Dominion Enterprises Breaks New Ground in Real Estate Marketing
By Maria Patterson
(Real Estate, April 2007)–You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the real estate industry who hasn’t caught wind of the buzz surrounding Dominion Enterprises. A well-established provider of technology and media solutions for a diverse number of industries, including employment and automotive, Dominion Enterprises has taken an assertive acquisition path over the past two-and-a-half years that has dramatically increased its presence in the real estate market. Recently unveiling a new home office building in Norfolk, Virginia-complete with a 6,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art technology center-Dominion Enterprises is making its plans for continued growth quite clear. Make no mistake, however. Dominion Enterprises’ goal is not all about corporate prowess and profits. It’s about providing real estate professionals with the tools they need to connect with consumers.
Expanding on History
While their presence in real estate is certainly growing rapidly through a recent series of acquisitions-Advan-ced Access, Pullan Communications (now eProspecting), and Katabat-Dominion Enterprises is far from a new player in the real estate space.
“Dominion Enterprises, and before that, as Trader Publishing Company, got into the homes business in 2000 with the acquisition of Harmon Homes,” explains Dominion Enter-prises Senior Vice President Peter Ill. “Harmon Homes has a 30-plus year history of serving the real estate industry. Our current acquisitions are a natural outgrowth of our continuing efforts to serve real estate agents and brokers. Our gameplan is to bring a one-stop, full-service marketing strategy to real estate professionals.
“This is a story about serving the real estate industry with comprehensive and integrated marketing solutions,” explains Ill. “As the industry and media landscape change, Dominion Enterprises is changing, too, providing the necessary tools and services.”
Longtime industry veteran Ernie Blood came to Dominion Enterprises around the time of the Harmon Homes acquisition and now serves as executive vice president of Dominion Enterprises’ real estate businesses.
For Blood, the objective is crystal clear: “Our mission is to provide print and Internet advertising, marketing and business services to help consumers, real estate agents, brokers, and affiliated companies buy, sell, and operate more effectively and successfully.”
The Dominion Acquisition Plan: Selective and Strategic
Receiving a healthy share of press recently due to its acquisitions, Dominion Enterprises wants to make it perfectly clear that this strategy is not about growth for the sake of growth, but rather growth for the sake of brokers and agents.
“Our broad goal is to bring buyers and sellers together,” explains Ill. “We realized that we needed to enhance our Internet solutions with better tools to build Web sites, offer lead-management capabilities and data distribution. We realized that these were additional services that we needed to develop-or we needed to acquire companies already providing these services.”
Dominion Enterprises’ acquisitions, therefore, are about efficiently and cost effectively creating well-rounded and robust marketing solutions for real estate professionals.
“Everything that we invest in ties back to our mission statement,” says Blood. “Our acquisitions are always about providing better service for consumers, agents and brokers in order to help them operate more effectively and successfully.
“Our goal is to help drive down costs for brokers and agents whose margins are slim and becoming slimmer in a tougher market,” Blood adds.
According to Ill, Dominion’s acquisitions are driven by the quality of a company and its people.
“We are big believers in individual company autonomy,” says Ill. “We look to each company to improve, but we are very careful about not disturbing what they’ve already built. We acquired them because we believed they were special. The last thing we want to do is muck that up. We don’t want to impose. We want to work with each company to set goals and help them achieve those goals.”
The Technology Objective: A Print and Online Solution
Supporting Dominion’s mission to connect real estate professionals with consumers is an extremely strong technological backbone.
Joe Fuller is vice president and chief technology officer for Dominion Enterprises’ real estate Internet businesses. Fuller is responsible for the company’s overall technical operations-including building, deploying and maintaining products-and the technological infrastructure that hosts all of the company’s online-based products, along with some 60,000 Web sites for real estate agents.
Needless to say, Fuller’s technological team has grown dramatically over the years. “When I started 10 years ago, I was the fifth technical Internet employee. Now, if you look across all Dominion’s companies, there are over 1,700 people involved in our Internet and technology services.”
According to Fuller, Dominion’s technology strengths are many, one of them being data distribution. “We make it easy for the customer to distribute their data to multiple outlets. We can send data to MSN, Google Base, Yahoo!-any portal, any advertising outlet, any search engine they want.
“At the foundation of much of this is our data-aggregation ability,” adds Fuller. “We are aggregating data from over 300 distinct MLSs every day. We are getting the data, scrubbing it, massaging it and taking great pains to ensure that we follow the complex IDX listing display rules.”
Dave Mangold, vice president of business development for Harmon Homes, heads up the marketing and technology departments for the large real estate publisher. He is the mastermind behind AdNet, a unique online ad submission software program that allows brokers and agents to simultaneously post their listings online and in print.
“We saw this program as an important niche for our customers,” says Mangold. “They can go into the AdNet system at a seller’s home, prepare the listing for print advertising and at the same time immediately start marketing it on Homes.com and HarmonHomes.com. The ad is created right in front of the seller. And the advantage with AdNet is that these listings can appear before they’re even entered into the MLS.”
While the Internet is central to Dominion Enterprises’ gameplan, it is by no means a one-sided strategy. “In order to meet the needs of the segmented consumer population, and to meet the needs of brokers and agents, you have to meet consumers where they are, which is both print and Internet,” says Blood. “It all begins with the consumer. They need to have a good experience both online and offline. Brokers and agents need to offer a blended media solution that maximizes both print and Internet to reach the segmented consumer. Neither print nor Internet by itself will accomplish this-they need both.”
Fuller agrees. “First of all, demographics dictate that younger people want to receive data on their phone, older people want e-mail, and still more traditional people want the printed word. We think that print is a browsable medium that is very effective. It’s portable and it doesn’t run out of batteries. When we tie the two together it becomes a very solid advertising system for our customers.”
According to Blood, print is and always will be a critical part of online marketing due to the power of direct navigation. “We believe that print is providing the mechanism and the motivation for consumers to use the Internet.”
Dominion Enterprises is now on a path to round out its total marketing offering with an array of technology solutions, including Web sites from Advanced Access, e-mail marketing from eProspecting (formerly Pullan Communications), search engine marketing from Homes.com and lead management from Katabat. The recent introduction of the new Homes.com portal will provide even greater search capabilities for consumers (see Homes.com sidebar).
Bottom line, says Blood: “The industry wants more efficient and easier tools to use in order to get that home to market faster.”
The story always comes back full circle to the consumer, however. “Consumers are absolutely expecting to be exposed across all the media,” says Fuller, “and both print and online are integral parts of that. Consumers find comfort in thinking that a picture of their house will be in a grocery store in a free publication that anyone can pick up. They also know that everyone is doing Internet research. Having both is a requirement today.”
The Resources to Get the Job Done
Dominion Enterprises is certainly investing heavily to support its businesses and customers. Housed in its new Norfolk home office is a state-of-the-art technology center that will enable Dominion to deliver on its technology promises.
“Dominion Enterprises has invested over $6 million in a new data center,” says Ill. “Our technology solutions require state-of-the-art hosting capabilities and other technology resources that give us the ability to update and make changes, and test new capabilities, such as video.”
“This is a world-class, 6,000-square-foot data center with totally redundant power systems,” Fuller explains. The data center can handle 10 times the capacity of Dominion’s current companies allowing plenty of room for growth.
“What has impressed me about Dominion Enterprises is that they realize the importance of getting the infrastructure right. The backup and redundancy systems are all first class; we are investing a lot of money in duplicating data centers,” says Fuller.
This very fact is a huge plus to many of the companies that Domin-ion Enterprises has acquired. “These companies are great operations, but they didn’t have a second operation so that they’d still be in business in the case of a natural disaster,” explains Fuller. “We’ve invested millions of dollars to duplicate these environments. Dominion is taking an extremely long-range view with its acquisitions.”
Meeting the Needs of Real Estate Professionals
Dominion’s strategy is expressly designed to help real estate professionals meet the demands of today’s marketplace.
“Because of our vast products, when it comes to helping the real estate professional, we can consult with them on what their goals and objectives are and match them to the solution we have in products that will give them the most affordable and fastest way to reach these goals,” Blood explains. “What we bring to the industry is a bundled media mix of great product brands and an affordable solution to help grow their business.”
According to Dominion Enterpris-es, they are giving real estate professionals exactly what they want. “We did a survey of our customer base and discovered that they were tired of going to 15 different vendors for 15 different things,” says Mangold. “They want one source.”
“Our assessment of the market is that there are lots and lots of vendors providing lots of individual tools and products and pushing them hard,” says Ill. “Our goal is not to provide any particular tool or technology. Our goal is to interpret that technology and provide a solution to help Realtors and brokers sell more homes. With the breadth we have running anywhere from print magazines to portals, to a series of Web services, we can come to the table with someone and assess their needs and then provide solutions that best meet their needs.”
Taking a Long-term View
For Dominion, this is only the beginning. The company plans to continue to grow its businesses in order to better connect real estate consumers with agents and brokers.
“We are very optimistic about the real estate industry going forward and think there’s a lot of potential,” says Ill. “There are many ways in which we can help agents and brokers take advantage of media changes and new technology tools that will allow them to become more efficient and sell more.
“We’re a private company and we have plenty of capital to develop additional products, invest in our businesses and continue to acquire companies that fit our long-term strategy,” Ill continues. “Our motivation in the past, that we expect to continue into the future, is that we buy and hold. We’re approaching this with a long-term commitment. There will absolutely be more acquisitions. We are actively looking for the right companies to join our team.”
Dominion’s long-term plan ties back over and over again to consumers.
“Dominion Enterprises has a great team of hard-working people committed to bringing the best products and cutting-edge technology to the customers we serve,” says Blood. “That results in the best solutions for the consumer, the agent and the broker. We want any broker or real estate agent to know when they do business with one of Dominion’s companies that they are going to get the best service and best solution for the best price of any vendor they are using in the industry.” RE
Sidebar: Homes.com Unveils New Portal
Homes.com, Dominion Enterprises’ primary real estate portal, has experienced a 200% increase in monthly traffic since its acquisition in October 2004. With over 2.5 million home buyers and over 50 million pageviews each month, the company is ready to position Homes.com as the best place to search for homes for sale.
This month, Dominion Enterprises is launching a new and improved Homes.com portal. Not only is the new user interface more intuitive, but the “smart” searching tools make it easier for house hunters to find homes that meet their search criteria.
“The overall goal of the new portal is to improve the user experience and increase leads to our agent customers,” states Homes.com Director of Product Development Stevan Cirkovic.
“We’ve completely revamped the entire Web site, added a new search interface, better mapping and bigger photos so that home buyers stay on Homes.com longer, come back more often and make Homes.com their primary real estate destination,” explains Cirkovic.
The new portal is designed to increase visits with features such as:
-Multiple views incorporated into the search results pages, such as a “photo” view with larger images and a “map” view to see where a home is located
-A series of sorting options on the search results page that allows visitors to quickly filter through search results
-Community information around the property such as maps, schools and neighborhood demographics
-A home value search that highlights recently sold properties
According to Cirkovic, the new portal was created with the house hunter in mind, but ultimately the goal was to make it easier for them to find a home and contact the real estate agent, thus creating new opportunities for Homes.com agent customers. Next up in development is the integration of video on Homes.com to make the user experience even stronger. Stay tuned.
Sidebar: A Growing Family
The Dominion Enterprises family of companies has grown steadily to strengthen the company’s position in real estate marketing.
2000 Harmon Homes – Publishes residential real estate magazines distributed free from display racks at 168,000 supermarkets and prime retail outlets across the country. This print advertising mechanism works in tandem with its online counterpart, HarmonHomes.com
2004 Homes.com – A leading provider of online real estate services, including property listings, Web site development and marketing solutions for brokers and agents. The newly enhanced Homes.com portal (see sidebar) promises to provide easier functionality and improved features for consumers and agents.
2005 Katabat – Designs custom Web sites and provides lead-management applications for real estate brokers.
2005 Number1Expert – Real estate agents who exceed $5 million in annual sales are eligible for Number1Expert credentials and premium advertising opportunities.
2006 RPiS – Offers a range of data-centric software solutions and services, specializing in MLS listing data.
2006 Advanced Access – A leading Web site design company, offering hosting and Internet marketing for real estate professionals.
2007 eProspecting (formerly Pullan Communications) – Provides real estate marketing solutions, including Web site development and e-mail marketing services, to real estate professionals nationwide.