Glenn Wallace’s company is named after his dog. J.J. Jones is the “Hat Lady of Southwest Florida.” And Brian Crenshaw is “The Tuxedo Man.”

These real estate professionals say their unconventional approach to marketing is paying off.

Wallace, founder of My Dog Tess, a North Carolina discount real estate brokerage that bears the name of his bull mastiff, said consumers have responded favorably to the company’s dog-based ad campaign. “They laugh at our tongue-in-cheek approach.”

An accountant who sold his first properties in 2001, Wallace said he was joking with his wife one day when he told her that their dog Tess could probably sell property, and that the traditional fee structure in real estate was much too high.

“I caught guff from a lot of Realtors when I put that out there,” Wallace said. “I got a lot of pushback initially.” He even received a letter from a trademark administrator in the National Association of Realtors’ Legal Affairs Department. The letter questioned his use of the slogan, “A New Breed of Realtor” on the My Dog Tess Web site, and Wallace, after seeking advice from his lawyer, has preserved that slogan.

Consumers have responded favorably to the business plan, he said, and resistance from traditional brokers seems to have eased. “The market is large enough to support all of us. We can’t get by without (traditional brokerages). It’s a symbiotic relationship,” he said.

My Dog Tess ran its first advertisements in 2002, and in 2003 the brokerage had 55 transactions. So far this year, My Dog Tess has closed 87 transactions. The company has three full-time agents now, and operates in the area of Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh, with plans to expand to Wilmington and Pinehurst. “We’re really going gangbusters right now as far as volume,” he said.

The catchy company name has been great for business, Wallace said. “When I first started the company, numerous people said, ‘Are you really sure you want to use this name?’ I said, ‘What was Apple Computer?’ In less than two years we have built a giant name for ourselves. People hear it, they remember it, they remember how to find our Web site.”

When Wallace first started the brokerage, his wife took Tess out to a professional photo session in Charlotte, N.C. The photo session produced hundreds of images of Tess, and Wallace uses those images in marketing and ad campaigns. To go alone with the dog theme, the ads use slogans such as “The best doggone deal in town,” Wallace said.

When the Wallaces take Tess for a walk, they sometimes hear comments from people who have seen the dog in advertisements. “Someone we don’t even know will say, ‘That’s Tess, isn’t it?’ ” Some families will request that agents bring Tess to appointments. Has all this attention gone to Tess’ head? “She has a much nicer dog bed now than she used to. We’ve upgraded it for her,” Wallace said. And Wallace has an American Express gold card issued in Tess’ name.

Tess is not the only dog involved in real estate. A number of Realtors post pictures of their pets on their Web sites, and use these images in marketing materials and ad campaigns. There is Howard, a pouty-faced real estate dog in Oriental, N.C., and Lola, a small, ribbon-wearing real estate dog in Virginia.

Real estate agents’ attire, too, can be the focus of their marketing efforts.

Jonette “J.J.” Jones, a Realtor in Ft. Meyers Beach, Fla., is known to wear many hats – literally. A real estate agent since 1986, Jones said she began to market herself as a “Hat Lady” about 12 years ago. “You have to do something a little different to stand out,” she said. “Self-promotion always is important out there. It gets you in the door.”

The hat persona has definitely caught on. She said she sometimes gets calls from consumers who are looking for the “Hat Lady” but can’t remember her actual name. “They have called local boards looking for me,” she said. “The name recognition has just really been incredible.”

Jones’ hand signature includes an illustrated hat, she gives away hats at different functions, she receives hats as gifts from her clients…hats, hats, hats. “I have close to 200 right now and always looking for more,” she said. Her wildest hat features gold sequins and flowers.

It’s to the point that on those occasions when Jones doesn’t wear a hat, she catches flak. Jones is not the only agent who markets her hat-wearing prowess. There is somewhat of a network of real estate agents who are hat people, too, Jones said, including a “Top Hat Man” in Florida. “We do refer business to each other,” she said.

Brian Crenshaw, a Realtor in Richmond, Va., has found that tuxedos can be appropriate for more than just weddings and formal dinners. Crenshaw markets himself as the “The Tuxedo Man” in his local real estate market, and he dresses up for listing and selling appointments and open houses. An agent for 20 years, Crenshaw started wearing the tux to work about 15 years ago.

One of his friends suggested that “as much attention as you get wearing a tuxedo, you ought to use it in real estate,” Crenshaw said. “It’s been quite a good marketing plan,” Crenshaw said. Even if consumers don’t remember his name, “they remember my tuxedo so I get the call,” he said. Other agents seem to have “a more casual approach” to their work, and Polo shirts and khakis are standard industry garb, he added.

While creative marketing has been good for business, Crenshaw said that it’s ultimately your professionalism and experience that keeps the business going. “It’s not just the uniform – that just gets me in the door. (It’s) my track record, the hard work I do,” he said.


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