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AutoZone in Tuba City, AZ

Christopher Walker Headshot
Episode #: 164
AutoZone in Tuba City, AZ

Guest: Christopher Walker
Topics: AutoZone, brokerage


Chris Ressa 0:00
This is retail retold the story of how that store ended up in your neighborhood. I’m your host, Chris ReSSA. And I invite you to join my conversation with some of the retail industry’s biggest influencers. This podcast is brought to you by DLC management.

Welcome to retail retold everyone. Today I am joined by Christopher Walker. Christopher’s a senior real estate manager at raising canes. He’s been in real estate industry for a while formerly at Autozone. I’m excited for him to be here. Welcome to the show, Chris for

Chris. How you doing, buddy?

I’m doing well, man. So tell us a little bit more about who you are and what you do, Christopher.

Christopher Walker 0:41
So as you said, obviously Christopher Walker. I have been in the real estate business for 16 years. I started out in only backup look, I’m actually I’m from the East Coast. I’m an East Coast guy. So I’m from Arlington, Virginia

Ressa 0:55
rockin Arlington. Great town.

Walker 0:57
Yeah. So I’m a DMV guy went to college at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, and made my way to Dallas, Dallas Fort Worth area in 2006, and got into the real estate business, I came to Texas to get into the real estate business, how to add one relationship value that got me in the door. And I started out in brokerage in 2006. And I did that in 2006 to 214. Transition from from being a broker to a retailer and Autozone sells with Autozone for three years 2014 and 2017 and then wanted to come back I was I actually moved to Memphis. So I was in Memphis for a little bit. But I wanted to make my way back to Texas and I was getting married. So I’m in I’ve been following raising canes because I’ve been here since 2006. I was a fan of the brand fan of just the developments, what they’re doing. So I wanted to warm to work with him and made it happen. So anyway, back here in 2017. Five years later, here I am.

Ressa 2:11
Great story, great career path. You always know you wanted to be in real estate. ]

Walker 2:16
Oh, yes. And no. I guess it was. So my father was on the government side. And he was director of housing for the city of Fort Worth. He was in the housing and he was a director of housing in Arlington. He’d worked for the government in Houston as well. And so when he was on the residential side, government’s residential side and residential just really didn’t, didn’t excite me. I started my just professional career in sales. So I’ve always been kind of, you know, in sales and more wanting to do an entrepreneur role at what I will say is that I’ve always wanted to be, you know, in an entrepreneurial type of world, and real estate provided that form, you know, just the day to day, and the opportunity to create, so to speak wealth or opportunities for myself. Real estate was an aspect for that. And I do remember when I was younger, my dad used to always get in a car and go driving. And we always go into these neighborhoods and looking at these places. And so I guess in the back of my head, it was kind of put into me, but I never said hey, I want to go out and be a real estate guy. But once I was in, you know, round 2005 I say it was I was working in sales for at the time, they’ll South communications, I was a regional account manager and somebody there was talking about real estate and commercial real estate and we actually pursued it. I was very green. I had no idea what I was doing. But I enjoyed the pursuit of the opportunity and enjoy the you know, just putting the pieces together. That’s what got me really interested like, Oh, I like this. And I’m going to quit my job leave my girlfriend and I’m going to move to Texas to try to get into the real estate business someway somehow Wow. That’s what I did. I picked up and left that job and and I actually got did actually have a girlfriend at the time and I was like no, I’m not gonna have any money. I’m gonna be starting from from from the bottom, actually moved into my parents for a year and a half, just until I got my first commission check and was able to get going and so I sacrifice but it was the best career move I’ve ever made actually.

Ressa 4:34
Wow, good for you love that story. When you got into brokerage were you on the landlord side, the tenant side investment sales. What did you do? So I did. I started off as a CIO. My first opportunity was I worked for a workforce developer and land development. The biggest thing was you didn’t build anything higher than a fire hydrant. But

Walker 5:00
So he did all the horizontal development and I was basically in house called, you know, real estate broker for him, you know, all of his land, we would do retail, you know, stuff for him. But what I learned being in Texas is that you’re not from Texas, and getting in this business, you need to be in an environment where you can really network and meet people. So I transitioned from there. And I started working for a company called the Weitzman group, a very well known Texas Real Estate Company. And that’s where I got changed there in Dallas. That’s where I got a chance to really broaden my, you know, spread my wings. I started off as a landlord and tenant rep, because I was the Fort Worth guy for Weitzman. So I did a little bit of landlord stuff, did some tenant rep stuff, but my main, my main thing and begin was landlord just, you know, trying to just cut my teeth and learn the business. And so that and then I transitioned over the couple of years of transition and doing some tenant reps.

Ressa 5:58
Got it? You said something interesting, that I don’t know that many of the people in the audience don’t, maybe they do. But I think it’d be worth talking about. Because we hear it a lot. I’m hearing it a lot. Again, today in industrial. You don’t hear it as much in retail anymore. But you work for a horizontal developer versus a vertical developer. Can you explain when you first started out? Can you explain to the audience, what someone who claims to be a horizontal developer is and does? Yes. So

Walker 6:33
he, you would have you would take role in most people, a lot of developers when they’re doing vertical, they want utilities there, they want everything already there. Whereas then he would take raw land and develop that role, man, you would get entitled he would do all the subsurface development, you’d have you do all the civil work, whereas in some a retailer or you know, a developer to come in and start going vertical. So he’d have it prepared, entitled, you don’t have to go through that process. And you know, he bring utilities, whatever utilities he brings, because again, when he purchased the land, it was wrong. There was no utilities, anything like that. So he would develop it horizontally to get it prepared

Ressa 7:21
to go vertical, and then sell it to a vertical developer and sell

Walker 7:25
to a vertical developer, or at that time, we were really selling it to retailers. Got it, because retailers would come in and do whatever they needed to do, to sell to retailers around the city retailers, but most of us

Ressa 7:38
got it. Thank you. And I’m seeing it industrial a lot today, given the in the low inventory and industrial. You know, horizontal developers are starting to show up a lot more than they were. So it helps.

Walker 7:57
A lot of risk. Yeah, a lot of risk a lot of red tape, because a lot of times you’re dealing with, you know, the state you’re dealing with, you know, jurisdictions, so it’s a lot of,

Ressa 8:07
you’re selling something with no income on it. So exactly. Yeah, absolutely. Right. Yeah. So you made an interesting transition your career you went from? You mentioned sales, and you had a passion for sales. You went from the sales side, now you’re the buyer. Yes. How is that? How’s that transition been from being on the, you know, the the landlord side to the tenant side or the sales side to the buyer side?

Walker 8:36
It’s good, it’s good. Um, it’s obviously a lot more responsibility a lot more falls into your plate of, you know, just decision making, what, what takes place in terms of strategy and do is that the right location for this for this use? And understanding, you know, understanding markets, and I think the biggest changes, you know, as a broker, you focus on one particular market, right? For the most part, a good broker is going to be very knows a market inside now. Coming to this side, there’s multiple markets that, you know, I’ve been fortunate enough to develop in 16 Different states, right. And so understanding markets in the trends in the market and understanding the growth of a market and, and taking ownership. That’s the one big thing is to is that you’re, you know, on this role, you’re taking ownership of our project and I also also look at it as you know, there are a lot of people that are going to have to successes or failures on this decision that I make? There you go. So it’s, you know, it’s been good. I like it. I think when I was a landlord recommend transitioning to doing tenant rep, that helped prepare me on understanding strategy and markets and understanding that, but it’s, you know, once you get here, I think it’s good. You know, one of the hardest things, though, was transitioning, trying to go from a broker to become a retailer because believe it or not, for some reason, retailers don’t like hiring brokers. I don’t know why. Retailers without fans and hiring brokers. I was fortunate enough to so my gave me it gave me a shot, and I made the most of it. Excellent. All right.

Ressa 10:50
Appreciate that history lesson and the lesson on horizontal development. I want to learn more about you. I want to be part of the show to deepen the audience’s knowledge on Christopher Walker. I got three fun questions for you. Are you ready? I’m ready. All right. Question one. When’s the last time you tried something for the first time?

Walker 11:13
Probably say, it’s got to be some that dude, my daughter from abroad just had a daughter and 19. And there’s a lot of first obviously, she’s my first child. And I didn’t grow up playing with Barbie dolls. I’m now playing your garden.

Ressa 11:32
I get it. I have a four year old daughter. I understand it now. So

Walker 11:34
all those are first for me. I would say something that stands out for like outside of my daughter, one of the first go back to my first year anniversary. It’s got married and 17 approaching anniversary. That was an 80 I had never been in a helicopter went to Hawaii and did one of the helicopter rides in Hawaii. And that was the first time that I’ve been in a helicopter that high. No. And then I also jumped off a cliff. That was

Ressa 12:03
Wow. Adventures. Yeah. Well, that’s great. Okay, question two. And congratulations on the new family. Man. That’s amazing. Thank you. Question two. What is one skill you don’t possess but wish you did? You

Walker 12:23
know, I’m a music guy Chris. And I love music. I grew up playing an instrument. But what I wish I could do is saying I wish I could sing I wish I wish you know I wish I could I like the ability to have singers and in their be able to use their voice as an instrument and effect emotions upon people. So that is one thing and I wish I could go home good music.

Ressa 12:52
Me too. I wish I could belt it like Christina Aguilera. Okay, last question. What is one thing most people agree with, but you do not.

Walker 13:06
Controversial man is very controversial. My wife had this argument all the time. Ketchup in the refrigerator. I do not think ketchup should be in the refrigerator. And the whole world’s kitchen. What is really?

Ressa 13:20
I think ketchup should be in the frigerator No,

Walker 13:22
ketchup should not it should be more it should be warm, not cold. Whatever their argument was an argument is when we go to the right these restaurants is red is the ketchup in their physical you know, it’s warm it’s in a package so I don’t understand why the world needs the kitchen should be in the refrigerator. That’s more controversial.

Ressa 13:44
But in the packets are sealed the other airtight

Walker 13:48
well, they’re also I mean it’s considered airtight if it’s in the in the in the bottle right. Until you open it. It’s not airtight until you open but it’s most morning it’s it but

Ressa 14:02
yeah, just I hear so I’d never thought about this. But I I was I’m a chameleon. I like it both ways. I’m trying to think if I like it more like when I go to raising canes and I put the ketchup. You might be right here. You might be swaying me, because I’m trying to think if restaurant ketchup is better than my cold, cold ketchup. Because if I got a hot french fry at home and I dip it in cold ketchup and some cold kisser Yeah, I see what you’re saying here. All right. You can change the world. Christopher you’re gonna change the world. All right. Well, thanks for taking us there. I really appreciate it.

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Ressa 15:44
well, you have a story about a deal went from your Autozone days. So take her wet

Walker 15:53
so you might Autozone days. As we know Autozone has been around I calls on the Walmart of auto parts. been around forever been around for years. And so I used to handle Arizona as one of my martyrs great mark. I love the Phoenix market. I’ve been live in Dallas. I’ve lived in Phoenix. I was, of course, all zones all over Phoenix. But I was pursuing an opportunity north of Phoenix and actually place called to the city, Arizona to city Arizona is about 70 miles north of Flagstaff, Flagstaff is mostly major, everybody, everybody, Flagstaff, but there is a city called Tuba City, Arizona, which is actually on the Navajo Indian Reservation. Okay, and so I was talking about broker and an opportunity came up into the city. I had never been to the city before, didn’t even know anything about to the city. And so I drove up, I got my broker and said, Hey, let’s go up there. Let’s check it out. It was and if you know anything about any reservations with any investment with Indian reservations, you know, the land is not Fiat. You know, it’s owned by the reservation, you know, so the land is we, you know, I can’t just come in and develop on land. While there’s a developer out there that owns some feet, develop some land that wasn’t owned by the reservation, and said, hey, we’d like to do $1 tree and Autozone here. What do you think? That’s it? Let’s go check it out. So go, we drive to Tuba City, again, 70 miles north of Flagstaff, in fact, that was probably about two or three hours north of Phoenix. So drove up to robotic tuber and you go up there, and there’s a sign that says you can go this way to Grand Canyon and keep going straight to the city had never been to the Grand Canyon, I still haven’t been to the Grand Canyon, because because I wanted to the city. So go to city. You know, you look out on a magnet, what is this, but when you get there, very vibrant. The corner that I was looking at was McDonald’s over there. There’s McDonald’s, catty corners, great Landon’s into city was a great opportunity I felt for AutoZone. And the reason is that, you know, there’s a population of there that is driving 70 miles, you know, to get their parts or get things done on their car. And so they didn’t have that service up in Arizona. Like, like the opportunity. But you know, you’re in the real estate world. And I am well as everybody listening that we’re big analytical people as well. And so I came back, come back to Autozone. And turtling say, Hey, guys, great opportunity in Tuba City, Arizona on an Indian reservation. They’re like, yeah, no, that’s not gonna work. And if you know, anything, you know, being internally, you know, it’s, it’s the thing about being a retailer is you have different different pipes, you have your internal client, you have your external client, you have a lot of different pieces that you have to satisfy. So the difficulty to this process to this process is because it’s out of the norm for us, you know, one developer wanted to appeal to Autozone wasn’t a build to suit type of user they viewed by a ground race. So that was one thing I had going into the analytics said, Well, there’s no population up here. But on an Indian reservation on the reservation, there’s more population that’s what’s hot than what’s actually documented. I went up there I met with the tribe I met with the people will sit with the city of Tuba City and and the need was there and I knew that but I was the only one that had from Autozone that had actually been to the city right. But because of that need of seeing the people traveled 70 miles and just seeing depopulation. I think there’s a need here guys. We just got to figure out how to make it work. Number was didn’t work and numbers didn’t really jive. In at all zone, you present your property, which I love you present your, your projects to, to the executive committee. And, you know, I couldn’t even get in the room because nobody I couldn’t have the buy in right? When I started this process, call it 2015. And, you know, got into 16. And I was like, this is an opportunity that I really believed in, and you know, real estate, we believe in something in your gut, you’re like God, like, this is something you know, so I stayed on it, and I pushed I, you know, I was persistent about it, because I really believed in the opportunity. So long story short, I finally got in that room. And this opportunity in this room, I go and present, I made sure that I got dressed up, I made sure that I was prepared, I knew everything. And I did all the due diligence about getting the you know, more numbers, zip code, numbers, whatever I could get to establish the population, you know, I think, you know, they did take a risk on the opportunity. And I got it approved, got approved, got the deal done. And actuality, that deal opened at 400%, of what we expected index. And the city loved it, they actually came and did a tribal dance, to bless it. And in doing that one opened up the opportunity to do other reservations, any reservations for us, and not being blinded by the analytics. So go first world that stories, whatever you do, go see the site, go see the trade area, go see what’s going on. Don’t just take the analytics, what the numbers say, understand really what the trade areas what’s, what’s going on there. And it could lead to other opportunities, which you know, at Autozone, it did open up other opportunities on these other Indian reservations and things like that. So that was a great, great win. And anybody that knows that story that when I was at Autozone. I know that’s, that’s my claim to fame and ozone, because nobody, I was the only one to believe in. But it turned out to be a great, great opportunity.

Ressa 22:20
Wow, this is one of my favorite real estate stories that I’ve heard in a very, very long time. So thank you for sharing. I think the first thing that you mentioned, go see the site, the first thing that comes to mind, and that’s you go to the market goes he said I think that’s important. But the first thing that comes to mind, in a world where everywhere you go on social media or anything is day to day to day to day to day to day to everyone’s trying to get data, like people are selling data everyone’s trying to get data. And I think data was one of the key pieces that I think that were people matter so much is that there are so many scenarios where it is impossible for data to tell the whole story. And I think this is case in point why data can’t tell the whole story. I think it is fascinating. I think the other thing the resilience that you had in trying to get this deal approved internally. I’m very curious when you were in the boardroom presenting to the executive board I’m sure that you were challenged by people in the room because this was so atypical and on paper it didn’t work you tried to make it work but on paper it didn’t work what did they what did they what got them over the hump you think that that’s what got them over the happy to say we want to take this risk

Walker 24:04
I think we were able to craft a deal where wasn’t as expensive as it could as it could have been for us. We were also able to I think we did have a store in in Flagstaff and so we’re able to kind of figure out you know, people traveling to that Flagstaff store and and understanding that a little bit more and I got operations on board that you know that that’s

Ressa 24:39
so you got my from other constituents in internally. That’s a key corporate America. Yeah, tactic you gotta get by other

Walker 24:49
term. Yeah, mean I’ve learned that. And I think, you know, Autozone was the great opportunity for me in terms of training me and making me a better real estate professional because I on their machine, now all is on the machine. And they do, they’re very great at what they do. But there’s a lot of internal approval and Eternals buying you have to have, and learning how to get that buy in. And so I think once I really focus on operations and saying, Hey, guys, I need to go up here and look at this, check it out. And really, you know, that’s how I got my buy in was getting operations up there.

Ressa 25:27
And that, that, and then really got up once

Walker 25:29
you get operations on board, you know that that helps a great deal. Sure.

Ressa 25:36
And so you mentioned before, I’m just curious, a little off topic. do is do the population of Indian reservations not show up in the US Census? Census completely?

Walker 25:49
No, I don’t think they I don’t I don’t think so. Because it’s so interesting. So I don’t think you’re gonna see all the senses and give this was a 2000 copy of teams that may have you know, and again, have to do them 15. Yeah. No, every team, they only do it every two years. So it may not have caught up or, you know, but the numbers weren’t the same as what was actually

Ressa 26:14
interesting. And so, how big of a discrepancy? were we talking about? What did what was Christopher’s take on what the population was in to the city? Versus like, what, like, how big of a gap? Was it? You have to give me specific?

Walker 26:26
I would, I would say, it’s probably a good 50 Yeah, well, obviously, it’s a good 2% Yeah, I think it’d be a good 2550. Like, just because, you know, it’s, I mean, the trade is so large, that’s the other part too, is that, when you get in the range of like, it’s not your normal three mile radius goes out, it’s, you know, goes out very far. Because once you’re up there, if you go down on the map, there’s nothing else around it. But you get out into these areas, and people have cars out there, and they have to get them service, they have to get parts, you know, and so, but they’re having to drive to Flagstaff for that. And I think that the thing and having actually had conversations with, you know, people with, you know, locals and met with the local tribe, and just understanding their needs and what they’re really doing. So I think, having those conversations, and actually being in the environment and understanding what it is, I thought it was, that’s what kind of sold me like, oh, there’s a need, and come and find out there was a need

Ressa 27:43
for 400% of projection, right. But, uh, when did after those numbers start to come through where people like, Christopher, this is amazing. I must say, I’m

Walker 27:55
very close. And like I said, we always have that comment. We always always joking, because I pushed too hard. And it turned out to be very well. Very well received. And

Ressa 28:10
I last question on this, the this, this took a long time to get Autozone on board. Did the developer Was it hard to keep the developer and the the owner of the property like, engaged because he’s probably like, you know, these guys, like, are they going to do this or not? And

Walker 28:29
you know, wasn’t the developer was, wasn’t the opposition. I had a relationship with developer and developer stayed in contact and let them know, Hey, this is what’s going on. So the developer The other thing, too, is that the people that are wanting to go out to the city, you know, and yet the Dollar Tree deal and so there’s a two

Ressa 28:55
fold. Well, that building is good. You have a two tenant multi tenant

Walker 28:59
building. So again, really wasn’t a lot of people know that we’re going to go take that risk to go out there. So he was patient, which was which was good, and I thought was a great win for the company for the reservation. For all totally.

Ressa 29:16
Totally agree. Okay. Well, thank you for sharing. That’s one of the favorite stories. Excellent. Okay. Last part is show called retail wisdom. I got three questions for you. Are you ready?

Alright, question one. What extinct retailer Do you wish would come back from the dead?

Walker 29:38
So I won’t say this. This retailer is extinct because they still have restaurants. They’re still serving. I still use it. But you talk to the real estate community talk to the people that used to go there. That’s Boston Market. also marketed again, they’re not extinct. They still have, you know, they’re not you know, have zero, but they’re declining. You know, but I’m just a fan of Have I just like, um, I’m not one of those guys where I eat to live, I don’t live to eat. So if I can go out and you know, I can get a somewhat decent meal and it’s kind of fast, casual type of thing. That’s why I love Boston Mark. I’m a chicken guy. As you can imagine, but yeah, I can get, you know, meat starch and vegetables and call the day. That is the one. They’re not extinct. But that’s my, but when you talk to anybody else they would you would think that they’re distinct.

Ressa 30:37
Yep. Okay. Question two. What’s the last item over $20 You bought in the store?

Walker 30:44
I bought just last week, a mobile mobile charger from traveling and we’re getting back on the road traveling and everything so I need I needed a heavy duty big no good, big good charger thing. It’s been 50 bucks. six bucks and yeah.

Ressa 31:06
Okay, speaking of target. Last question. If you and I were shopping at Target, and I lost you what i Oh, would I find you it?

Walker 31:15
Probably that same area. electronics show my age here. But back in the day, you know that they had the music or they had CDs that you found me they were just kind of, but I’m a quasi tech guy. Or I’m not a tech guy. Because I’m not saying I know, like gadgets like all the cool iPhones, iPads, and I’m a tech guy in the sense of I like gadgets in electronics, so you probably find an electronics store or external. Okay.

Ressa 31:50
Well, Christopher, this was great. I really appreciate it. Thanks for sharing your story. I really, really appreciate you coming on grab

Walker 31:58
me. I appreciate it. Thank you. You heard a lot about your podcast. Glad I was able to make it on it.

Ressa 32:04
Excellent man. Thank you for listening to retail retold. If you want to share a story about a retail real estate deal that you were a part of on our show. Please reach out to us at retail retold at DLC This show highlights the stories behind the deals from all perspectives. So it doesn’t matter if you are a retailer, broker, entrepreneur, architect or an attorney. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to retail retold so you don’t miss out on next Thursday’s episode

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