By Stephanie Andre
What does a franchisor that doubled its network in 2006 do for an encore? How about grow an additional 150% the following year. That's the plan for Real Living-ranked the fourth-largest company in RISMedia's 2006 Power Broker Report & Survey-according to Harley E. Rouda Jr., the company's CEO and managing partner.
"From a growth standpoint, we have grown [in 2006] more than the previous three years combined," he explains. "We are positioning ourselves to expand in our long-term plan of national growth. The stake is now in the ground that says ‘national franchisor.' We still have a lot of work ahead of us to fill out from coast to coast and everywhere in between. However, we are confident that it will happen in the years to come."
Home in New England
To that end, Real Living recently opened its first office in Massachusetts, Real Living Lifetime Real Estate.
"When I decided to open my own company, I didn't want to be someone that could get lost among many of the same signs you see everywhere," explains Traci Kasparian, broker/owner of Real Living Lifetime. "Real Living was the perfect choice to bring to Massachusetts. I wanted to bring a company with a strong background and base, but that was also new and fresh-I found that in Real Living.
"Because we're located in Central Massachusetts, our reach is very good," she says. "Being the first Real Living franchise in New England is an honor and-I think-is giving us a great advantage in the marketplace. People are curious about who we are; we get lots of people who walk in off the street and say, ‘I saw your big red sign'."
According to Kasparian-also a psychologist-she knew Real Living was the right choice immediately.
"I knew this was the company for me when I walked through Real Living's front door in Columbus, Ohio," she adds. "Within five minutes, I knew this company was legitimate and real. They are 100 percent everything they said they are about-family, results, big community and a great support network."
"In such a competitive market, I knew that if I was going to do this, I needed to be creative, fresh and new. That's why Real Living is so appealing," Kasparian says. "Here, it's about separating yourself from the pack. Real Living is a circle in a sea of squares-and that's one giant red circle."
For Joe Magliochetti, broker/owner of Real Living Helios Realty in Chicago-the first Real Living office in the Windy City (opened in 2005)-the decision to go with Real Living was less about creativity and more about integration of services-for its agents as well as consumers.
"We evaluated a lot of options," says Magliochetti. "The idea to go into a franchise in general was because we were new and very much focused on growing our business. We didn't want to make the mistakes you can make as a young independent. By going with a franchisor, we knew we'd have the training and programs already in place. We also knew that the company we chose would need to be highly technology savvy-Real Living is as good, and most times better, than anyone else out there. Everything is integrated."
With Real Living's marketing technology platform-or dashboard-brokers and agents can do just about anything online. From contact management to direct mail to MLS systems, it's all in one place, he says.
"The dashboard makes working so much more efficient," says Magliochetti. "The idea is to be able to be a mobile real estate agent. The idea that you can sit down at any computer and access your information is invaluable."
Adds Kasparian: "Real Living's tools and technology is like nothing I've ever seen before. When I was looking at companies, I tried to look at them from the perspective of an agent or a consumer-I'd ask myself, ‘what's the best for me if I'm the buyer or seller?' There are so many features with MyRealLiving 2.0-everything is there. They've completely streamlined the process of buying or selling a home."
According to Rouda, the marketing technology platform is a driving force in Real Living's network partner growth.
"We do it so you don't have to," he explains. "We import all MLS systems. We are the only major franchisor that does this much MLS integration. A consistent consumer experience is shared across all of our markets and offers much to our agents."
What's more, Rouda says the company is now focusing on search engine optimization (SEO)-at the national level, and on the regional super Web sites and agent Web sites. The company is also focusing on blog sites, community videos and podcasting.
"We will be actively working with our agents on SEO, teaching them how to use it," Rouda says. "…We also believe that blogs will have a significant impact this year. Much of the industry still does not understand what they can do for your company. We believe we'll see tremendous traffic because of our blog presence."
Why It Works
"The culture and philosophy at Real Living is different than any other company I've ever worked with," says Kasparian. From the furniture to the conversation, she says it just feels like home.
"We built our office in Real Living's corporate image," she says. "It's very strong environmentally; there are warm colors and it's contemporary. You won't see a desk and 25 cubicles here. It's artistic-a different flavor that just feels cozy.
"Our philosophy is different-just come in for a cup of coffee," she continues. "We don't care if you're not in the market right now, we just want to meet you. We want to say, ‘this is what we're about.' Hopefully someday, they'll think of us when it's the right time."
A Good Marketing Strategy
Focusing on marketing and ad dollars is essential for Magliochetti in his market, one of the most competitive in the country.
"We've taken our advertising strategy from Real Living corporate," he explains. "Real Living is a bit more forward-thinking when it comes to marketing, and they are quicker to adopt new technology.
"While Chicago is fortunate in that the market has not suffered as much as in other areas, we are still an extremely competitive market for sales," he continues. "So, we try to use a combination of things to communicate how we market homes differently. We don't put any ad dollars into print advertising. We try to spend our money on new technology-such as podcasting and lead generation."
For Kasparian, she's taking advantage of Real Living's inventory of branding and marketing pieces online to get her new business off the ground.
"These materials are tried and true and tested," she says. "There's no reinventing the wheel here. The systems are working. It's such a timesaver and stress reliever to know that I can just go online and everything's already created for me-and I know it's all going to work.
"Real Living is changing the face of real estate and making it fun again," she adds. "This does not have to be complicated. They've made systems that run like a well-oiled machine, and for that, I thank them."
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