By Maria Patterson
RISMEDIA, Jan. 7, 2008-With over 4,000 sales associates, over 1,200 staff members and 137 branch and franchise offices located in 65 counties throughout the South, Crye-Leike, Realtors has steadily grown over the years to become a dominant presence with a strong brand name and healthy clientele. Since founding the company in Memphis in 1977, partners and owners Harold Crye and Dick Leike have adhered to a few basic principles that have guided them to success for more than 31 years now: customer service, calculated risk and a whole lot of hard work.
The Growth Chart
While ranked as fourth in transaction sides in RISMedia’s 2007 Power Broker Report, for Crye-Leike, Realtors, growth has been a part of the company’s DNA from the very beginning. New offices and expansions into new markets have happened on a regular basis over the course of the company’s history. What’s more, growth at Crye-Leike has been steady and independent of market conditions. Currently, in fact, Crye-Leike is in the midst of expansions in several of its established markets, including Atlanta, Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas, Memphis and a new Midtown office in Nashville. The company is also venturing into at least one new market in 2008, Huntsville, Alabama. Despite the gloomy circumstances surrounding today’s real estate market, Crye-Leike is on the move.
“We feel like after this number of years, we have a pretty good game plan and program,” states Harold Crye. “You can make a case that the ideal time to go into a market is during a downward slump. The mindset of real estate agents when things are not going well is to look for the new magic bullet or new company that can provide different ideas or a different perspective versus the company they’ve been with for a long time.”
Make no mistake, however, there is plenty of method behind Crye-Leike’s expansion strategies. Whether it’s a market that’s projecting growth-like Huntsville-or a market that has a solid employment base-like the Bentonville area of Northwest Arkansas, home to Wal-Mart-or a market that will be profitable due to the sheer amount of volume-like Atlanta (“Atlanta is so large, it dominates the state,” says Crye)-Crye-Leike makes its expansion choices quite carefully.
According to Dick Leike, expansion in a down market is a smart, long-term strategy. “Growth allows us to be well established in our marketplaces,” he explains. “All we’re doing is building up for a wave of activity in the future. Right now, all the adverse press is psyching out buyers, but buyers will come back and when they do, we’ll be ready.”
Such sound philosophies and smart decisions are an advantageous byproduct of the partners’ long history in the real estate business. As opposed to being alarmed by the down market, Crye and Leike see it as a tunnel with a big light at the end.
One of the contributing factors to Crye-Leike’s continued growth was the partners’ decision to get into franchising. In 1999, the launch of Crye-Leike Franchises, Inc. enabled the company to expand into smaller markets that were not necessarily likely locations for company-owned shops.
“The concept was to put our franchise offices in a donut fashion around our hub cities, so there wouldn’t be much overlap,” says Crye. “We put them in towns surrounding Nashville and Little Rock and now we can put franchises in areas surrounding Atlanta.”
No matter what manner the expansion takes, Crye-Leike will stay committed to growth, for as Crye says, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying. I have seen some real estate companies that have gotten complacent. I think they got tired and lost direction or focus. For us, there’s no such thing as sitting still.”
Looking at the long-term success of Crye-Leike, it’s natural to assume that there must be a hidden secret, a special recipe that makes it all work. Not so, say Crye and Leike.
“I wish there was an easy answer, but it’s probably a hundred little things,” admits Crye. “If you boiled it all down to the grass roots, we’re just working at it every day and not distracted with a lot of stuff. We provide the facilities, the people who know how to answer the phones, and coffee that’s hot-nuts-and-bolts type stuff. If you provide all these things and a competitive commission table, good leadership, and a company that helps agents do business, not hinders them, then you can be successful.”
“We’ve marched forward partly because Harold and I have such a good partnership,” adds Leike. “We balance each other out. It takes a good partnership to be successful and partnerships are the hardest part of anything, whether it’s in business or marriage or life in general.”
One factor that Crye points to as playing a big role in the company’s success is the creation and/or ownership of their own buildings. According to Crye, the company owns 80% of the buildings in which it operates, and “the majority of those we built from dirt up.” Sixteen buildings, in fact, were currently being built at press time.
“We made two dollars and only spent one,” Crye explains, “so we built up enough net worth to build our own buildings. We choose high-profile locations on main drags, like a McDonald’s or a bank would want to have, and use prominent signage. Our branding is huge-you have a hard time driving around without running by one of our offices.”
Changing with the Times
Of course no company can experience 30-year success without a keen ability to change with the times and, more importantly, its customers.
Both Crye and Leike believe that the most important way they have kept up with both market and consumer changes is by continually investing in technology.
“One of the most significant changes to this business is the Internet,” says Leike. “We have continually invested in IT to try and complement our agents in such a way that it helps them in their knowledge of the marketplace, so that service to their customers can be even better.”
To further help its sales force deliver top service to its customers, Crye-Leike has created a centralized marketing department in each city. According to Crye, the marketing departments are responsible for sending almost 50,000 pieces of mail per month on behalf of agents. Agents get to choose the design and content of their marketing materials, while the marketing department ensures that the materials are delivered in a timely and consistent basis. As Crye says, the marketing department “organizes, coordinates and does the legwork. Most agents have good intentions, but they get too busy. We preach CRM to agents all the time. Our marketing department helps that effort.”
“I don’t believe there’s another firm that offers a real estate associate more tools of the trade, more research, more data, more knowledge than Crye-Leike,” adds Leike. “You don’t have to worry too much about doing the mundane things; we have systems in place that give agents more time to spend with buyers and sellers. We have everything under one roof-our associates have a tremendous sense that there’s a whole team behind them. And they always have Harold and Dick-they can come to anytime with our open-door policy.”
The Next 30 Years
Even after 30+ years of growth and success, Crye and Leike are modest in both their reflections on the past and their views toward the future. As Crye simply states, “We’re full-time real estate people. We have to use our best judgment on where the industry is going and guide the ship in that direction. We’ve been doing that reasonably successful for 30 years and we’d like to think we have a few more years in us.”
Leike is in full agreement, emphasizing that Crye-Leike’s continued growth is a natural byproduct of the level of service the company delivers-a simple case of supply and demand. As more real estate consumers want to do business with Crye-Leike, more Crye-Leike offices open to serve them.
“Our original concept for the company was very good and still applies,” explains Leike. “For us, it’s not a case of wanting to be big, but wanting to be the best. Growth is going to occur if you’re doing your business correctly.”
Not surprisingly, the slow down in the marketplace is of little concern to the partners. “These are exciting times,” says Crye. “When things are off a little it’s a time when we’ve been able to shine, grow, get more listings and get more agents. This is the time to grow our market share, get our agents trained and get our agents educated. We need our agents to be looking through the front windshield not the rear-view mirror.”
“Even though we’ve been in the business a long time, you realize that you can’t rest,” believes Leike. “I think our company has constantly realized that there are always more things to learn, better ways to do things, new technology, and changes in the industry. As long as we keep our eyes open to that, we’ll stay successful.”
Making the Right Alliance Harold Crye and Dick Leike have been part of the Realty Alliance for roughly 20 years, starting in the days when the organization was known as Mastermind. Crye, in fact, was a former chairman of the organization.
The Realty Alliance has served as an important idea generator for Crye-Leike over the years. “When we put out a television show 15 years ago, we got that idea from the Realty Alliance,” says Crye. “Ideas we’ve gotten from the Realty Alliance have helped us grow and do a lot more business, but you have to be able to take an idea and run with it. Not all ideas will necessarily work in your market, but we come back from Realty Alliance meetings with a bag full of ideas.”
For more information, visit www.cryeleike.com.