Seven years ago, Skyler Cooper joined real estate brokerage firm Marcus & Millichap as an associate for the firm’s growing hospitality segment, specializing in the acquisition and disposition of hotel assets. At the time, his team was only three partners strong. Today, he is the company’s regional manager for the Denver market and the national director of the National Hospitality Group, leading an entourage of 90 agents as one of the company's top-producing teams.
Cooper joined the team with a lifetime of hotel experience under his belt. His father worked for Marriott International, and every summer during his college years, the younger Cooper worked at the company’s hotels in the West Palm Beach, Fla., area. The experience gave him a taste for the business, and after graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in accounting and computer science, he joined the company as a regional manager for the Washington, D.C., district. “I oversaw group sales for about 15 full-service hotels,” he recalled, describing the role as fitting puzzle pieces together for groups seeking event spaces in the hotels. As part of the initial Salesforce1 trial, Cooper was part of the first group that lifted sales offsite to more effectively sell group business.
Building a Team
After two years with Marriott, Cooper was ready to try something new. “I wanted to get in on commercial real estate and there were no groups to join,” he recalled, noting the lack of opportunities during the global financial crisis. Fortunately, an opportunity appeared in Texas: Marcus & Millichap was growing its hospitality brokerage division, and needed people with an interest in both real estate and experience in hospitality. Cooper fit the bill and moved to Dallas to join the team. “I came as a junior [associate] to learn the business and learn how to broker hotels,” he said.
Cooper credits Allan Miller, senior director of the National Hospitality Group, and Chris Gomes, senior managing director of investments for the National Hospitality Group, for taking him on in those early years. “I was [Gomes'] first hire and we really focused on market share,” Cooper said. Miller, Gomes and Cooper selected their markets—San Antonio and Austin; Dallas; and northern and eastern Texas, respectively—and were responsible for growing their own business. “I spent a lot of time in East Texas in small markets, meeting owners [and] private-net-worth families that built these hotels or bought them and worked on site,” he recalled. “Over three years, four years, the business started to grow and we became a resource for most of the hotel owners.” The team grew from the initial founders to a 20-person group, and by 2015 was recognized as a top group within the company.
Education and Management
Looking back, Cooper believes the best part of those early years was learning from some of the best brokers in the industry. With boots on the ground, he met potential clients one-on-one and made personal connections, developing relationships that helped his team and his company. “As I moved into the national director role, I had a really good understanding of how to deploy correctly and the proper steps a team needed to take to teach younger agents as they were coming into the business,” he said. By 2017, Cooper led the Houston office in agent earnings across all property types.
As he studied the industry, Cooper saw that the Colorado hospitality market was “exploding” and decided to make a change (an easy one, given that he and his wife had always wanted to settle down there). He moved from Texas to Denver in late 2017 and maintained his philosophy, meeting as many potential buyers and sellers in Colorado Springs as he could and then working his way up to bigger markets, maintaining relationships all the way. “I sold seven hotels in my first 18 months [there], which represented about 25 percent of the market share in Colorado Springs, which is difficult for an individual being not local to Colorado.” Even as a transplant, his tactic is the same as it has always been: “Calling, providing value to your clients, being an advisor and meeting everybody.”
Cooper left the Allan/Gomes team last October to move from brokerage into management, becoming regional manager for the greater Denver area. By July, he was appointed national director of the National Hospitality Group. “There was no quantum leap in the brokerage community,” he said of the transitions, noting that he continued to sell hotels as he shifted his responsibilities. “I just continued to improve on my skill set in a brokerage role and going from brokerage to management has been very rewarding.” The growth of hospitality as a lucrative field for real estate investment is driving more interest among the next generation of brokers and creating more specialists. “As things start to get difficult, people will start to rely on the experts and not their friend the broker who might know a friend or two and can put it on the internet and hope someone buys it,” Cooper said of hospitality sales. “You're going to need to be able to sell the deal and sell the story and pitch why it's a good investment.”
Clicking with Clients
“There's a lost art in—for lack of a better term—pounding the pavement and really knowing your market [rather than using] CoStar and Loopnet where you can just find properties. I think there's a lost art to going out, meeting people, truly diving into what clients need. As the market will start to shift here a little bit—I don't want to say that there are headwinds coming up, but there is definitely a light breeze in the market—those agents that adopt the client-first, in-person true advisory role will succeed and continue to do well as things start to shake up in the industry. My main focus with the younger group of people is to go back to the basics. Meet people, ask them what they want. What are they trying to accomplish? Try and truly understand instead of just looking at it from a number perspective.”
Logic in Logistics
“We have the best training in the industry. We train our brokers from a very young age in the right way to do business. We teach them how to overcome obstacles throughout the entire transaction process. As national hospitality director, we're implementing and will be implementing training [that goes] back to the roots that emphasize some of the basics on getting deals across the finish line. I think that's going to make a huge difference when things start to get a little bit more difficult. We have a phenomenal track record. I mean, you have some of the brightest minds in the hospitality brokerage business that worked for Marcus & Millichap and have for the last 15 or 20 years. So you take that expertise and as they're growing their teams, you're passing on that knowledge. So that's what makes us different from everyone else.”