Vancouver Commercial Real Estate Podcast

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March 22, 2023
VCREP #89: BC’s Last Commercial Real Estate Market Left to Boom with Kevin Wong

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What’s the last BC commercial real estate market left to boom?

This week, Cory and Melisa welcome Kevin Wong, Vice President of Leasing and Asset Management of Wesbild, to talk about everything Kamloops and why this market is about to boom, from major industries driving the local economy to AAA tenants looking to enter the market.

If you are a tenant looking to grow your business into a new market or a commercial investor looking for the next market to invest in, this is a must listen episode for you.

We sit down with VP of Leasing and Asset Management at Wesbild, Kevin Wong, to talk about Wesbild’s recent purchase of Brock Shopping Centre in Kamloops. Why Kamloops? Why now? And is Kamloops the last commercial real estate market left to boom in BC? 

Who is Kevin Wong?

I work with a developer in Vancouver called Wesbild and I’ve been in commercial real estate for about 20 years now. After graduating from UBC with an arts degree, I got a job working in marketing for a developer.

When the Vice President of Leasing left the company, the President asked if I’d be interested in learning about leasing and moving into that realm. I’ve been in commercial real estate ever since, specifically working with landlords.

Can you tell us more about Wesbild?

Wesbild is primarily known for land development. We buy large tracts of land; the two largest we’re known for are Westwood Plateau in Coquitlam and another lot at Burke Mountain. We service the land and sell to builders and other developers.

Wesbild has always had a portfolio of commercial centres as well. In my role, I look after our commercial real estate.

Can you tell us about Wesbild’s recent purchase, Brock Shopping Centre in Kamloops? 

Brock Shopping Centre is apx 100,000 square feet and is a neighbourhood centre. Neighbourhood centres do well because they are a needs-based shopping experience. They don’t experience the same fluctuations in the market as a AAA mall might, which was appealing to Wesbild.

Brock has a grocery anchor, pharmacies, doctor’s offices, etc. These are services that cater to the community and are much needed. That’s what makes them such great investments.

We’ve been bullish on markets like Kamloops that have seen a lot of growth in the past few years. People are looking for more affordability and a better lifestyle, which they can find in Kamloops. We’ve actually looked at Brock for many years and finally got the opportunity to acquire it in the last year.

Why does Kamloops make sense now?

I was born and raised in Kamloops but I left in 1996 to come to Vancouver for university. When I lived in Kamloops, it was always slow growth in terms of population and economy.

But in the last few years, even before the pandemic, Kamloops started to see a lot of growth. As major markets, like Vancouver and Kelowna, saw rising housing costs, people started to see Kamloops as a place with much better value.

You can still afford a house in Kamloops. There’s a lot better value in Kamloops compared to the Lower Mainland. A lot of people move there and a lot of jobs are created.

Coming out of Covid, Kamloops has continued to see a lot of growth. That’s why it was the perfect time for us to purchase Brock.

What is Wesbild’s plan for Brock Shopping Centre?

When we bought Brock Shopping Centre, they did have key anchor tenants like a Save-On Foods and Shoppers Drug Mart. But what was missing was the care and attention to the smaller businesses.

We wanted to provide our expertise and offer a more hands-on approach for tenants. We build relationships with our tenants, from the majors to local mom and pop shops. If it’s not the right fit, we try to use our connections to find a better tenant.

What are the value-add opportunities for Brock?

We’re looking at how we can ultimately increase rents and the net operating income of the centre so the value of the property increases. But it’s not as simple as going in and raising rents. It is about working with the tenants and finding the right retail mix to serve the population around the shopping centre.

Many of the rents were untouched and below market because Brock’s previous landlord wasn’t paying attention and didn’t want to invest in upkeep. We saw the potential of renovating the shopping centre and improving customer service with the tenants.

That way, we could justify raising rents because the tenants’ businesses would improve and they’d see more customers.

What has changed in Kamloops to make it a hot spot for commercial real estate?

You’re seeing housing development in places that used to be empty. Housing is expanding across Kamloops. You’re also seeing more national tenants and bigger names in restaurants and retailers in Kamloops. Those names used to not consider Kamloops at all. Now they know it’s not just Kelowna or the Lower Mainland. They can capture a ton of market share in Kamloops.

At Brock we have Mary Brown’s Chicken, which is a Canadian company based out of the east coast. We also have one of the busiest Tim Hortons in all of Kamloops.

What is the difference between Kamloops and Kelowna? 

Growing up in Kamloops, we knew Kelowna was the more popular sibling. The biggest difference between Kamloops and Kelowna is that Kelowna has more recreational opportunities with the beach, sun and water close to town.

For Kamloops, you still have to drive an hour or two out before you hit a lake. Kelowna has more tourists, more services and more retailers. Kamloops is more sleepy and more blue collar but that’s changing.

For places like Kelowna that have seen extreme growth and now are experiencing a higher cost of living, Kamloops is a great alternative.

If you are into mountain biking, fishing and skiing, there are great recreational opportunities in Kamloops too.  

What markets is Wesbild excited about and working in?

In Western Canada, we look at any secondary market in BC. As commercial centres come up for sale, we’re looking at those opportunities. We’ve owned shopping centres in Merritt, Williams Lake, Gibsons, etc. We’re also looking at opportunities on Vancouver Island.

Outside of BC, we’re in the market with two shopping centres in Calgary. Calgary isn’t a secondary market but it is very high growth. We’re very bullish on Alberta.

What are your predictions for the real estate market?

If you’re a real estate investor, you can’t look at real estate for a short period of time. You need to have a long term view. None of us can predict where interest rates will be one, two or even five years from now.

At Wesbild, we’re always looking for opportunities. Even when interest rates are high, you have to be ready. There are sellers who may be forced to sell because they can’t afford the higher rates. There are always opportunities, even in markets like today.

To be an active investor, you have to always be looking and always be ready to pounce on an opportunity that arises.

Real estate has always been a long term investment for us. As long as you believe in the long term value of your real estate, you’re always going to be looking for opportunities.

The 6 Pack: Getting to Know Vice-President of Leasing and Asset Management at Wesbild, Kevin Wong 

What would your last meal be on death row? 

Sushi. Or I might pick something like pizza or fried chicken so I could give it to my fellow inmates. I’d probably figure out what my cellmate wanted to eat and order that, since food wouldn’t really matter to me at that point.

What is one book you recommend? 

A book that started my journey into self-improvement was The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. It’s probably 15-20 years old now. It taught me how to not look at conventional norms for doing business. You can adapt and get creative about how you run a business and how you do business. That book was revolutionary and well before its time. 

Favourite band or musician? 

I’m going to go with Hans Zimmer. He’s a composer who does a lot of movie soundtracks, like the soundtracks for Gladiator and Dark Knight. If I need a little pick me up, it’s coffee and a Hans Zimmer soundtrack. 

What is your go-to karaoke song?

I’ll go with Photograph by Nickelback in honour of Cory! But it can’t be a solo! 

What is something you’ve purchased for under $1500 that has had a positive impact on your life? 

My gym membership at Equinox. I like it because of the classes. They have a gym area if you want to do that and unlimited classes, if you’re less self-motivated like me. I need someone telling me what to do.

Anything that will improve you physically or mentally is always the best investment.

Favourite bar or restaurant? 

I’ll give you one from Kamloops, Kelly O’Bryan’s. It’s an Irish pub that has been around forever. It’s my go-to when I’m in Kamloops. There’s one in New West as well but Kamloops is the original.

In Vancouver, it would be Miku for sushi. It’s always great!

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Vancouver Commercial Real Estate Podcast

For all the curious minds interested in commercial real estate investing, grab a coffee and pull up a chair because we have exclusive stories and tips from commercial real estate brokers, investors, developers, economists, urban planners, and everyone in-between. From the successes and failures to the motivations and lessons learned, the Vancouver Commercial Real Estate Podcast is your insight into commercial real estate in Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, and beyond.

What's the best real estate market to invest in? What are the commercial real estate asset classes and property types? Hosted by Cory Wright, founder of William Wright Commercial, and co-hosts Adam and Matt Scalena of the Vancouver Real Estate Podcast, our podcast opens the door to real estate investing for everyone from beginner investors to experienced real estate professionals. New episodes are released every Tuesday. Follow the Vancouver Commercial Real Estate Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favourite streaming platforms.

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This communication is not intended to cause or induce breach of an existing agency agreement. E&OE: All information contained herein is from sources deemed reliable, and have no reason to doubt its accuracy; however, no guarantee or responsibility is assumed thereof, and it shall not form any part of future contracts. Properties are submitted subject to errors and omissions and all information should be carefully verified. All measurements quoted herein are approximate.