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Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Continues to Reach New Markets

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices launched as a network in late 2013—the new home for most Prudential Real Estate franchisees and other brokerages looking for a fresh, distinctive brand. The network has matured nicely in four years, growing to nearly 44,000 agents with a compelling value proposition that continues to attract franchisee candidates.

Under the direction of Gino Blefari, network president and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices is growing in new directions and reaching new markets through calculated steps and evolving philosophies.

“With our brand firmly established, we’ve shifted gears to promote long-term, sustainable growth for our franchisees and network,” says Blefari, who also serves as president and CEO of HSF Affiliates LLC, which operates the brand. “We’re also looking at opportunities and challenges through new lenses. We not only anticipate change in the real estate business, but also want to help shape it.”

Blefari instilled the Four Disciplines of Execution at HSF Affiliates, a management system that helps leaders, work groups and individual employees narrow their focus to goals and activities yielding the greatest value to the organization. He also shifted the structure and mindset of the company’s technology operations to better evaluate opportunities and bring to market faster products and services that help franchisees generate even more business with greater efficiency.

With franchise sales and service firing on all cylinders, and the brokerage network poised to begin naming international franchisees, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices continues a path of expansion.

Smooth Franchise Sales Transition
As Prudential Real Estate brokerage transitions wound down, the stage was set for Chris Stuart, who joined the brand in mid-2015, to direct business development. Stuart knows growth: He was part of the executive leadership team at Intero Real Estate Services in Silicon Valley, which rapidly grew to among America’s highest-producing brokerages. With a background in technology, Stuart also helped shape Intero’s IT strategy and implementation, among varied other responsibilities.

Under Stuart’s direction, the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices franchise sales team hit network production records in 2016. The team topped its franchise sales goal by 50 percent—a 200 percent improvement over the previous year—and grew revenue by 173 percent. This year’s totals through mid-July are tracking ahead of 2016, Stuart says.

“Our progress is a testament to understanding the marketplace, setting the right expectations with the sales team, implementing a process that resonates with prospects and supporting franchisees with the right information and support,” he explains.

Experience is equally important. The Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices’ franchise sales team has decades of related experience, and several representatives are former brokerage owners. “We approach business development from the perspective of a brokerage owner,” Blefari says. “Our core differentiator is that we understand brokerage operations from the inside out, and we have a sharp picture of the local competitive landscape and market conditions. “This helps deliver a meaningful consultative experience,” Stuart says. “It’s where two plus two adds up to eight for our franchisee candidates.”

Walking in the client’s shoes is a key factor in the network’s evolving technology development and delivery, which Stuart also oversees. “We’re coupling technology with our complete business strategy,” says Stuart. “Our goal is constant innovation, built on an innovative, world-class customer experience. We will develop leading-edge real estate tools and resources, and we’ll do so faster than before.”

Face-to-Face Franchisee Support
Vice President Rosalie Warner’s Network Services team works shoulder to shoulder with Stuart’s, on point, in the trenches, with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices franchisees. Services range from business consulting and operations reviews to transition management and referral development. Its Global Network Training group administrates one of the most robust education and professional development programs in real estate. The group continues adding employees while competitors pare back in these areas.

“Everything we do is focused on the growth and success of our franchisees,” Warner says. “We like to think we are part of their teams.”

Like Franchise Sales, many of Warner’s business consultants are former brokerage owners and real estate agents. They advise on operational opportunities, recruiting and retention, mergers, acquisitions and other expansion, cost control, and more. Some even sit on the boards of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brokerages.

“It’s an interactive process,” Warner explains. “We tailor services to each individual franchisee. We’re a true business alliance that understands the marketplace and the unique opportunities and challenges of our brokerages.”

Recently, Network Services initiated regional Mastermind groups of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices franchisees to harness the collective knowledge and strategic expertise for the benefit of all participants. Discussions range broadly from current market conditions to insights on productivity, profitability and recruiting. Collaboration, advice and opinions shared among the groups help participants see business opportunities with fresh eyes.

“This is all about continuous improvement,” Blefari says. “We exist in business to help our franchisees succeed. That is our goal; that is our mission.”

Blurring International Borders
As Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices looked to expand abroad last year, its first priority was to generate global exposure for its domestic franchisees’ listings. The brand’s multi-lingual website, www.berkshirehathawayhs.com, gives international shoppers a robust search experience of U.S. real estate. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices also promotes network listings abroad through listing syndication to select search sites. Listings also appear on The Wall Street Journal’s international sites—WSJ.com Europe, WSJ.com Asia, MansionGlobal.com, MansionGlobal and WeChat.

This spring, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices formed a strategic alliance with Juwai.com, China’s largest international property portal offering access to high-net worth Chinese buyers looking to purchase homes. Listings now appear on both sides of China’s “Great Firewall,” offering maximum exposure on a site that attracts two million Chinese consumers monthly. Visit www.juwai.com/berkshirehathawayhs.

With its infrastructure and early priorities set, including the appointment of Mitch Lewis and Claudio Prattico as managing directors for franchise sales in EMEA and Latin America/Caribbean regions, respectively, the network’s sales attention is focused on major financial centers and their feeder markets in key international regions.

“We’re not going all over the globe at once,” says Peter Turtzo, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices SVP of International Operations. “But instead, we’re looking to key financial markets where the Berkshire Hathaway name is recognized and valued, and where Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices can leverage name recognition already established in those markets. Key areas of focus today include London, Paris, Milan, Berlin, Madrid, the Cayman Islands, St. Barts, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, the coastal regions of Mexico (Baja, Riviera Maya, Cancun) and Mexico City.

The brand’s expansion abroad will benefit the network’s U.S. franchisees, Blefari adds. “Our domestic brokerages will have the opportunity to receive and send referrals to other Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices companies directly in those markets,” he says. “We recognize that Mexico City is a very important feeder market to the U.S., as are London and Madrid. The reason we’re looking at British-oriented territories, the Caribbean and London is because they’re very important markets for us.”

With several announcements on tap before the end of the calendar year, including the naming of the brand’s very first international franchisees, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices’ international expansion is reaching full stride.

“We’ve taken the time to understand the business and marketing for the specific territories we’re targeting, and have developed tools and systems for that franchisee to have what they need in the vernacular,” says Turtzo. “Franchisee candidates are excited about our international franchise opportunity.”

Diversity Elevated
International expansion aside, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices is further solidifying its presence in the minority markets with vested interests in diversity-related opportunities at both the company and franchise level.

At the helm is Teresa Palacios Smith, newly appointed vice president, Diversity & Inclusion for HSF Affiliates. Palacios Smith came to her position from Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties, where she logged 22 years of distinguished service. Most recently, she was vice president of Business Development & Cultural Initiatives for the brokerage. In 2015, Palacios Smith served as president of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP). She is also a founding member of NAHREP Atlanta and has served as that organization’s president.

Palacios Smith is responsible for expanding HSF Affiliates’ diversity initiatives throughout the nation. “While Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices has always been involved with organizations such as NAHREP (the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals), NAGLREP (the National Association of Gay & Lesbian Real Estate Professionals) and AREAA (the Asian Real Estate Association of America), there’s never been anyone fully devoted to making sure this was an initiative within the brand,” says Palacios Smith, whose No. 1 marching order is to ensure diverse initiatives are a key focus going forward.

“It’s important that we foster diversity from both an inside and outside perspective because we want our agents and consumers to understand that we recognize the market from various vantage points, including minority-owned brokerages, women-owned brokerages and the millennial standpoint,” Blefari says.

Palacios Smith notes that now is the time for the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brand to focus on diversity, as markets nationwide become increasingly diverse. In fact, according to Nielsen’s recent report, “The Multicultural Edge: Rising Super Consumers,” multicultural consumers are rapidly becoming the core of the U.S. population. Drilling down even further, African American, Asian American and Hispanic communities account for 38 percent of the total U.S. population. While 92 percent of the total growth in the U.S. population between 2000 and 2014 can be attributed to multicultural consumers, their purchasing power is on track to continue to grow exponentially.

“These statistics are proof positive that now is the time to focus on making sure we mirror those communities,” adds Palacios Smith.

Mapping the Millennial Mindset
The National Association of REALTORS® reports that millennials are entering the market at a feverish pace and currently compose 34 percent of U.S. homebuyers—the largest share of buyers for the fourth consecutive year. Even more telling is the fact that despite student loan debt and fast-moving inventory barriers, 94 percent of millennials want to own a home.

Reaching the millennial consumer is one of the key focuses of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices’ National re_think Council, a 15-member think tank connecting the network’s top-performing millennials to the national brand. Members, who come from throughout the network, are nominated by their brokerages and then appointed by the network’s executive leadership team. Their input through quarterly meetings and frequent interaction is used for white papers, videos and other resources that are shared with network leadership and franchisees. The National re_think Council has spawned more than 25 local re_think Councils, keeping Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices franchisees in the immediate area flush with useful information.

Recently selected for a two-year term, Ellen Hill—Luxury Collection Specialist with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties—notes that one of the biggest benefits of being involved with the re_think Council is the fact that the group’s collective voice is not only heard, but also listened to.

“It would be easy for executives far removed from daily agent activity to make decisions for us,” says Hill, who explains that the quarterly meetings focus on what’s happening in the marketplace, best practices, and any gaps that need to be addressed. “We also have the opportunity to hear from our franchisor regarding the latest initiatives they’re considering, and the chance to provide our collective thoughts and feedback to help shape strategy and policy.”

As the business leader for the re_think Council, Warner is keen to incorporate millennial input into network strategy and planning. “Things are always evolving, and as the industry continues to change, the re_think Council provides the perfect platform for us to always be looking ahead,” says Warner of the group’s ability to come together and help shape the direction of the brand’s future.

“The re_think Council is an incredible resource for us, as it’s a great way to gather similar mindsets together in order to help guide the organization,” says Blefari. “We can talk all day long, but we want to hear from our agents and other leaders within the organization as to the trends they’re seeing and what they feel is important.”

The Journey Has Only Begun
As the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices brand enters new markets in the U.S. and around the world, and key initiatives move it forward in important operational and societal arenas, there is reason to pause and catch a breath—but Blefari will have none of that.

“To remain relevant and competitive, we must always innovate, question and test the boundaries of our operation,” he says. “The journey at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices has only started.”

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

Paige Tepping is RISMedia’s managing editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at paige@rismedia.com.

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