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Refining a Brand

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jan09_cover_72dpi.jpgRealty Executives and the Art of Supporting Professionals

By Maria Patterson

Forty-four years ago, the idea of forming a real estate company based on a 100% commission model was a radical concept-certainly nothing the industry had ever seen before. Today, decades after company Founder Dale Rector revolutionized the industry and put Realty Executives on the map, company President & CEO Rich Rector is keeping that spirit alive by reinventing the company with a fresh approach and a compelling value proposition.

When you’re fundamentally different right out of the gate, it’s hard to settle for anything else. As many companies adopted the 100% commission concept over the years, Rich Rector knew that the founding principles on which Realty Executives was created were something much deeper and more profound than a commission plan. “Our mission is to provide the best possible leadership, environment, support and tools for the Realtor who strives to be a productive professional in their career,” says Rector.

“It should not be news to anyone,” he explains, “that there has been an ongoing revolution in our industry in the areas of information technology, communication and delivery of services. However, one core theme endures, which is that easy access to helpful and relevant information, and guidance from knowledgeable professionals has compelling value to the consumer of real estate services. In 2005, we set about a process of reinventing our core support and communication services to do just that.”

Luckily, being a longtime part of the established company prepared Rector for the task with the gift of perspective. “We revolutionized the industry once before and we needed to make sure we continued to differentiate ourselves in a relevant and compelling way to do it again,” says Rector. “While we experienced significant growth during the last 15 years, I was keenly aware of the dangers of losing our differentiation in the industry as a result of the easy growth we all experienced.” In 2004, Rector challenged his leadership team to refocus and renew the brand.

According to Realty Executives Chief Operating Officer Glenn Melton, who joined the firm in 2005, “When Dale started the company, he built a company that catered to entrepreneurs who were capable of building a business and didn’t need a large bureaucratic burden. At the same time, those people sought low fees and an environment that offered real freedom to operate as they saw fit-and to do so in the company of other professionals.”

As various real estate business models emerged over the years, along with a growing skepticism regarding the role of the Realtor in general, home buyers and sellers, real estate professionals, and the industry as a whole were clearly looking for better solutions.

“We held a meeting with key thought leaders in the franchise community, our regional developers and our broker/owners to ask their perspective on the industry and determine if they were getting what they needed from our franchise,” says Melton. “This is a brand that always made sense from day one and instead of completely rebirthing the brand, we wanted to understand how we could use our founding principles and concepts in a more effective way for today’s business environment.”

Uniting the Masses

As independent contractors, franchisees are often “wildly independent,” says Rector. Succeeding in challenging times, however, called for gathering the troops, sharing the information, and proceeding under one banner. Now was the time to provide direction, hands-on support and proven success strategies.

This was a natural for Realty Executives, says Rector, a firm whose culture embodied idea sharing. “It’s inherent in our system,” he explains. “Because of the collaborative entrepreneurial spirit of our franchisees and the manner in which our system is structured, we are able to excel at the aggregation and sharing of best practices. Many of our competitors’ franchising philosophies are geared toward small territories, resulting in franchises within the same brand that are competing with one another, so they’re more reluctant to share and help each other grow.”

Because Realty Executives territory sizes are bigger and more exclusive, one would indeed argue that the brand lends itself to a more collaborative and sharing environment for agents and brokers alike.

Despite an ongoing atmosphere of communication and idea sharing, Rector observed many inconsistencies from one franchise to the next.

“The idea was to leverage appropriate consistency within the brand,” he explains. “There were tools and systems that needed to be standardized so we set about creating a plan for helping franchisees do just that.”
While the original thought was to offer a selection of tools for brokers to choose from, Melton discovered that was not what the membership really wanted after all. “Our brokers said they didn’t want to pick-they wanted to rely on us, the franchisor, to do the due diligence and make specific recommendations on best-in-class systems, whether it’s a drip marketing system, a website or whatever.

“The key in doing this is that you don’t want to have 30 different regions and 30 different solutions,” Melton continues. “It’s much better to have a central think-tank that’s coming up with the best in cutting-edge solutions that have a high reliability. We decided that tools and programs we rolled out must have economies of scale and must be proven effective.” According to Melton, a key part of Realty Executives’ value proposition is what they call the “big government vs. small government” model. “We wanted to provide integrated solutions for our Executives (agents) and broker/owners in a financially efficient model that leaves the most money possible in their check book to spend in their local market for the benefit of their customer.”

Critical to the success of the tools and systems Realty Executives put together for its constituents was their ability to translate seamlessly to the company’s three different layers: regional developers, broker/owners (or franchisees) and sales associates (known as “Executives”).

To validate what the brand’s standards should be, the senior management team put forth an all-out effort to gather information from its members-a group well worth tapping. As Scott Hurlock, executive director of franchise development, says, “Realty Executives is a model built by productive people, so it made perfect sense to go to our Executive population and ask them what they were using.”

“We were looking for a high-touch relationship through the aggregation and sharing of best practices,” says Melton. “We were uniquely situated for being that conduit for best practices through our quarterly regional developer symposiums, which gather our regional developer population for the purpose of idea sharing and rolling out new programs.”

“Our regional developers are an extension of us,” Rector explains. “They are the ones delivering the support and helping our franchisees and Executives learn how to do their jobs better.”

As a result of its field research, Realty Executives spent two years building an end-to-end suite of tools and support services for its members. “Now,” says Melton, “anyone who is serious about practicing real estate as a professional can get anything and everything they need to grow their business and achieve success.”

In an effort to connect directly with its membership, Realty Executives implemented a new strategy in 2008, and presented regional events across its territories. While typical attendance at an annual event has historically been in the 15-20% range, through its high-touch, regional effort, Realty Executives was able to connect with 85% of its broker constituency in 2008 and will do the same amongst both brokers and Executives to reach the masses in 2009.

“This gives us a chance to get in front of our associates in their home markets,” says Melton. “There is a lot of nuance in terms of what people need from market to market. At the end of the day, it gives us the opportunity to provide real leadership to our membership-real substance and support that will help them provide leadership to their clients.”

An Outsider’s Perspective

In addition to looking closely within, Realty Executives also looked outside of itself to further refresh and hone the company’s approach. By commissioning a nationally recognized branding firm to conduct an exhaustive branding study, Realty Executives was able to uncover the ever-important outsider’s perception of the brand.

“Your brand is how you’re perceived by others, not who you think you are,” says Rector. “A lot of research was done within the consumer realm and we got a read as to who people thought we were as a brand. We leveraged that and made sure we were doing and communicating the right things through our marketing efforts.”

The results of the branding study allowed Realty Executives to hone in on its “four brand pillars” to communicate what underlies the company’s brand. Those four brand pillars represent an innovative entrepreneurial spirit, trusted and effective advocates, a uniquely personalized experience and a connected, caring family. It also led to updating the 44-year-old company’s looks with a fresh design and new approach to its marketing and advertising. Over the last three years, the company’s in-house marketing agency has worked tirelessly to implement new branding initiatives into every corner of the company.

“Frankly, a lot of real estate companies look alike,” says Rector. “We wanted to make sure that we were different graphically, in our communication and in our offering-that’s when you are really positioned to make a move in market share.”

According to Hurlock, a key part of the company’s differentiation lies in its family-owned culture.

“The corporate world drives you in a very different way,” says Hurlock. “It’s about the numbers, not about the people on the ground. Our family culture, on the other hand, starts with the company owners and filters down to the regional developers and broker/owners, then right on down to the boots on the ground-the Executives.”

Prepared for Tomorrow

Looking to the year ahead, Realty Executives believes its renewed focus will serve the company and its members well. With a goal of growth that makes sense and profitability for all, Rector is confident his company is strongly positioned for decades to come.

“I see significant growth for the company, yet, by choice, we are not trying to be the biggest,” says Rector. “We are finding the right people in the right markets to help people understand that they have an opportunity to build something of real value in our company. That is our future.” RE

Realty Executives: From the Broker’s POV

By Stephanie Andre

- Steve Summers, broker/owner, Realty Executives of Kansas City, and regional director, Realty Executives Mid-America Region; with the company for 20 years
- Fafie Moore, co-broker/owner, Realty Executives of Nevada; with the company for 26 years

How does the Realty Executives model fit your needs?

Steve Summers: The model is designed for the real estate agent who wants to be in a truly entrepreneurial environment. At the same time, they want technology and training and support and systems in order to maintain and grow their business. But, they want all of that in an environment that allows them to be in control and have the freedom and flexibility to manage their business as they see fit.

What sets Realty Executives apart from other brands?

Fafie Moore: The core difference is the philosophy and ability as a franchise to allow the broker and agent to have freedom and control, but with tremendous support and materials. It’s unlike other franchises that give you support materials and tools while exacting high franchise royalties and dictating the size of your region.

Our philosophy is that you run your business the way that it will best suit your needs, but with the support and technology from the corporate level. In the past two years, we have exponentially increased the tools available to agents to enhance their businesses. It’s critical at a time when productive agents are looking for differentiation and opportunities to really move their businesses in the right direction with the least amount of additional expense.

How does the company’s family-owned culture affect you and your efforts for the brand?

SS: We all need the opportunity to get a third-party perspective. Sometimes you can’t see the trees through the forest. When people like Rich (Rector) and Glenn (Melton) are accessible to us, you get a broader perspective. Plus, with our model, we’re really able to tap into the ideas of other broker/owners and people like that-those are my resources. The real value proposition of Realty Executives is what you learn from others. Especially today, having to look for new ideas and opportunities, and doing something different-that’s where the information pool really comes in and is more important than ever.

How has the Realty Executives system helped support you and your agents in your local market?

FM: I see three things that are really available to me that no one else has:

  • -  Rex 2.0. The marketing materials in this platform are so well designed. They’re not just created by some advertising agency. They were created by experts in advertising and the real estate field-and by people who understand our company and what our sales associates need.
    -  Executive Edge is another fantastic tool. It allows our agents to manage their contacts in a branded environment that offers lead follow-up-all in one arena. As the company’s branding changes, it will automatically change for you. Plus, it’s very cost effective for our agents.
    -  We also have Executive Access, a one-stop portal for all Realty Executives tools, services and information. Many people don’t have time to come into a class and, through KnowledgePoint (which is accessible through Executive Access), they can view and download educational content to help them in their businesses.

Those are the things that are the real differentiators. It makes it so our Executives can be out working with clients, rather than surfing the Internet for technology solutions.

How have the changes at Realty Executives over the past few years impacted your business?

SS: What I’ve noticed in the past few years is that it’s much more of a focus into the regions. They want to give you the tools and systems to grow the individual regions, because each is different and has its own needs. The real focus has been on the broker/owners’ development in the areas of recruiting and enhancing our quality to grow the company. They’ve done that in several ways: in how they have rolled out recruiting-what we call Executive Development-at the regional and broker/owner level.

Our regional meetings have also been vital in bringing greater participation at the agent level. Instead of trying to direct broker/owners and agents to a single point-because of the cost of transportation, etc.-it’s a lot easier if someone only has to drive a bit to participate.

How have the company’s new regional meetings made a difference in your business?

FM: Any time you can interface with your peers is helpful. The regional conferences are good because different regions have different issues. In our region, we usually meet with California. So, right now, both states are in more of a foreclosure market. We’re really able to address that and see how others are handling things.

What are your thoughts on the company’s new branding?

FM: Having the brand freshened gives us a new reason to contact people-so we can show them something new. It’s also very key when so many companies are barely able to stay in business. You think, that’s the kind of company you want to be with in times like this. This model has the flexibility to allow people to survive and prosper.

For more information, please visit www.realtyexecutives.com.

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