdivision housed African-American professionals who were pursuing, as Darrell Cobbins puts it, “the American dream.”

Samuel Cobbins also mentored several real estate professionals who went on to enjoy long and successful careers.

Darrell Cobbins is doing his best to continue to build on his grandfather’s real estate success, albeit in different ways.

When Cobbins first started the company, Universal Commercial had basically one client.

Today the company has clients in the private sector like FedEx and in the government sector like the city of Memphis.

Universal Commercial is licensed in Arkansas and will soon be in Mississippi. The plan over the next three years is to have offices in Little Rock and Jackson, Miss.

“We see ourselves evolving as a regional services firm where we can service clients in those markets,” Cobbins said. “We plan on growing and building a client base in those areas. … We also plan on adding more brokers to our team to help grow the company and grow the footprint. Building and growing the team and expanding our service area geographically is what’s at the forefront of my mind over the next three to five years.”

Cobbins said Universal Commercial is different than larger companies like Colliers International and CB Richard Ellis.

“We’re not into property management,” Cobbins said. “We’re not leasing to fill up buildings. We’re on the other side of the table. We focus on market knowledge, market expertise, negotiation and representation for businesses going into properties.”

While Cobbins’ grandfather was instrumental in his success, his current family is a big part of the operation now.

His mother, Shirley Cobbins, is a licensed agent with the firm who worked with Samuel Cobbins. Cobbins’ wife, Mickey, joined the company in 2007 and handles the company’s operations. A younger cousin, who was a student at Lemoyne-Owen College, has interned at the company.

And his older brother, Donnell Cobbins, is also a licensed agent and part of the team.

Like his brother, Donnell Cobbins said he sees working with family members as a positive.

“It’s actually rewarding,” he said. “We’re uniquely connected. We know each other very well. … There’s a saying that if two people always think alike, one of those folks is not needed. Darrell and I bounce a lot of ideas off one another. We work collaboratively to service the needs of our clients. I think we do a pretty good job of working together.”

Darrell Cobbins graduated from Memphis University School in 1991. He earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology and sociology from Rhodes College and a master’s degree from the University of Memphis in business administration.

His first job in real estate came in 2001 as a broker with Commercial Advisors LLC and he also worked for Guardsmark and the Greater Memphis Chamber.

When he was a student he wrote a paper about his grandfather.

“He’s legendary in the Memphis real estate community,” Cobbins said. “He helped a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have become homeowners. He laid a long legacy for us to pick up and try and carry forward.”