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feb08_cover_120×158.jpgLowe’s puts agents at the forefront with its success-ready program for REALTORS®

By Stephanie Andre

While the real estate market is certainly weathering its first cooldown in over four years, industry experts say this is exactly the right time to turn up the heat on marketing and branding efforts to stay ahead of the competition. Enter the Lowe’s Program for REALTORS®, a marketing platform borne out of the home improvement giant’s strong relationship with the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Friendly to both the computer novice and tech-savvy agent, the Web-based program includes free, highly customized, direct mail pieces targeting home buyers and sellers, exclusive 10%-off coupons redeemable at Lowe’s, and tons of helpful information for the home that Realtors can pass on to their clients.

Launched just three years ago, the program has numerous success stories, mounds of fans and a genuine admirer in broker/owner Kendra Todd, winner of NBC’s “The Apprentice,” season three, and host of HGTV’s “My House is Worth What?” Here, we talk with Mark Malone, vice president of consumer marketing for Lowe’s, about why the company decided to launch the program, why it’s been so successful, and why 2008 will bring many more opportunities for Realtors to brand themselves and differentiate themselves from the competition through NAR’s Realtor Benefits Program.

Real Estate magazine: From an overall company perspective, what is Lowe’s trying to achieve with its Program for Realtors?

Mark Malone: The foundation of the program is built around a partnership between Lowe’s and NAR. For us, it’s about serving as a true partner to the Realtor community and helping agents stand out from their competition in what we know to be a competitive marketplace. From helping agents pass along savings to their clients with a free, direct-marketing tool, to providing how-to advice and trends for the home, we truly view this program as a working partnership. After all, home buyers and sellers are our customers.

RE: There are so many direct mail offerings available for real estate agents-what about this program makes it unique?

MM: Well, it’s absolutely free, which is certainly unique these days. Plus, it’s exclusively available through NAR’s Realtor Benefits Program; you have to be an active member of NAR to enroll in the program. Also, because Lowe’s is a home improvement retailer, we know what consumers want relative to the home. We aim to make this experience holistic from both the agent’s perspective and the consumer’s, from education about home maintenance and increasing the value of a home, to special savings delivered through customized direct mail pieces. Who knows more about home improvement than Lowe’s?

RE: You also tout the program as a way for Realtors to brand themselves-how so?

MM: It allows agents to stay in front of their clients more often and positions them as a real hero. All direct mail pieces can be customized with head shots, company logos, contact information and client information. In April, Realtors will also be able to set up a monthly e-newsletter allowing them to keep in touch with past and present clients. It’s important to remember that there are so many life changes that cause families to move-new child, downsizing, purchase of a second home. This new tool is a great way for Realtors to stay in front of their clients and continually share information and helpful project ideas for the home.

RE: It seems like the program is easy to use for just about anyone enrolled, true?

MM: It’s a pretty intuitive program. Plus, we offer an online tutorial and have an active help desk hotline available at all times to assist agents with the process. We understand that real estate professionals’ time is limited. We also realize that if the program isn’t user-friendly, it won’t be used-no matter if it’s free or not.

RE: Can you talk about some of the new initiatives the program will be offering in 2008?

MM: One of the first things we’re doing is enhancing and improving the creative of the “Buyer” and “Seller” cards, including a “create your own card” option where Realtors can tailor the direct mail pieces with tips and photography that resonate with their clients’ needs.

Additionally, through our partnership with HGTV, Realtors can now send out e-mails to view the latest videos from HGTV and also send an invitation to download exclusive savings from Lowe’s. Plus, as I mentioned already, we’re launching a monthly e-newsletter that Realtors can automatically send out to their entire client base-whether they’re a past client, someone they’re working with now or someone they hope to work with again in the future. They will be able to use it as a helpful tool to educate their clients about innovative products and projects around the home that yield the highest return on investment, and important home maintenance tips-in addition to a project of the month that will include links to Lowe’s how-to videos and special savings at Lowe’s stores.

We’re also working on new ways for registrants to be notified when a direct mail piece has been sent out on their behalf, so the agent can contact his or her client and remind him or her that a special offer is on its way. We’re really excited about what’s ahead for the program in 2008. RE

The Broker’s P.O.V.:

“It Just Makes Sense”

For David S. Fanale, broker/owner of Century 21 Fine Homes & Estates in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, it took just one stop at the Lowe’s booth during a 2006 trade show for him to immediately incorporate the Lowe’s Program for Realtors into every transaction or prospective transaction he has.

“I immediately knew that I wanted everything to go out with the Lowe’s company logo on it,” he recalls. “I needed to be branded that way.”

According to Fanale, the soup-to-nuts program “makes so much sense-for both buyers and sellers. Plus, it’s another way for us to put ourselves out there in a way that makes us a bit more unique than the average agent.”

Adds Lynette Wyrick, principal broker with RE/MAX Equity Group in Tualatin, Oregon: “It’s an easy and cost-effective way to provide a little something different and a little something extra that a consumer would not normally be expecting to receive from their real estate professional.”

For buyers, says Fanale, it’s an opportunity to offer customers some helpful and informative information that builds loyalty-even if they’re not quite ready to buy just yet.

“You’re offering them useful home improvement information-whether it’s for their current home or a future one,” he says. “Plus, the coupons put you front-of-mind. Lowe’s is a big name and that name is a big advantage-and something I’m proud to be affiliated with.”

“[The Lowe’s Program for Realtors] is a great way to provide my clients with an item of value on a regular basis-and at literally no cost to me,” says Wyrick. “It was a no-brainer decision to incorporate the program into my existing marketing.”

In fact, Wyrick uses a two-pronged approach:

-As soon as she knows a customer is getting ready to put their home on the market, she inputs their contact information with Lowe’s to have a “Seller” card sent to them.

-Once the buyer has closed escrow, she inputs their information into the online program so they receive their “Buyer” card from Lowe’s, which includes coupons and other helpful information.

“I use it in the before, during and after segments of my business as a way to continue to remain in touch with them,” she says.

For Fanale, he says the program’s helped him change his sales approach.

“I now have a bona fide reason to call them and say, “did you get the Lowe’s coupon?'” he says. “It’s a way to say thank you. It also then opens the door toward getting a referral.”

Adds Wyrick: “NAR statistics tell us that if we stay in contact with our clients, we have a better than 80 percent chance of having a repeat client. We also know statistically that if you do not touch your clients every 21 days, you will not remain ‘top of mind’. This keeps you there-without any of the work.”

Becoming a Trusted Source

Count Season Three “The Apprentice” winner Kendra Todd among the many fans of the Lowe’s Program for Realtors.

“One of the things I promote to any entrepreneur, agent, or anyone in business, is having an online presence and having some sort of e-mail marketing to your database,” says Todd, broker/owner of The Kendra Todd Group in Delray Beach, Florida, and host of HGTV’s “My House is Worth What?”

“What’s great about this program is that it helps you get started by sending out e-mails with home improvement tips from HGTV. It also solidifies an agent’s relationship with their clients, with discount coupons, etc., and fits right into a great business philosophy-cultivating relationships and communicating on a regular basis.”

According to Todd, the biggest plus of the Lowe’s program is that it allows the agent to become the trusted source and expert on home improvement-something that she believes will bring back business for a long time to come.

“The program helps empower clients,” says Todd. “Also, it helps the agent create a level of trust that will bring those clients back. It shows that their agent truly cares about his or her clients.

“The most powerful thing you can offer people is information,” adds Todd. “Plus, you’re branding yourself with Lowe’s, HGTV and NAR-that, in itself, is a wonderful opportunity.”

A Different Kind of Marketing Tool

“I always order Lowe’s gift cards in $5,000 increments,” says Chris Jones, broker/owner, Jones and Company in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. That’s right, $5,000. “I go through that order in about a month- and-a-half and spent roughly $70,000 in gift cards in 2007.”

Jones says he uses the gift cards mostly as a closing gift, but also utilizes them for his own company use-he not only sells homes but also works in new-home construction.

“The cards are really valuable to me because I can use them in so many ways,” says Jones, who’s been enrolled in the Lowe’s Program for Realtors for a year or so. “With the new-home construction I do, buying the gift cards at a five percent discount saves me a ton of money on supplies and even equipment.”

According to Jones, the gift card feature of Lowe’s Program for Realtors sets a standard that distinguishes him among his competitors. “It’s become something of a marketing tool for me with my clients,” says Jones. “Lowe’s does something with this program and these cards that no one else does; I don’t know a single other retailer that offers a program like this.

“Lowe’s does all the work, yet the personalized letter and the gift card both come from me,” he continues. “I look forward to seeing what’s coming next.”

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