The FORT Podcast: Don Tepman (@StripMallGuy) – Strip Malls, Creating Value, Leasing Strategy, X/Twitter, Charlie Munger

Don Tepman runs a real estate fund that focuses on buying neighborhood strip centers throughout the United States and also runs the ‘StripMallGuy’ account on X and LinkedIn. Mr. Tepman started his career in 2002 and led his first strip center purchase in 2006. He has completed 40 purchases and raised over $150M in LP capital.

On this episode, Don and Chris discuss:

– Don’s career and mentors

– What makes a successful strip mall acquisition

– Building @stripmallguy and the future of the brand

Listen on:
Apple Podcasts


(00:00:00) – Intro

(00:04:56) – Don’s upbringing and career background

(00:08:40) – The dynamics of suburban retail

(00:12:42) – Don’s mentor & learnings

(00:21:25) – Restaurants in strip centers

(00:26:35) – Tenant mixes

(00:30:20) – TI

(00:35:41) – Where do folks waste money on exteriors?

(00:37:18) – Drive-thrus

(00:38:36) – Don’s hold period strategy

(00:42:39) – Why do you stick to smaller deals?

(00:45:26) – What is your approach to entering a new market?

(00:53:02) – Why does Price per foot matter so much?

(00:53:44) – Leasing

(00:59:41) – Taxes and insurance

(01:01:19) – StripMallGuy

(01:08:45) – Working a deal through the system

(01:12:44) – Thoughts on the market

(01:18:22) – Luxury retail

(01:19:53) – Meeting Charlie Munger

(01:27:08) – Plans for SMG in the future

Episode Summary

Don Tepman, a seasoned real estate professional specializing in strip malls, has extensive experience influenced greatly by mentorship from industry veterans. Known for his innovative approach to property management and leveraging modern tools like social media to enhance business operations, Tepman has successfully navigated the evolving landscape of retail real estate.

Shaped significantly by mentorship, Tepman recounts how Danny, one of his key mentors, emphasized critical principles such as focusing on price per foot, understanding environmental reports, and maintaining strong parking ratios. Danny’s guidance on managing downside risks and ensuring each deal had a built-in safety net was instrumental in Tepman’s successful navigation of the real estate market.

While further discussing mentorship in the industry, Tepman touches on his discussions with Charlie Munger, where Munger emphasized the value of a buy-and-hold strategy in real estate. Tepman acknowledges the wisdom in Munger’s advice but also explains his approach of creating value quickly and selling at a profit, considering market risks and interest rate fluctuations. This nuanced view reflects Tepman’s ability to adapt classic investment principles to the realities of modern real estate markets.

The conversation shifts to the evolution of retail real estate over the past two decades, noting that despite significant market and technological changes, the fundamental strategies for managing shopping centers have remained consistent. Tepman highlights the importance of identifying and fixing inefficiencies to enhance property value.

Delving into leasing and property management specifics, Tepman emphasizes the significance of tenant mix and the critical role of parking ratios. Tepman elaborates on the challenges posed by integrating EV charging stations in retail centers, which can detract from essential parking availability. His focus remains on ensuring that parking turnover and accessibility are maintained to support a vibrant tenant ecosystem.

A substantial part of the discussion revolves around Tepman’s innovative approach to leveraging data from platforms like Yelp to assess potential tenants. He underscores the importance of selecting tenants with strong Yelp ratings, which indicate business viability and customer satisfaction. Tepman explains that he is willing to invest significantly in Tenant Improvement (TI) allowances for businesses with proven success records, as this not only enhances property value but also ensures a reliable and profitable tenant base.

The discussion further explores Tepman’s strategic use of social media to enhance his real estate business. He recounts the inception of his anonymous Twitter account, which quickly gained traction and popularity within the real estate community. This platform has become a significant tool for networking, deal sourcing, and brand building. Tepman reflects on how social media has transformed his approach to business development and recruitment, allowing him to attract high-caliber talent and gain access to better deals.

Throughout the conversation, Tepman provides valuable insights into the nuances of the retail real estate market. He shares anecdotes illustrating the practical application of his strategies and the outcomes of his deals. One story involves a property where an initial survey revealed a six-inch encroachment onto a neighboring property, potentially jeopardizing the deal. Through his social media connections, Tepman was able to resolve the issue, demonstrating the unexpected benefits and reach of his online presence.

Tepman discusses his preference for handling leasing in-house rather than relying on local brokers, explaining that his team’s proactive approach to canvassing and engaging directly with potential tenants leads to faster and more efficient leasing outcomes. This method ensures that his properties are occupied by high-quality tenants in a shorter timeframe, contributing to the overall success of his investments.

Don Tepman’s ability to adapt and innovate within the traditional framework of retail real estate is a testament to his expertise and forward-thinking mindset, providing valuable lessons for aspiring real estate professionals.

The FORT is produced by Johnny Podcasts

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