Most of the time, people connect with the sweet-smelling gifts Stephen J. Ferrandi carts in with him before they make contact with the towering, friendly real estate broker.
His cargo is a get-in-the-front-door-free card to nearly every office he has approached in the past six months, and he has been in dozens.
Ferrandi, a tenant broker with KLNB Inc., is on a mission to visit all of the 12 million square feet of office space in Columbia to drum up business. And his calling card - warm, fresh dozens of Krispy Kreme doughnuts - makes him a welcome visitor in circles where he may ordinarily be turned away.
"Whatever you want, we'll give it to you," exclaimed Shelly Wilson, a receptionist at a doctor's office along Columbia 100 Parkway, when she saw Ferrandi walk through the door, his arms filled with piles of the famous green and white boxes. The broker barely had a chance to introduce himself and explain what he was doing before handing out about eight dozen for workers in the office.
People have never been more excited to see Ferrandi than in the past five months when he began his doughnut campaign covering Columbia, Laurel and the BWI corridor. KLNB, known as one of the top real estate service companies in the region, is a little lower on the list in its tenant brokerage division in Columbia, Chief Operating Officer John Blumer said. The promotion could add a jolt to that side of business and strengthen the company overall.
"We are trying to find out what tenants' needs are," Blumer said. "The doughnut thing is just his way of getting into offices."
Ferrandi has visited doctors, consultants, tech start-ups and other small businesses, handing out a free breakfast of doughnuts delivered with a KLNB advertisement screaming "NEED MORE OFFICE SPACE?" and offering his name and phone number atop the oblong boxes.
Some folks eye him suspiciously, waiting for the sales pitch when he walks in, doughnuts in hand, offering his card and collecting theirs. Some are too busy to grant more than a surprised "thank you" as they turn their faces again to their computers.
But in many cases, the doughnuts give Ferrandi an opportunity to talk with willing listeners about the company's tenant brokering - services that help tenants in office buildings find and secure new space at no expense. The commissions are paid by building owners.
Previous attempts, without food, were met with less than enthusiastic responses, so Ferrandi thought he would change tactics. The idea to come bearing gifts stemmed from his experience brokering real estate deals between farmers or large land owners and developers. While dealing with the farmers, he adapted to the culture of offering a fruit pie or another token as a way of showing appreciation "for their graciousness in talking with me," he said.
Many office managers may not be familiar with the farmers' traditions, but they will rarely turn down a free treat.
"The most difficult part of cold calling is that first 20 seconds of trying to establish rapport and trust," Ferrandi said. "When you come with breakfast in your hand, you have instant rapport."
Ferrandi walks the halls of office and flex buildings about three times a week for two to three hours a session. In 4 1/2 months, he has visited about 80 buildings, and passed out more than 13,000 doughnuts. He estimates there are about 1,000 offices in the county that he will have to visit before he calls it quits. Later, he will use the business cards he has collected - already a 5-pound notebook filled with more than 700 of them - and create a database of county businesses.
He occasionally runs into a manager who wants to talk about moving right on the spot, and he won't run away from a deal, but he doesn't expect to get instant results.
"It's an investment," Ferrandi said. "If I establish a relationship now, sometime between now and five years from now, I have a shot of doing a deal for them."
There are some businesses he avoids - large national companies like General Motors that likely have national brokers working for them, and all of the tech companies in the Columbia Gateway business park. KLNB has a team of high-tech brokers that works with many of those companies.
But there are plenty of other agencies and service providers looking to move to make a living. So far, Ferrandi says he has netted about 10 contracts through the doughnut campaign, including a juicy 40,000-square-foot deal that is under way.