An insider’s perspective on the creation of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate
By Maria Patterson
RISMEDIA, August 25, 2008-In real estate, constant flux is a fact of everyday life. The needs of buyers and sellers are always evolving, while the practices used by sales associates rely on a mix of tradition and fluidity. In that vein, we’ve decided to let executives from the new Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate brand tell their own story of change and how they plan on exceeding the rapidly evolving needs and expectations of the world of real estate. Their charge: to create a global real estate organization built upon a brand known and loved by millions. Their challenge: to do it in only nine months, all in an effort to introduce something new to the industry and its customers.
New Brand, New Experience
By Sherry Chris
President & CEO
Autumn in New Jersey is like life inside a painting-hues of yellow, red and brown are everywhere, while restlessness starts to set in with the return of winter.
It’s October 2007. I eagerly signed on to lead the creation of something big: Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, a newly licensed Realogy Corporation real estate brand.
During my 27-year career in real estate, I’ve worked in almost every role imaginable. But this-the opportunity to build a powerful brand that resonates in a positive way with consumers of all generations-was truly exciting.
Feeling incredibly inspired while also acknowledging the immensity of the task ahead, I realized that one of the best things about creating a new brand was the opportunity to hand-pick my team. I needed dreamers. Thinkers. Doers. A tight-knit team of people who could bring the brand to life with the eyes of an entire industry fixed upon them. A team with a complementary skill set and passion for what the future of the industry could look like. A team that was not afraid to challenge the status quo.
Once assembled, we all began by thinking through the meaning behind the brand. After all, Better Homes and Gardens meant something to the consumer and we needed to build a bridge between that and the real estate experience.
We asked ourselves the following critical questions:
- What did we want to communicate through our brand?
- What qualities and values did we want the brand to be associated with?
- What is the brand’s personality?
- How can the power of the brand be leveraged to benefit our prospective franchisees in unique and powerful ways?
We had to effectively tap into the power of the Better Homes and Gardens magazine brand and most importantly, its passion for the home. Hundreds of pieces of collateral would need to be created and eventually be put to use by our network. We needed to create an online destination that delivered an experience, not just data.
I had no intention of simply amassing a collection of beautiful images and words, as this would not be a brand built inside a design studio. It needed to deliver usable information to brokers, agents and consumers and, furthermore, it needed to be real.
Getting this right on the Web was especially important. For the past several years, I have spoken at numerous conferences across the country about the importance of technology as it relates to the industry. Building a platform that encompassed Web 2.0 technology standards, as well as a servicing platform to allow our brokers and agents to successfully grow their businesses, was critical. We invested heavily in this area-both in time and money. We also determined that building an online presence prior to launch via blogging was crucial-an important way of demonstrating our Web 2.0 philosophies of transparency and collaboration. In short, we were determined to set a new standard for real estate brand websites, and in the end, I believe we made that happen.
Since October of last year, I’ve been consumed by the passion for creating something new. Something we now get to take out into the world and share with others. The evolution of the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate brand is a work in progress. Everything does not have to be ready by day one-you just continue to build and be flexible and change.
In the end, I can safely say we’ve only just begun.
A Different Kind of Real Estate
By Wendy Forsythe
Vice President, Broker Services & Product Development
I have found that in business, the most prudent approach to riding the highs and lows is to remain poised. It has served me well over the years. And yet my excitement for this opportunity outweighed my poise during that first meeting with Sherry Chris and Realogy Franchise Group President & CEO Alex Perriello, when I was offered the chance to join the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate team.
Soon after this meeting, I realized that sometimes it’s OK to let yourself get lost in the moment. But only for a moment. Then it’s time to get to work.
For me, building a new brand meant drawing upon 15 years of experience in this industry and creating exceptional experiences for our franchisees, including a robust website with tools and applications that would enhance our customers’ daily lives.
This has been the goal of my last nine months: supporting our brand’s ability to enhance the lives of those who touch it.
Figuring out where to start was probably the biggest challenge. I was filled with ideas, even a few sleepless nights. But I dove in, focusing on building products and services without the constraints of inertia, politics or the incrementalism that befalls too many established companies.
I thought a lot about what a Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate franchisee and agent looked, felt and sounded like. Everything that we would do, build and deliver had to answer the questions, “How does this add value? How is it different?”
The days came and went. At night, whiteboards infringed on my dreams. I’d wake to the scent of dry-erase markers. The highs I felt daily had everything to do with the people I work with-an extraordinary group all focused on the same waking dream and answering big questions like:
What is the best way to help our franchisees attract top talent?
How do we develop an extranet that’s simple, yet covers all the bases?
What tools and technologies must franchisees and their agents have in the era of Web 2.0?
We dove into implementation of the RapidResponse system, which will connect our agents to consumers faster than their competitors. We mapped out corporate inquiry distribution. An electronic marketing center for agents. Talent attraction seminars. Newsletters and business plans. And we focused on career development tools specifically for our agents, such as monthly teleseminar training programs, a sales dialogue wiki, a skills resource library and more.
Starting with a clean slate afforded us the opportunity to question standard solutions and seek avenues for doing things right from day one. But that was not easy either. Let’s face it: the bar had been set pretty high by Better Homes and Gardens magazine. In an industry that sometimes settles, that word was banned from our
But we did it. Nine of the most amazing months in my career. And a prelude to what comes next: bringing the brand into the careers and homes of people hungry for something new in real estate.
Life Outside the Comfort Zone
By S. Nicolai Kolding,
Chief Operating Officer
China is a place where change is visible everywhere you go and the perfect place to receive news that Realogy was going to license the Better Homes and Gardens name for real estate.
I had been leading the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) team at Realogy. As was often the case, I was traveling far from home on their behalf-this was a lifestyle that I knew well and had adapted to. Even though I recognized years ago that there was a shelf life to my M&A days, I enjoyed what I was doing. I had been doing it for nearly a decade and I was in a fairly comfortable place.
So while I knew in my gut this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I also knew I would be taking myself far out of my comfort zone.
Late that night, from China, I e-mailed Sherry Chris as I was heading back to my hotel. I wanted to be a part of the team.
Our industry is undergoing a big shift. There is tremendous pressure on everyone involved to prove his or her value. The franchisee expects it from the franchisor and the consumer expects it from the broker and agent. Both want a more efficient model and are demanding a more compelling value proposition.
Sherry gets this. And creating the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate brand could place us at the controls-rather than in the passenger seat-as our industry undergoes this momentous shift.
From day one, we set out to create a model and value proposition that set us apart-and challenge some of our sacred truths-in order to win over the consumer. We wanted to hear each of our three constituents-brokers, agents and consumers-tell us that we listened, that we “get it,” and that they couldn’t envision doing business with anyone but us.
I oversee the brand’s global service platform and internal operations. I see my M&A experience as a clear fit to develop a servicing platform that is focused on the brokers’ long-term strategy and financial well-being. My group is definitely very numbers-oriented, but we understand the industry. We want nothing less than for our franchisees to be blown away by the depth of our passion and innovation.
We set out to build dynamic, but functional tools to help our franchisees operate more profitably. To understand their financials, what their challenges and opportunities are, and to help them plan ahead.
I think the industry has, in general, sold the broker short on analytics, based on the assumption that it’s neither wanted nor understood. I disagree. I think there are many brokers out there that want something different than what’s being offered and I am committed to giving it to them.
This process, however, has been different and goes way beyond the numbers. It’s harrowing when you have to build it yourself, especially when there’s only a few of you in the beginning. In early meetings, some fundamental, directional questions were flying around the room and people looked to Sherry, Wendy and myself for answers on where we wanted to go. No matter who is contributing, all of our planning is about delivering exceptional service to our franchisees. We want to be bold, daring and always challenge ourselves to see the future first.
Not too long ago, we had a meeting with a broker who was trying to decide whether or not to sign a franchise agreement with us. After I explained our service platform, I launched into an impassioned summary of our strategic planning process. Thankfully, I didn’t scare them off too much. I guess that is what happens when you forgo comfort zones and leap into new opportunities. RE
For more information, please visit www.bhgrealestate.com.