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With more than 50 offices and 1,200 agents, Wisconsin’s First Weber Group has risen to become the state’s No. 1 firm in transactions, according to RISMedia’s 2014 Power Broker Report. Driving this great success is the firm’s commitment to its agents, customers and the community at large—and an innovative approach to technology systems and office environments. This focus on serving all of its constituents is the central theme to First Weber’s rebranding as “The Human Side of Real Estate.” Here, Jim Imhoff, CEO and chairman of First Weber Group, explains how the firm has grown thus far, and what the next chapter has in store.

Maria Patterson: Please briefly synopsize your career path in real estate and how you came to lead your firm.
Jim Imhoff:
First Weber Group evolved from its formation in the early 1970s through a merger of First Realty and Weber Realty in 1996. It expanded its reach in the state of Wisconsin by merging with the Milwaukee Prudential firm in 2002.

The evolution has continued in the past 10 years with movement into North Central Wisconsin (Stevens Point, Wausau, Wisconsin Rapids and Marshfield); Northern Wisconsin (Rhinelander, Minocqua and Eagle River); and into the Fox River Valley (Fond du Lac, Oshkosh and Appleton). First Weber’s heavy investment in technology, even during the market downturn of 2007 – 2011, made this growth possible, and this continues today.

There are many shareholders in the ownership and management of First Weber. The management team consists of myself, Kevin Donnell, Bob Weber and Tammy Maddente, with many others in full-time support.

MP: How many offices and agents do you currently have and what regions does your firm serve?
We currently have more than 50 offices and 1,200 agents throughout the state of Wisconsin. We are active members in five regional MLS services. A number of our offices have been designated “Smart Offices,” designed to serve more rural areas by utilizing technology to link the agent and the community to a regional office. Administrative support is provided from a regional hub.

First Weber has also begun to embrace a café concept at some of our offices, which have open areas, hoteling work stations, comfortable conversation areas and a coffee bar. We have found that this concept is very popular, especially among the younger millennial agents.

MP: How would you describe your firm’s positioning in the marketplace? What sets your firm apart from the competition?
According to RISMedia’s 2014 Power Broker Report, we are currently the No. 1 firm in the state of Wisconsin and 23rd in the nation. We are set apart from our competition by virtue of our commitment to cutting-edge technology, advanced training methods and our broker-centric approach to our agents. They are our primary customer.

We abide by a set of Core Values that was developed by our agents, staff and management team. Our Core Values describe how everyone at First Weber relates to and treats our clients and customers, our staff, our company, ourselves, other REALTORS®, the real estate industry, and the overall community.

To that end, in 2006, we established the First Weber Group Foundation to enhance First Weber’s commitment to strengthen our communities through both charitable contributions and volunteer leadership. As of this year, we have provided over $1.4 million in charitable contributions.

MP: Could you give us an example of some of the cutting-edge technology First Weber provides?
First of all, Frontrunner represents our technology marketing platform, creating webcasts of all listings and agent-branded email-able magazines. Then there’s Catapult, our online training platform, which has been a strong learning tool for our existing agents and a focal point in recruiting new agents.

MP: How would you describe current market conditions in your area?
All of our markets, which vary greatly in size and demographics, have demonstrated consistent recovery over the past few years. We serve major metropolitan areas, such as Madison (the state capitol), Milwaukee, Wausau and the Fox River Valley. However, we also serve a large number of more rural areas, and our Northwoods Region is a prime area for second homes—or as we like to say, our “vacation gold coast,” and they have all shown a nice recovery.

MP: What has been your approach to growth in recent years and how has that changed now that the market is rebounding?
In the past several years, we have been able to grow our company internally by placing a strong emphasis on recruiting and by acquiring smaller firms that were unable to provide the services we provide at an affordable cost due to economies of scale.

Externally, we have been growing our company by rebranding ourselves to the general public. We have hired Lindsay, Stone and Briggs, a nationally known branding and advertising group, to assist us in this effort. The firm hosts an annual, three-day educational program known as Brandworks University, to which we have sent several of our management team.

We have also conducted a major television blitz throughout the state to reintroduce ourselves and our new brand: “First Weber… The Human Side of Real Estate.”

We have engaged 1000watt of Oakland, Calif., as a consulting firm as we redesign our website so we can provide the information the general user wants to find quickly and easily.

Lastly, we have asked our managers to spend 50 percent of their time recruiting, and the other 50 percent is divided between mentoring and transactional assistance. We are insistent.

MP: How has your company evolved over the years and survived the challenges of the downturn?
Probably the greatest evolution in our firm has been our increase in developing and using cutting-edge technology. We have developed a GPS-based app for public use so the user can see all available listings in any area as they drive by. Agent contact information is provided so inquiries can be made at the moment. The app is available on iOS and Android devices.