Rietberg Not Slowing Down


    GRANDVILLE — Al Rietberg has seen many changes in his 39 years in the real estate business.

    With his experience in residential real estate in the 1960s and commercial real estate since the 1970s, the president of Rietberg Companies said the biggest difference is the technological advances.

    Rietberg said technology such as computers, the Internet, e-mail, scanners and fax machines has advanced the real estate business by “light years,” bringing agents out of their cars and into their fully-equipped offices.

    “I would spend a good share of my day running documents around. Today it’s a flip of the switch and you e-mail it,” Rietberg said. “In a year it was not at all unusual for me to put 40,000 to 50,000 miles on my car.”

    Now Rietberg said he averages 15,000 to 20,000 miles a year, cutting his driving by at least half.

    The most recent change in Rietberg Companies was a move from the

    4072 Chicago Drive SW

    location it had occupied since 1997 to a building across the street at

    3083 Washington Ave. SW

    that had been vacant for three years.

    With the new facilities, Rietberg took the opportunity to update the company’s computer system and network. The new office boasts a conference room with a plasma screen television where Power Point presentations and other programs can be shown.

    Though some people asked him why he went through the trouble to buy and renovate the building, and to learn about and install new technology and make other major changes in the company, Rietberg said the answer is simple.

    “It’s part of the growth,” he said. “Keep up with it or slow down and start dying.”

    Rietberg has no intention of slowing down or falling behind. Though he said there are some people in the company that may be brought into an ownership position in time, he has no plans to retire.

    “I definitely anticipate staying,” he said.

    The 62-year-old Rietberg lives in Hudsonville with his wife, Julie, who is executive vice president of the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors and the Commercial Alliance of Realtors, and daughters McKenzie, 7, and Renee, 9.

    After starting with residential real estate in the 1960s, Rietberg decided to try commercial real estate in the ’70s. He eventually shifted the focus of his company to commercial in 1986 and said he is happy with his choice.

    “I think it’s a much more analytical, as opposed to emotional, part of the business,” he said of commercial real estate.

    Rietberg said he enjoys the variety commercial real estate affords him.

    “There’s just a phenomenal amount of variety in this business and the exposure to all kinds of other businesses that are just fascinating,” he said.

    Having worked with everything from huge warehouses to mom-and-pop liquor stores to hospitals, Rietberg said every day is different.

    “You’re just exposed to so many different things and there is no routine; it’s just fascinating,” he said.

    Besides commercial real estate, Rietberg is also interested in farming. As a boy, he grew up on a small farm and then “got a hobby that started getting out of hand.”

    Rietberg has four farm locations: two in Hudsonville, one in ByronCenter and one near LakeCity where he raises registered Angus beef and hay and green crops.

    “It’s very challenging and it’s extremely unforgiving,” he said of farming. “The detail and the requirements of the land and the margins are so very, very small in agriculture. I have a great deal of respect for those who are doing that and making a living at it.”

    While farming is his hobby, Rietberg said lately most of his time has focused on his new building, which the company moved into April 15.

    “It’s kind of like somebody getting a new toy,” he said.

    Rietberg said he decided to keep his business in Grandville because it is a vital and growing part of the metro area.

    “It just makes this a very healthy location to be in, from a commercial realty standpoint,” he said.

    The city of Grandville and the Downtown Development Authority have been supportive of the move, Rietberg said.

    “We’ve not only gotten verbal support, but we’ve also gotten monetary support from the city and the DDA,” he said.

    The DDA gave Rietberg $5,000 for architectural fees, a service the DDA provides to any business within its district as part of a façade improvement project.

    DDA Chairman Rick Bolhouse said Rietberg and his company have been beneficial to the area.

    “He is very good at what he does and has been just a very good thing for downtown Grandville,” Bolhouse said. “Al is one of the deans here; he knows everyone and he knows what’s happening in town.”

    Bolhouse said besides renovating the new building, Rietberg renovated his former office building, making both prime locations in Grandville.

    “The building he’s moving into has been vacant for some time,” he said. “His cleaning up and renovation has just added to the number of nice areas that are available in Grandville for renting.”

    The new building, which when completed will be the product of nearly $300,000 in renovations on its interior and exterior, has doubled the floor space of the company — from 2,500 square feet to 5,000 square feet — and produced 5,000 square feet of rental space on the first floor, as well as rental space at the former building at 4072 Chicago Drive.

    “We came in here and virtually gutted the second floor,” Rietberg said.

    Rietberg’s son John, a carpenter contractor, helped his father with the remodeling.

    “He did all the finish work on the inside of the office,” Rietberg said.

    Though there will be three tenants in the renovated building, Farm Bureau Insurance is the only tenant so far that has a formal agreement.

    Rietberg said the move became necessary when the company took on several new employees. Rietberg Companies, which specializes in industrial and commercial brokerage and construction, certified appraisals, farms, project management and property management, has a team of eight agents as well as support staff and communication and technology staff.

    “We were just out of room,” he said. “It was to the point where in order to become productively comfortable, we really had to make some changes.”

    Changes in attitude and productivity have already been evident, said Chip LaFleur, company marketing director and one example of the need for a bigger facility. LaFleur had been working at a makeshift desk in Rietberg’s office at the old facility.

    “It’s quite a difference,” LaFleur said.

    Rietberg agreed the new building has injected an undercurrent of excitement into him and his company.

    “I can feel the synergy in the short time we’ve been here,” he said. “We’re still trying to feel our way and get organized. It’s kind of fun.”    

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