Build-to-suit commercial development is a jigsaw puzzle of thousands of tasks, requirements, and regulations. Here’s how the owner of Madison Real Property gets things done.
Todd Madison’s to-do list would drive most to madness. As the one-man band that is Madison Real Property LLC, he coordinates commercial building projects with general contractors. And with lawyers. And architects. And city officials, county officials, bankers, civil engineers, geotechnical engineers, and whoever else pops up on his Outlook calendar.
“There are days when I can have productive time at my desk and close out emails or tasks,” Madison says. “But most days, at any one time, I’ve probably got between 50 and 100 tasks. And some days are packed full of meetings.”
He’s completed four Popeyes Louisiana Kitchens, which serve southern-style spicy chicken, and three Starbucks locations in the Puget Sound area since 2014. All of the developments are built to the specifications of the operators. Madison currently has four similar projects in the works, as well as the construction of an assisted living center in Everett, Washington — Madison’s first project of this type. He estimates each project requires more than 1,000 calls and emails to complete.
In other words, he’s busy.
A secretary would help. So would a personal assistant. But Madison is on his own, which prompted him to develop an elaborate system to track tasks and stay sane.
A Personalized Workflow
It starts with his Outlook calendar, which fills quickly. While he frequently uses the calendar on his mobile device and laptop, each week Madison prints a hard copy of the tasks list to serve as his to-do list, then begins writing amendments to tasks when they inevitably change or are completed. He relies on yellow sticky notes for last-minute changes or the reminder to pick up milk on his way home to his wife and two children.
A forensic investigator might struggle to make sense of it all, but Madison’s system works for him.
“We’re supposedly going to a paperless world, but I’m just not there yet,” Madison says.
“I have to print it out, jot down notes, and modify my task list several times a week.”
Madison also uses his Outlook inbox to make sure items that don’t make it onto his calendar
or task list don’t slip between the cracks.
“Emails typically mean an activity or a task. Everything in my inbox usually requires
follow-up,” he says. “My process leverages a few different form factors and tools, but it
works for me.”
While Madison has no employees, he thinks of the 15 or so professional service providers
he regularly works with as his team members. He says in some cases he is probably paying
firms more than the salaries he’d owe to in-house workers performing the same function. But the arrangement allows him to scale up or down depending on his project load without worrying about making payroll, providing benefits, or counting sick days.
“That’s somebody else’s problem,” he says. “It allows me to be nimble. If something happens to the economy, like what happened 10 years ago, there’s value to shutting the spigot off quickly.”
However, the model only works because Madison relies on pros he knows will get the job done. One of his most critical relationships is with his commercial lender at First Interstate Bank. When Madison is ready to move on a deal, First Interstate is as well; the bank has financed nine of his projects.
“They understand who I am and that I am going to deliver, and I understand who they are and that they are going to deliver,” Madison says. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we do a deal. There’s significant value to having that relationship.”
The Road Less Traveled
Most commercial developers have experience in the industry before starting a business.
Madison came into the industry cold, but says that 20 years working as a business consultant taught him many of the skills he employs today, including preparing complicated financial documents, business proposals, and management strategies.
Several of Madison’s previous projects involved working with complex technologies centered on process transformation and system implementations. Delivering projects for clients such as Microsoft, T-Mobile, and AT&T Wireless was the perfect precursor to commercial development.
“Fortunately, the skills I learned in consulting complement what I do every day,” he says. “I use all of them to make sure I’m delivering high-quality projects on time.”
Madison was still working as a consultant when he pieced together his first commercial development project in his spare time: a Popeyes in Lakewood, Washington. Madison’s family already owned three small parcels, an area too small for a commercial building. After acquiring a neighboring property, he was introduced to a Popeyes franchisee and talked a good enough game to land his first restaurant contract.
Despite working another job full-time and having to learn on the fly, Madison’s performance pleased the owner. Madison says the success opened the door to future Popeyes and other projects down the road.
“Being able to use that Popeyes as a case study, as a line item on a resume, was key in getting introduced to Starbucks,” he says. “It was key for them in taking a chance with someone like myself who, quite frankly, had only been in this business for a short period of time.”
After completing his first Starbucks and third Popeyes location in 2016, Madison and his
wife decided that the time had come to transition to being a full-time commercial real estate developer. Until that time, Madison says he “moonlighted” as a developer while working his day job as a business consultant.
The fact that his wife held a steady job at Microsoft softened the financial risk for the move. Madison says his wife was very supportive and helped build his confidence.
Since then, he has never looked back.
“We agreed I wasn’t getting any younger, so if I wanted to do commercial development, I should change fields sooner rather than later,” he says. “So far, so good.”