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back_to_basicsMarketing and technology evolve at a dizzying pace in today’s world. Just when you think you’ve come up with the right strategy and mastered the latest app, the next best thing hits the streets and you’re suddenly behind the pack. Keeping up has become virtually impossible.

Then there’s Commack, N.Y.-based For nearly 30 years, the firm has been helping real estate professionals succeed with tried-and-true farming tools, from calendars to keychains. How can such a company remain viable in an increasingly tech-oriented society? According to company President & CEO Steve Bunker, it’s because these types of products still effectively make a lasting connection with clients and prospects.

“Since 1987, the company grew each year by adding more products that real estate agents requested—we listened!” says Bunker. “We added other products besides calendars, like business cards, postcards, door-hangers, magnets, sports schedules, notepads, American flags, seed packets, keychains, etc.—the staples of grass-roots marketing products that real estate agents need to promote themselves.”

According to Tom Clement, broker/owner of The Village Real Estate Company in San Lorenzo, Calif., and long-time customer, the products work because they actually help differentiate real estate professionals in today’s digital world.

“There’s this whole new generation that’s used to texting and email, but people really want to talk to you face-to-face and belly-to-belly,” says Clement. “This kind of marketing gives you an excuse to go to the door—it personalizes the interaction. This kind of stuff brings it back to the fact that there’s a real person that they’re working with.”

Starting Small, Growing Fast
An 18-year-old Bunker started the company in 1987 with $3,500 in the bank. His father, John Bunker, had a marketing business and introduced his son to the advertising and print arena.

“My first sale was to a real estate company located in Brentwood, N.Y.,” recalls Bunker. “I drove 27 miles from my make-shift basement office to make a $39 magnetic calendar sale.” Along with that first sale came some wise advice and referrals from the agent, and Bunker was soon on his way. Today, is a multi-million dollar, e-commerce business serving over 87,544 real estate agents and mortgage brokers located in the U.S. and Canada.

Of course, succeeding in the business for nearly 30 years has required Bunker to tweak the formula. “We are always one step ahead of our competition by offering multiple themes of the same product, low quantities and free shipping on most products,” he explains. “We also added magnets to our postcards, an innovative marketing tool that our competition does not offer. We added social media marketing services and email marketing to help agents get the word out in mass volume.”

According to Bunker, the most successful products are magnetic calendars, business cards and postcards. “These are the staples agents need to survive,” he explains. “The calendars stay on the refrigerator all year long, the business card is essential to identify yourself, and postcards bring you leads to get listings. More leads plus more listings equals more home sales.”

Anne-Marie Hastings, designated broker of Anne-Marie and Company Real Estate serving the Seattle Metro area, attests to the effectiveness of magnets from “I have used their magnetic business cards since 1992,” she explains. “It takes eight times before people recognize your name, and when they see your face over and over every day when they’re grabbing their coffee cream, it becomes psychological. People keep them on their fridges because they hold up their kids’ stuff.”

“A lot of folks put lip service to farming, but we really believe it,” says Clement. “We are a boutique company, which was started by myself and three associates 25 years ago. We farmed diligently and knocked on every door. Our philosophy was not to ask them to sell or buy, it was to say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ and drop off a notepad or a fridge calendar. We realized it was important to always leave something so that every time they went to the fridge they looked at us and became familiar with us.”

The Secret Weapon? Customer Service
Product design aside, the long-term success of has been built around service.

“It’s all about the customer,” says Bunker. “You have to listen to them and adapt accordingly. They demand low prices and effective marketing products that work, so we gave them exactly what they asked for.”

Bunker has trained his team to operate with a customer-first mentality, and to always go the extra mile to help them solve their marketing needs. “When a customer places an order online, we call them back to double check their order and personally thank them for being a customer,” he explains. “Yes, it costs extra time and labor to do this, but it gives that personal touch that customers deserve.”

“There is always quick turnaround time, and they always review our order to make sure it’s right before they send it out,” confirms Clement. “After we receive our order, they follow up with emails and phone calls. When something gets messed up—even on weekends and nights—they always step up to the plate and say, ‘Let’s figure out how to make this work.’ It’s a marvelous relationship.”

“We hire very happy people,” adds Bunker. “We shadow a lot of the culture that Zappos follows. I recommend everyone read Tony Hsieh’s book, “Delivering Happiness,” before they start working for my company. This book changed the way our company does business.”

The Family Factor
Like many a real estate company, is a family affair, where Bunker has worked with his father, wife and sister since day one. The advantages of being a family-run operation? Authenticity, trust and solidarity, says Bunker.

“Family is the place where you can let things fly,” he explains. “We laugh more and we yell more here. The ability to be daringly and passionately honest can help a family business thrive. Trust is essential in all business, but especially so in a business where trade secrets are make-or-break. Competing agendas make for tough office politics, but when the goal is to help the family business win, turf battles disappear. We’re much faster than companies that have to go through a more politicized process of getting things done.”

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