Maintaining a Competitive Edge
Todd Avant keeps Columbia up to speed in commercial real estate
Photography by Jeff Amberg
A typical workday for Todd Avant is anything but routine. For about five years, Todd has managed day-to-day operations at NAI Avant as the CEO in an ever-changing industry which he describes as competitive and complex. Twenty years ago, he began working for the company in property management, soon after transitioning to sales where he worked for several years. When he made the transition to the operations side, he says it was a lot of fun but plenty of work. NAI Avant, a full-service commercial real estate company with offices in Columbia and Charleston, is one of two outgrowths of Edens & Avant. The second is EDENS.
“My dad came out of retirement, so I had him as a mentor and resource, ” he says, “and that made it a much smoother transition.” His father, Dan Avant, retired partner and current shareholder in EDENS, is now chairman of the board.
“Being on the brokerage side, I didn’t realize how time-consuming it is to run a company,” Todd adds. “It was a lot of work getting up to speed on everything. I talk with my dad every day; he has a tremendous amount of experience, is very well respected, has high integrity, phenomenal people skills, and he’s there for us as a resource,” Todd explains. “He gives his advice, insight and counsel. He’s a tremendous asset to the company.”
A Wofford graduate like his father, Todd oversees 65 employees, which includes 10 people in the company’s Charleston office. He says every project is different, every project has multiple stages, and each client has diverse needs.
“We strongly encourage our people to specialize,” he says, noting they have specialists for retail, land, office, industrial, investment sales and medical needs. “We have to make sure our people make it a priority to learn as much as they can about the business. We’re in a complex industry.” He maintains that this requires dedication from those who work in the field to remain up-to-date on the rapidly changing issues which impact their market. The extensive list of areas that constantly change in the commercial real estate industry includes environmental issues, permitting issues, legal aspects, tax implications, entitlement issues and zoning issues. And with land assignments that sometimes take years to be completed, patience is critical.
“It’s exciting. I love what I do. There’s nothing monotonous about it,” he says, and it’s a fact that seems to keep his interest keen and his focus sharp. “We interface with attorneys all the time. We’re constantly going before city council or county council on behalf of our clients.” For example, NAI Avant advocated for Richland County’s historic property tax incentives to mirror those of the city.
According to Todd, the company has been slammed with business in the past year or two. “We’re really seeing growth. It’s been really fun, particularly in the past couple years,” he says with a smile.
During the Great Recession of 2008, however, he says the company wasn’t immune to difficulty. “That was a long three or four years for us,” he recalls. “Our business typically goes in cycles, so when the economy’s doing well, commercial real estate does exceptionally well. But when we went through the economic downturn, our industry got hammered.”
Perhaps it’s his ambition and focus that enable him to weather such challenges. Todd is extremely goal-oriented, and he expects his staff to regularly make and meet both short and long-term goals, too. At their new headquarters at 807 Gervais St. — the historic DuPre Building — his team enjoys an authentic loft-style office space featuring exposed historic brickwork, carefully restored hardwood floors and heart pine ceiling beams, all of which sets a high standard for rehabilitation in Columbia. The beautifully refurbished work spaces include plenty of gathering places for small or large groups.
“We try to have strong collaborative teams, and we feel like this new office building is reflective of that,” he explains, adding that he sets daily and weekly goals for himself. “I’m a big to-do list person. Generally, I’ll prioritize my day, but it’s challenging at times because often I walk into the office and 50 other things have come up.”
He keeps his goals in sight, though, along with the company’s strategic plan. “We set goals for the year; then we have goals on our radar for several years out.”
Several people on the team have been with the company for 40 or more years. In addition to these seasoned employees, some of their top producers are in their 30s. “It’s a really good mix. We’re looking for people who have phenomenal attitudes, a lot of energy, passion, high integrity, strong work ethic and a sense of urgency.” Since it’s such a competitive environment, excellent and timely customer service is in high demand, he adds.
Todd and his team make it a priority to stay up-to-date on entitlement issues and what’s going on politically, particularly at the local level. “Local politics have a big impact on our industry and on our clients,” he says. “We have to stay dialed in, connected and engaged.”
And when he takes a break? He loves to travel, exercise, read — mostly industry related literature — and spend time in Charleston. He’s joined the ranks of South Carolinians who are captivated by the state’s oldest city.
“I absolutely love Charleston. It’s a world-class city,” he says, noting he bought a condo on the peninsula there eight years ago and was married there this past June. “It has the beautiful beaches, phenomenal architecture, art, culture, and the restaurants and history are both amazing.”
A member of the Vista Guild Board, Todd’s extremely interested in development and investment opportunities, especially involving old historic buildings and urban infill. Along with serving on Richland County’s Transportation Penny Oversight Committee and being involved in a number of industry organizations, Todd and the company as a whole have a long-standing commitment to many charitable causes. A few noteworthy development projects they are currently involved in are BullStreet Commons and the Kline City Center in a variety of capacities.
“We have a longstanding relationship with the seller Jerry Kline and his family,” Todd says. “The project will be a real game changer for the Vista and will bookend the spectacular downtown development underway from the State House to the river.” Plans for the center include a 140-room hotel, retail and up to 310 apartments to be built on the former home of Kline Iron & Steel Company.
To keep his goals and those of the NAI Avant team in view, Todd borrows from the qualities he has most admired in his father. Some of the company’s core values are customer care, integrity, collaboration and innovation. “We are excited about the dynamic growth underway in our vibrant urban core and the bright future ahead,” he says. “One of the most fulfilling and rewarding aspects of our business is the opportunity to play a role in shaping large projects that enhance the quality of life, unique sense of place and economic development for our entire region.”