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Thinking Globally to Grow Locally

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By John B. Sculley, SCRP, Vice President/Managing Director, RIS Consulting Group

international_mobilityRecently, a fellow mobility specialist asked us for our latest “horseback” estimate of annual international relocation volume. (As you may know, no definitive data on this seems to exist, so we practitioners compare notes and piece together various industry surveys and reports that yield some pieces of the global puzzle.) After sifting the latest data we could find and testing and tempering our assumptions, projections and estimates, we are convinced that corporate sponsored international relocations are conservatively in the range of 75,000 – 125,000 per year – now probably more than 20 percent of the size of the U.S. domestic relocation population!

We understand that the explosive growth of international relocations is not altogether a convenient change for the real estate industry. Different customers with different needs… cultural gaps (theirs and ours)…complex service delivery…high client sensitivity… high cost and investment… great urgency… and other distinct factors can make this a tough business segment for conventional relocation people. It’s not for the uncommitted or faint of heart!

At the same time, though, none of us in relocation can afford to stay nostalgic about simpler times of mostly interstate US homeowner moves and direct corporate domestic referrals and listings. Those who are still depending on those shrinking channels look too much like dinosaurs gathering at the tar-pits to await the meteor hit!

That’s why we’ve been using this monthly bully pulpit to encourage real estate professionals in literally expanding their horizons to include more global customers and special services responsive to them. In our last column, my colleague Peg Guinta catalogued here (in “Get Ready to Meet International Service Needs”) numerous service opportunities generated by international relocations:

• Pre-decision and orientation trips
• US-inbound homebuyers
• Destination and settling-in services with cultural and ethnic enhancements
• Temporary and permanent rental assistance
• Educational counseling and placement
• Language and cultural adaptation training
• Corporate advisory and training services
• International relocation policies
• Local real estate conditions and practices
• Other real estate opportunities in this market segment include property management (vacant or rented) for absentee homeowners on international assignments and departure location home sales for those not repatriating to the same locale. We urge real estate firms and relocation directors to assess all these needs within your service footprint and to expand your services palette by adopting some of these ideas.
• Our consulting practice at RIS often includes assisting major employers in sourcing external mobility services. One of the market shifts we’ve observed may help you to redirect your relocation services sales efforts more effectively. Historically we saw many companies purchase individual service components separately: home sale services, household goods, etc. These were usually further silo’d into separate domestic and international programs with respective policies and supply chains.

Nowadays, what we almost always see among corporate buyers is a goal of bundling most or all mobility services into a single-source global provider arrangement. The employers want far fewer direct supplier relationships and are delegating supplier management to one or a very few primary partners. They are melding their separate domestic and international relocation programs into an outsourced unified global mobility program, commonly under the direction of HR or Talent Management executives.

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