Quattro Development is a premier small-shop, build-to-suit real estate developer for retailers across the United States. To date, the company has completed over 150 projects across 31 states. The secret, according to founders Rob Walters and Michael Liyeos, is their approach to entrepreneurship. “We are a national build-to-suit development company that works with national retailers and operators to help them expand across the country,” Liyeos says.
Founded in 2008, Quattro Development started as a small business that quickly grew to occupy a nationwide footprint — a remarkable feat for a team of just 10 full-time employees. Walters and Liyeos share the four strategies they used to expand Quattro Development over the past 15 years.
1. Invest in Research and Firsthand Experience
It isn’t unusual for real estate developers to rely heavily on brokers or contractors. While Rob Walters and Michael Liyeos do work with brokers, they don’t solely rely on them to help them find new development opportunities. Instead, the duo spent a lot of time in the early days of the business visiting cities all across the country in order to gain firsthand knowledge of what opportunities were out there.
“The first year we really spent just trying to be frugal and learn real estate around the country,” Walters says. During that time, Walters and Liyeos traveled cross-country to familiarize themselves with different real estate markets, spending weeks in the car logging information and photos of properties that met their criteria.
As it turns out, this firsthand experience played a pivotal role in Quattro’s early deals. “If we have a meeting with the head of real estate for Chipotle, for example, we can talk to him intelligently about pretty much any trade area in the country. I think being able to talk about it with somebody who has that direct knowledge really goes a long way,” Walters explains.
For the co-founders, this primary knowledge gave them much-needed clout to expand Quattro Development beyond its headquarters in Illinois. “A lot of people think it’s really hard. They can’t believe that we do it all over the place,” Walters says.
2. Find Investors Who Believe in You
Rob Walters and Michael Liyeos founded Quattro Development during the Great Recession — a difficult time for many businesses, but especially for real estate. “We had very limited money,” Walters says. “We needed a lender, and they were just dropping like flies in terms of options, due to the condition of the economy.”
The co-founders had difficulty finding a lender who would give them the time of day, but that didn’t dissuade them from trying. They eventually connected with a man named Jim Clayton, who had started the bank Clayton Bank & Trust and decided to back them when they needed financing for a project. “Even when the committee for his bank came back and had concerns, he stepped up and was like, ‘Hey, I told these guys we’re going to do it. We’re going to do it.’” Walters says. “The guy is a big hero to us in my book.”
Financing secured, Walters and Liyeos breathed a sigh of relief. They believe persistence was the key to obtaining financing, although Jim Clayton’s support and belief in Quattro’s mission mattered, too. “If you believe in a project and think it should happen, we found that finding even just one believer is all that it takes to get it done,” Michael Liyeos says.
3. Create a Flat Organizational Hierarchy
“I was in the Army Reserves for a while and dealt with the Army bureaucracy, chain of command style of leadership. It just doesn’t sit with me. I don’t like being told what to do. I assume other people don’t really want to be told what to do,” Rob Walters says.
After experiencing the rigidity of the military, Walters knew he wanted to run Quattro Development differently. “Mike and I are both 50% owners of the company and we just aren’t really title-type people, so we don’t have a CEO or president,” he explains. Instead of appointing themselves as members of the C-suite, Walters and Liyeos stay flexible enough to fill in where they’re needed.
“We have a lot of weekly calls where Mike and I are quarterbacking with the rest of our team, whether it’s our attorney and going through lease comments or purchase contract comments and telling him what we want to do, what we don’t want to do, telling our young guys what properties to go after to try to buy, hearing issues from our construction team and helping brainstorm on how to fix it,” Walters says. “We don’t really have titles. We’re a flat organization. We all pitch in as needed to get things done,” Liyeos adds.
The duo believes that hierarchy leads to red tape and painful bureaucracy. But with a flat organizational structure, the Quattro team stays agile enough to do what’s necessary. In an industry that’s known for delays and speed bumps, Liyeos believes it’s a refreshing approach to business. “We have a culture that I think is different than our competitors and other development companies that we’ve seen. We trust our team and let them figure out a lot of the details of how to do their jobs. We want our people to bring their ideas to the table,” Michael Liyeos says.
4. Forge Connections and Network
So much of entrepreneurship relies not on qualifications or degrees, but on personal relationships. For Rob Walters and Michael Liyeos, the success of Quattro Development often came down to networking. “It’s just not going to come to you sitting in your office,” Walters says. “A big part of this business is just taking those chances and building networks and learning from people that have done it before you. It’s basic, but it’s effective.”
Rob Walters believes that interpersonal skills are the true key to their success. “Develop your personality because at the end of the day, I think that goes further than anything else in our business,” he says. “If you’re interesting and people like you, and you’re kind and empathetic, it’ll go a long way in the business.”
Quattro Development: Achieving the American Dream
Quattro Development began with an ambitious dream: to be the best small-shop real estate developer in America. Thanks to Rob Walters and Michael Liyeos’ unique approach to entrepreneurship, Quattro Development now has a growing team and an expanding national presence. “We’ve all worked very hard to be really good at what we do, work hard, follow through, and do the things that we say that we’re going to do,” Michael Liyeos concludes.