Since the turn of the century, the U.S. population has grown by 3.3 percent, and in my home state of Oregon, the trend is slightly higher at 3.6 percent.
Here, there’s one region that is booming in particular: Central Oregon’s Deschutes County grew at more than double the pace of the state as a whole. Our offices just happen to be located in this epicenter, and we’ve seen local real estate sales and development scrambling to keep up with the influx of new people.
I spoke with Sandy Garner, founder of my firm (Bend, Oregon-based Harcourts The Garner Group Real Estate), to get her perspective on the growth. As a lifelong resident with more than 35 years actively practicing real estate in our region, she has a unique point of view.
“Those of us who consider ourselves ‘natives’ or ‘locals’ have seen this community change at lightning speed,” Garner said. “Now, well over half our population is ‘transplants’ from other areas, and there are many reasons why they want to settle here: recreation, beauty, relative affordability — compared to places like Southern California — and the welcoming, friendly nature of the people.”
Garner’s ongoing success as a top Realtor in the region and her extensive involvement in the community has made her name highly recognizable. So when she decided to create her independent real estate company in 2008, it made good sense to name it The Garner Group at that time.
Our business and number of agents have grown steadily, with 29 licensed brokers currently engaged in real estate sales and three additional staff and management employees.
Building a local business that was based on decades of success in the region was a solid concept. Our company continued to do well, ranking consistently at no. 1 for new construction sales and other accolades.
Even through the housing bubble burst of 2005 and the subsequent recession (hitting Bend especially hard), we experienced steady business. Today, real estate is going strong once again with building and planning permits rising by 25 percent over last year, and home prices rising by 34 percent over the last five years.
So how to keep up with the demands of an extremely active and shifting market, while retaining brand equity with a loyal client base? For us, the decision wasn’t an easy one.
“We needed access to technological expertise, a successful national network and training programs with all the growth that was happening,” Garner said. “To me, this meant a franchise relationship. We carefully looked for a franchise that had company cultures and values that fit well with our own and a partnership that would allow us to keep our local ‘flavor.'”
We asked several questions during the franchise selection process, such as:
- How do we keep from alienating our existing clientele and the local community?
- How do we communicate the change gracefully to both the public and our agents?
- How can we retain the equity we’ve built in our brand while encompassing change?
In the end, we chose to enter a franchise relationship with Harcourts USA, a division of Harcourts International LTD. Harcourts, which was founded in New Zealand in 1888, is an international real estate company with offices all around the world.
As the first location in the Pacific Northwest, we even faced some brand awareness challenges for Harcourts — well-known in international markets but not as much in the U.S.
“While fitting in with our goals of putting people first, we also felt comfortable because I’ve known the people at Harcourts for 20 years,” Garner said. “Putting our trust in them was a logical step as we continued to grow our office.”
Branding was the first challenge with the partnership as we needed to create a name and logo that minimized loss of existing brand equity while fulfilling the requirements of the franchise agreement.
Eventually, our team landed on the name “Harcourts The Garner Group Real Estate” with a cleverly integrated in-house designed logo that incorporated both name elements. The logo, approved by the Harcourts marketing team, was a key element in providing a smooth transition.
To eloquently communicate the change in more detail, we embarked on a multi-pronged public relations campaign. Starting out with a press release to local and real estate trade media, we secured several feature articles in local mediums to provide comprehensive, unbiased coverage of the change.
A grand opening event for VIPs and the media, along with several key corporate sponsorships of local events, rounded out the launch of the new brand.
Since the re-brand, not only have our agents had access to Harcourts’ software and online tools, business management systems, in-person and online training resources and the largest real estate network in the world, but they continue to experience growth and overall success.
Rebranding in a shifting marketplace is a tricky endeavor. Retaining equity is necessary, so no existing brand awareness is lost. Moving ahead with the technologies and systems that an increasingly demanding business environment requires is a must.
One way to make this shift with grace is through careful planning, audience analysis and a concerted communications effort on the front end. So don’t be afraid of change and growth; just be smart about it.
With more than a decade serving the booming residential real estate market of Bend, Oregon, Sara LaFaver is the managing principal broker for Harcourts The Garner Group Real Estate.