Whether it’s the local inventory shortage or the state of the national economy, Tom Rich doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to predict the future—and for good reason. With a company culture that revolves around agent training, collaboration and access to leadership, the broker/owner of Rockford, Mich.-based RE/MAX United has created an environment where productivity can happen regardless of market conditions. In this exclusive interview, Rich shares the philosophy and formula that keeps RE/MAX United and its agents on the path to success.
Maria Patterson: Please tell us how you came to lead RE/MAX United.
Tom Rich: My wife, Tracie, has been a top-producing agent for the past 20 years and I joined her in practice in 2006—right at the peak and just in time to ride the market all the way down. In 2010, I had taken a management position with a large broker and Tracie was an associate broker at another office. We were approached by RE/MAX in 2011 to open a brokerage in our hometown of Rockford, Mich. Just coming out of the recession, I was initially gun-shy, but Tracie saw the opportunity right away. The more we talked with RE/MAX, the more we saw an alignment with our vision of real estate: agent-focused, training and education as a priority, and helping others find the promise of a successful real estate career. Mike Metzner, RE/MAX of Michigan owner, had a depth of frontline experience and a passion to help brokers become the best in their markets, and that had great appeal to us. RE/MAX, from the regional and corporate staff to our fellow brokers in the U.S. and around the world, has provided the most encouraging and helpful peers we could’ve asked for.
MP: How many offices and agents does the firm currently have?
TR: We opened our first office in Rockford in June 2012 with just the two of us and our Operations Manager Kim Maggini. Tracie and I made a list of agents we would want to work with and those we wouldn’t, and went to work recruiting. We organized our budget around the idea that if not a single agent joined us we would be fine—that allowed us to have a mindset of recruiting people we wanted to work with, rather than recruiting to pay the bills. Seven agents joined us in 2012, another eight in 2013, and we filled every desk by the end of 2014 at 28 agents. In 2015, we opened a second franchise in Grand Rapids. At this time, we have 50 agents. We have aggressive recruiting goals and will continue to search for the agents we want to invest in. Our agents are great advocates for our offices and our best source of recruiting, both from within the industry and outside of it.
MP: What qualities do you look for in agents?
TR: When you find someone with a good, strong work ethic, the sky is the limit. We’ve seen over and over again people who are good salespeople but do not do well because they’re trying to sell a product rather than build a relationship. If it’s all about the money to you, this isn’t the right place for you. We stress building long-term relationships with clients. At the end of the day, if the client doesn’t trust who they’re working with, there’s nothing you can do to make a deal close. If we get someone who has a transactional mindset, they’re not for us.
MP: How would you describe your firm’s positioning in the marketplace?
TR: This past February, we were awarded RE/MAX of Michigan’s Market Leader award for achieving Top Marketshare for our Rockford market. We are fortunate to have some other great RE/MAX broker/owners in the Grand Rapids market to collaborate with, and our collective share will continue to grow.
MP: What sets your firm apart from the competition?
TR: Instead of writing a mission statement, we chose to operate our brokerage by following our Core Company Values: Compete with each other rather than against each other; attract the right people to the team; retain the right people by offering higher than expected value; and develop—invest in the right programs and processes to elevate the right people.
MP: What most attracts agents to RE/MAX United, and why do they stay?
TR: We invest heavily in our people, whether it’s training, education, technology, or process improvement. We are extremely protective of our culture—our agents know that we will put our collective reputation above production and numbers. Our culture is very collaborative and encouraging. Our leadership team and staff are accessible to the agents—something that isn’t always the case in many brokerages. We celebrate together, break bread together, mourn together, and support one another at every turn. Winning attitudes breed a winning environment, and that has to be inclusive of the leadership team, staff, and agents. Agents that have joined our brokerage from the competition in the past five years have seen an average increase in their closed volume of 62 percent; when you put the right people in the right environment, amazing results will follow. The right environment includes having a top-shelf team to serve the needs of our agents. Kim Maggini has been awarded Administrator of the Year by RE/MAX of Michigan. Our director of Agent Development, Tina Johnson, has been recognized as Manager of the Year by RE/MAX of Michigan. Tracie and I have been awarded New Franchise of the Year and Broker/Owners of the Year by RE/MAX of Michigan three consecutive years.
MP: How does your culture play a role in attracting agents to your firm?
TR: Attracting agents is always the goal and not to be confused with recruiting. While we do put time and effort into recruiting, it is most rewarding to get a call from an agent that wants to talk about their career and our brokerage. Those are the moments that validate all the effort we put into running a successful brokerage—that’s true attraction. One of our offices was recently awarded Highest Average Commission paid by RE/MAX of Michigan for medium density markets—proof that we have insight into how to help agents reach the level of production they desire. As a collective, our franchises were awarded the inaugural RE/MAX of Michigan’s Esprit De Corp award for outstanding office culture and embodiment of the RE/MAX spirit.
MP: What is your approach to coaching and training?
TR: We include coaching in our value proposition for agents. Agents that are new to the brokerage meet once a week with Tina, Tracie or me. Veteran agents can choose their own intervals: weekly, bimonthly, or monthly. The format is agreed upon ahead of time with the agent. Some agents want help with pipeline management, others want accountability partners, some want life counseling sessions. Training and development is a core value for us, and we feel it is our responsibility to provide it. Last year, we built out a stand-alone training space we call the Professional Development Center, or PDC, in a building separate from our offices to isolate agents from distractions during education sessions. We offer twice-a-month MAX Meetings that include timely content agents can use that day—market statistics, economic trends, legal issues…all the “need to know” topics. We also offer twice-a-week GPS (Goals, Planning, Strategy) classes to educate agents on a variety of topics, including working with buyers and sellers, lead conversion, and marketing, plus a learning tract we call Structures, which educates agents on everything from how a well or septic system works to architectural styles. As brokers, we take pride in our agents’ knowledge and professionalism. The best compliment I’ve ever received in real estate was from a competing broker who said, “We look forward to working with RE/MAX United agents—they know what they’re doing.”
MP: What’s your strategy for effectively marketing the firm?
TR: Each office is in a distinctively different setting. Our Rockford office is in the downtown area of a picturesque Midwest small-town market. Community involvement, sponsorship, charitable work, the Chamber of Commerce, and the local newspaper are readily available conduits to get our message out. Our Grand Rapids office is on the transitional edge of Michigan’s second-largest metro area. Without the easy access to a community base, we rely on direct mail, social media, and targeted sponsorships for market presence. For agent marketing, in 2015, we began divesting six figures from our budget previously allocated to paid lead generation and put the money into agent marketing. We contract top professionals in graphic design, copywriting, photography, videography and other disciplines to provide our agents with unique, high-quality marketing pieces to promote themselves and their listing inventory. Our strategy is to develop agents that can thrive regardless of market conditions. By building strong relationships with their sphere of influence, agents can produce quality referral business and not rely on the ups and downs of paid lead generation.
MP: How do you stay ahead of the curve on technology, online marketing and social media?
TR: We’re fortunate to have a great staff that is skilled in technology as evidenced by our past award as Technology Office of the Year for RE/MAX of Michigan. Agents are bombarded daily with the latest and greatest tech, social, and online offerings and are confused as to where to invest. We take that off their plates. The challenge with electronic marketing is the shelf life—right now Facebook is a fairly priced offering with solid reach and a flexible platform. Will it remain so? Will the audience fatigue? Those are the questions that keep us on the hunt for platforms and offerings that will give our agents an advantage.
MP: You provide so many resources for your agents—what’s the most important thing an agent can do to succeed?
TR: In our system? Show up. We built our office around an open-plan concept. No agent has a private office. In our second location, we removed all the office doors and put four agents to an office. We didn’t want agents hiding—we wanted them exposed to conversation and camaraderie. This allows us to share ideas and creates a great learning environment. The agents who spend the most time in our office are the ones who are most successful.
MP: What do you consider to be your greatest competitive advantage?
TR: The No. 1 thing would have to be the involvement of our leadership team. We are all extremely accessible to our agents—they’re our priority.
MP: What’s on deck for the future of the firm?
TR: We create a comprehensive business plan each year to guide our business. The plan lays out our highest priorities for the coming year and our secondary priorities—this allows us to focus in on the areas that will be most impactful to our business in the near term while providing a roadmap for the future. For 2017, refining our training, developing our staff and leadership education, enhancing our culture and retention, and adding to our cash reserves are the high priorities. Secondary items include expanding into new markets and acquisitions, ancillary and complimentary services, and improving our public relations execution. We are also building strong relationships with builders and developers to find creative ways to bring new inventory to market. And, of course, to sell a ton of real estate.
MP: What do you consider to be the biggest challenge in the year ahead?
TR: The No. 1 challenge is inventory. No. 2 is economic uncertainty. Things seem good right now, but will that be the same in 90 or 180 days, or a couple of years from now? To combat this uncertainty, we’ve been moving away from paid lead generation and focusing on teaching agents to establish a referral business. Agents with good, strong relationships will be successful and able to survive and thrive no matter what.
For more information, please visit www.REMAXUnitedMI.com.
Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at email@example.com.
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