How Hilliker Thrives in the Cutthroat Commercial Real Estate World

The independent, Brentwood-based firm credits a hyperlocal approach with national connections for its success in face of its heavy-hitter competitors.

Ben M. HillikerWhen Ben Hilliker started his real estate firm more than 30 years ago, he could count his competitors on one hand.

Today, Hilliker Corp. is among more than two dozen commercial real estate firms, including corporate heavyweights such as CBRE, Cushman & Wakefield and JLL, in the St. Louis metropolitan area vying for listings.

“We haven’t tried to stand out. We’ve simply done what we feel is best for our clients, and in turn, for us,” Hilliker said.

Hilliker, founder and CEO, leads the firm along with President H. Meade Summers III, Senior Vice President and Principal Hal Ball, Vice President and Principal Scott Martin and Vice President and Principal Will Aschinger.

Brentwood-based Hilliker Corp. is not known for multimillion-dollar, blockbuster deals. Though it sells up to 20 properties a month, its deals often stay below the $10 million mark.

But that’s where Hilliker has found a niche that’s kept it successful despite corporate-owned competitors.

Key to its strategy, Hilliker said, is putting the agents’ success before the company, staying out of investment and development to avoid any conflict with clients, and guiding clients through every step, including tasks like rezoning. Hilliker’s agents average more than 15 years of experience in real estate.

In addition, market expansion has been an area of focus. The company has broadened its footprint from doing deals mostly in the city to now reaching into the corners of Jefferson and Franklin counties.

In the past five years, the firm has added five brokers and moved to a bigger office at the Magna Place building on Brentwood Boulevard in 2013.

And in 2011, it hit a milestone with its acquisition of Westwood Net Lease Advisors, which specializes in 1031 tax-exchanges and caters to buyers seeking triple net leases, where tenants are responsible for the property’s expenses.

The deal helped diversify Hilliker. Most of Westwood’s clients are local individual investors, typically in their 60s. Westwood connects its buyer-clients to properties with “recession-proof” tenants such as dialysis centers, dollar stores, fast food and fast-casual restaurants, daycares and even car washes, said Westwood President Chris Schellin.

In 2017, vice presidents Vince Vatterott and Jason Simon closed on a $92.6 million deal for its client to acquire the Dow Chemical headquarters building in Midland, Michigan, marking Westwood’s largest deal ever.

Hilliker often will sell a property for a client who will then use Westwood to reinvest those proceeds into another property.

“We’re giving sellers an avenue to the national marketplace, (and) we’re bringing national players to the St. Louis market,” Schellin said. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

Several years ago, Hilliker Corp. tapped Westwood to help with long-term client Dave Spence. No longer a majority owner of parent company Alpha Packaging — one of St. Louis’ biggest privately held companies — Spence wanted to sell Alpha Plastics Co.’s facility in Overland.

Together with Vatterott, Hilliker Corp. renegotiated a lease with Alpha to make the property more attractive, and in early 2015 New York City-based Gramercy Property Trust closed on its acquisition of the facility for $10.6 million, according to St. Louis County records.

“We couldn’t have orchestrated that better. And we’ve found more and more situations like that (because of Westwood),” Hilliker Corp.’s Hal Ball said. “We’ve found this in-between zone that’s been exciting for all of us.”

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Hilliker Corporation has served St. Louis since 1985, having brokered over 10,000 transactions. As the area’s largest locally-focused commercial real estate broker, we know our region intimately. From new construction to historic properties, we help our entrepreneurial clients become part of a great tradition.

If you’re ready to buy, sell, or lease commercial real estate in the St. Louis area, Hilliker Corporation is poised to help you find the property that suits your unique needs, plans, and dreams.

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