James O’Bryon, President, RE/MAX Gold, and Keith Myers, President, RE/MAX Olson & Associates
Founded in 1994 with just two offices and 40 agents, James O’Bryon, president of RE/MAX Gold, along with his partners and leadership group, grew the firm into the market leader in Northern California. Now, he’s aligned with longtime colleague Keith Myers, broker/owner and president of RE/MAX Olson & Associates in Southern California, to bring their shared vision of success via service to a total of 21 counties throughout the state.
In this exclusive interview, O’Bryon and Myers, along with RE/MAX Gold Executive Vice President of Sales Keith Ard, discuss how their strategies and synergies will further expand the firms’ presence and position in the many markets they serve.
Maria Patterson: Please start us off with a little background about your respective firms, and bring us up to speed on your current alliance.
James O’Bryon: I’ve been with the RE/MAX brand for 25 years. Our objective has been to build incredible service for agents, along with incredible scale, since the inception of RE/MAX Gold, and that’s worked out well for us. We became the No. 1 RE/MAX in number of agents in California by a significant margin, and California’s No. 1 RE/MAX in sales by a huge margin. In 2017, we had 13,267 transactions and were the No. 1 company in the state of California in transactions, per RISMedia’s 2018 Power Broker Report.
When I met Keith Myers 18 years ago, it occurred to me that it could benefit us if we worked together. One of the things that really impressed me about him was his leadership. He always had innovative ideas, so we looked for all the areas where we could provide synergies and better support and service to the agent population, and we took the step of partnering in July of this year.
Keith Myers: I own RE/MAX Olson in Southern California, with six offices and 208 agents. My previous partner Todd Olson started my company in 1987 and I became a partner in ’96. I converted to RE/MAX in 2000, which is when I met James at a regional event in San Francisco. My former partner retired in 2015 and I bought him out, so James and I have been talking over the past few years about forming a relationship. I wanted to replicate RE/MAX Gold’s expansion and work together to grow the total footprint. We have an alliance but run the brokerages separately.
MP: What most attracted you to aligning with RE/MAX Gold?
KM: Growth has always been in James’ DNA. The Gold Nation up there probably got hit harder than anybody during the Great Recession, and it bounced off the bottom and blew past everyone to achieve the largest productive agent count, and better productivity by every measure of success. James has always wanted to grow this large machine and scale it—not just for the sake of being large, but to attract like-minded individuals and do what they do best. That’s what attracted me: a phenomenal system and a phenomenal management style. I decided it was much better to join forces than try to replicate that on my own.
MP: So, what is your total office and agent count with the combined firms?
JOB: We have a total of 67 offices, of which 39 are branch offices and 28 are satellite offices, in 21 counties throughout California with a total agent count of more than 1,450, which represents more than 20 percent of the agent count for RE/MAX in the state of California.
MP: What has been your approach to growth over the years, and what are your current goals in terms of expansion?
JOB: Our core values and company vision statement are written into everything we’ve done over the years. We find the best, most productive, most ethical agents and put them in an environment where they can succeed, and then we succeed through them. That’s why our agent productivity is consistently higher. We have virtually no non-productive agents. Our expectation in the near term, combining the Northern and Southern firms, is to reach $8 billion in volume. In 24 months, we expect the combined companies to reach $12 billion.
MP: What role has the RE/MAX brand played in your success?
JOB: In the early ’90s, I owned a couple of boutique real estate brokerages, and it annoyed me that our agents kept getting beaten at listing presentations by agents who worked at branded companies. I was attracted to RE/MAX 25 years ago, and I continue to be. Their model allowed me to have a vision with scale. The vision I had as a young man was not scalable. I needed two things to achieve my vision: a brand that people recognized and trusted; and to be surrounded by extraordinary people. I thought the RE/MAX brand could help with both, and it has. And this chapter of the firm’s growth is the ultimate demonstration of that concept; I’m surrounded by extraordinary people internally and extraordinary people like Keith and his team in Southern California.
MP: How would you describe the current state of the market? What are the greatest challenges and opportunities?
KM: I would say we’re in a period of pause and reflect. The number of sales has slowed down and prices touched down a few percentage points over the past 4-6 months (at press time), which is probably the best thing that could happen. As we navigate through here with a real robust economy, it’s healthy that the market is doing what it is. This isn’t like the run-up to 2004-2005; quality mortgages are being given to borrowers that qualify. The increasing growth of millennials and Generation Z is creating a demand for housing; even if it’s later than sooner, they will come. We have to keep agents focused, but energized, and give them new and better ways to compete. During these times, consumers really can’t take a chance on working with a random agent—they need an agent backed by a global, credible brand.
Keith Ard: In Northern California, the market is slowing down a bit. This is creating an opportunity for us to meet with a number of folks. The window is closing on sellers being able to look forward to multiple offers, so many agents who chose a non-branded or small boutique environment can no longer compete with the exposure a brand and California’s No. 1 brokerage can offer. As the market adjusts, we’re finding that agents are calling us because they need more in their toolbelt.
JOB: Even though we’re seeing a slowing in the organic part of the market, we’re on the cusp of an incredible opportunity to take marketshare from companies that deliver less brand and less service to their agents.
MP: How are you helping agents compete and succeed in an increasingly congested marketplace?
KA: We looked at a marketplace that has a lot of competitors and new offerings. We thought it was important to streamline a system to help associates better understand how to navigate the noisy and complex market. We created an exclusive consumer marketing platform that includes the internal resources we’ve had access to for many years through RE/MAX. We also went out to the market and found strategic alliances, such as Fusion Growth Partners, for agents who want to take their business to the next level. Our offering includes traditional marketing resources, connectivity to consumers through remax.com, lead generation through LeadStreet, partnerships through Offrs and Adwerx, who generate AI and predictive analytics, and a product called FrontPorch for agent social media connectivity.
KM: From a 40,000-foot level, I’m particularly excited about Fusion. We’ve always been an early innovator and are all about creating “real estate for grown-ups;” in other words, providing a platform that gives agents the freedom to maximize their careers and also provide them with world-class support, including an attorney on payroll, a management team and a transaction and listing coordinator all wrapped up in a true, global brand with the highest productivity per agent.
MP: So, I guess it’s easy to see why agents join your firm…and why they stay!
JOB: If you put a sign out in front of a store that says Mercedes or Cartier, people are naturally attracted to look inside. That sign for us is RE/MAX. But it’s super important that once they’re inside, they’re cared for in a way they felt wasn’t even possible. The fundamental thing you need is a willingness to care for others—then you can teach them the skills. We’ve also done an incredible job of making sure we deliver hospitality for agents, and that agents deliver that hospitality for clients once they come through the front door.
MP: Please describe your firm’s culture and leadership philosophy.
JOB: The two most overused words in this business right now are disruption and culture. We have a trademarked saying for our firm: “Gold Nation—Not a Culture, a Community.” Covering as much of California as we do, to say we’re going to build a single culture and create compliance with that culture is overreaching and disrespectful. The diversity we cover can’t be homogenized. What you can do is celebrate the culture of each branch, and then tie them into the community.
MP: What is your approach to coaching and training?
KA: We employ the most productive agents in the marketplace who already have a great foundation through RE/MAX University, so we focus on helping bring agents to the next level by collaborating on best practices in small, medium and large group settings. We host MEC—Motivate, Educate, Collaborate—events that are led by leadership experts. Many companies rely on peers teaching peers, but we focus on utilizing subject matter experts.
KM: We have a different agent mix than many companies, and we take on some brand-new people. We have a training director who teaches classes every Monday morning in our training facility, and they run the gamut from new agent topics to material for more experienced agents. We also have two sales meetings per month per office, which I use as an opportunity to coach and speak on business development topics. I’m constantly learning from all the success stories around me and sharing that with others. I also encourage agents to look at outside trainers—there are a lot of good ones out there.
MP: What are some of your most innovative marketing strategies?
KA: We look at marketing as a partnership with agents. They look to us for help with systems, but they don’t look to us to keep the relationship with their customers. They want the autonomy to keep that relationship the way they want to. With our eight-point exclusive marketing system, we offer an approach that helps attract new consumers, and, at the same time, reiterates your strength in the marketplace to existing consumers. We believe that disruption is not an excuse to have to change everything, but the way the consumer wants to be communicated with is changing. The agent who adopts technology will have the best opportunity to communicate with all generations, from aging baby boomers to new college graduates.
KM: Yes, we have to reach the consumer in the way they want to be reached, so we use all modalities, including good old-fashioned picking up the phone. We have to deliver a message to the consumer that shows that we’re trying to provide value and that gives them added reasons why they would benefit from working with us.
MP: What are your goals looking forward?
JOB: The future of our organization is to be of greater service to the community both in the brokerage business and beyond. In 2017, we donated over $200,000 to the Children’s Miracle Network. In 2018, we’re looking at a quarter of a million dollars. This is compounded by our individual efforts, whether it’s with the American Red Cross or toward cancer research. Along with philanthropic service will be even more robust service to our agent population, so they can win business and take extraordinary care of their clients. The sum of all that results in RE/MAX Gold and RE/MAX Olson. We’re covering more of California based on our victories in service. That’s what’s moving us toward our goal of $12 billion in business done by 2,400 happy members of our agent community. My crystal ball has 20/20 clarity; that’s what I see.