Almost 20 years ago, RealOp founding partner and CEO Reggie Bell was poised to take over his father’s well-known Upstate construction company, Marsh Bell.
Digging ditches and tying rebar were his skill set, but after two years into management, Bell says his heart wasn’t in it.
“I kept being led towards the commercial real estate industry, and it’s very hard to get into the commercial real estate industry, but that’s kind of where if you have the passion part of it, that’s for me where it began was really a desire for the creativity and the ownership component of hard assets, deal making,” Bell says.
He left the construction world and moved to a job at RealtiCorp using his construction background as the entry point.
After four or five years there, that’s when the entrepreneurial spirit kicked in.
“I went to Best Buy and bought a QuickBooks program and a laptop and we started the company, as a person,” Bell says.
That company officially opened as Colonial Commercial Group in March of 2009. Rebranded as RealOp Investments in 2012, the commercial real estate and special situations investment firm now based in Greenville’s West End celebrated 10 years this month shortly after the Greenville’s Chamber of Commerce honored the company as its Small Business of the Year for 2018.
While much of what they do is out of the public eye, including significant charitable giving to children’s and veterans’ causes, RealOp’s most visible assets in Greenville are the Bank of America building at 101 N. Main St. and Markley Station, the adaptive reuse project that houses office and restaurants near Fluor Field.
Bell made his first deal and closed on a 43-unit multifamily development in January of 2008, even before the company was official. Slightly more than a decade later, the combined transaction history of RealOp’s partners tops $10 billion.
That success didn’t happen by accident or overnight.
“Can’t do it without the people,” Bell says.
Bell says RealOp’s greatest successes and challenges have come from recruiting and retaining the right individuals and removing the wrong ones. The company now has 31 employees in Greenville and throughout the Southeast.
“We’ve always stepped on each other’s toes, but we work well together,” says Kyle Putnam, partner and chief investment officer.
Putnam was Bell’s first hire in 2010. Putnam recalls those early days involving juggling the joys of multi-family property management while also increasing the company’s portfolio.
After the re-brand, RealOp moved its offices from Greer to downtown Greenville and eventually to its current location at 504 Rhett St.
In 2014, Paul Sparks joined the team as president and managing partner, as a result of a prior golf-pairing gone well with Putnam.
“We were a small firm, everybody had to wear a lot of hats,” Sparks says. “But, you know, I had the most experience of managing people, HR, other things and sort of building infrastructure for where we wanted to go, so we all agreed that I would sort of manage and run the company, manage a lot of the corporate operations.”
Sparks had previously been the executive vice president, senior credit executive, of CertusBank and brought with him the ability to attract institutional investment partners.
RealOp’s partners have learned to celebrate their significant accomplishments as a company, but as a team, they define success as more than the numbers.
“Success for us is being able to come to work every day, do what we love to do people that we love to do it. And if you can do that, and you know, make a comfortable living for your family and know that you’re giving back, that you’re doing the right things every day, and that you’re building up others . . . although it may sound a bit cliché, that, I think, is what keeps us together,” Bell says.