Can “coozies.” Keychains. Notebooks and pens and flashlights and bottle openers.

The world is packed with generic promotional items that include a spot for slapping on any real estate agent‘s name and logo, ready to ship off to your sphere of influence (SOI) … which will probably, let’s face it, underwhelm that “lucky” receiver. (Those “coozies” don’t do much to keep your drink cold on a really hot day, and the texture gives some people the willies. Just saying!)

There are better options when it comes to promoting your business and keeping top-of-mind with SOI swag. Here are a few tested-and-true ideas from real estate superstars.

Flowers everywhere

Houston agent Nicole Lopez said that a Valentine’s Day promotion worked out nicely for her.

Lopez said that she spent “about $300” on roses and lilies to pass out to clients. “We hand cleaned them and tied business cards to each” before passing them out at “a few neighborhood entrances,” she said.

“We received some great lease/buyer leads and a new listing.”

High-touch and high-tech

Agents at Climb Real Estate in San Francisco have found success with a few different items (or types of items), says Climb president Chris Lim.

One agent “delivers local, hand-wrapped truffles to clients and referral partners,” Lim noted, while another has “a signature gift from Tiffany’s which is both engraved and personalized.”

Climb agents also put together some high-tech client gifts, Lim says, which helps underline the brokerage’s reputation for being tech-savvy.

“Because Climb is mobile, one agent gives a gift basket with only mobile gifts — a Tile keychain, iPhone case, charger, etc.,” Lim said.

And another agent gives sellers a smart home gift certificate,” which discounts Nest, Lutron, LG, August Locks and Linksys,” Lim added.

Dining out (and stretching out)

Nicole Beauchamp, a broker in New York, took advantage of the city’s amazing dining scene by gifting clients with custom Zagat guides — Zagat is a restaurant and dining ranker that started in New York in 1979.

“Just this week someone said they missed them,” recalled Beauchamp. She’d give the guides out either on their own or for “thank-yous” to people — or as part of a “welcome to NYC/start your home search” package for relocating customers.

“I have been pricing some other alternatives,” Beauchamp said. “I might do the Michelin guide this year; not sure yet.”

She’d put the guides in a box with wrapping for a more VIP experience. “These usually went with a note that invited them to a meal at the restaurant of their choice or a specific cuisine — if I remembered or it was in my CRM,” she explained. But all recipients at least got “a nice, handwritten note,” she added.

Now that she’s with a different brokerage (Engel & Völkers), “I’ve been debating some of our higher-value items as part of a customer appreciation event,” Beauchamp said.

She added that she’s got an idea for an event that will offer yoga mats and water bottles to attendees.

And she adds that she’s using an E&V yoga mat herself, and “I am keeping some cards in the bag so I have them when I go to class.”

Kick back and relax

Twin Cities agent Brandon Doyle said that as a standard moving gift, he’ll drop off branded pint glasses and a pizza cutter, along with a pizza and some beer for anyone who’s helping the movers shift their stuff.

For closing gifts or event prizes, he gifts clients with a branded camping chair.

Brandon Doyle's branded camping chair

Brandon Doyle’s branded camping chair

(The next time he orders them, though, he says he’s going to get the company logo printed on the back of the chair instead of the front.)

Year-round memories

Margo Allan, a Bellevue, Washington-based broker, makes her big promotional item a community event.

For the past six years, she’s been inviting the community around Lake Sammamich to submit pictures for Allan’s annual wall calendar. People send in photos of all kinds of lake scenes — “from recreational sports to wildlife to sunsets,” said Allan.

The calendar gets mailed out to about 1,200 people around the lake, she says, and she has clients who have saved past years’ calendars just because they like the photos.

Allan also provides a picture book for her seller clients at closing — “like a coffee table book, with all of the professional photos from when their house was listed,” she explained.

Between both of those image-driven gifts, she’s generating business, she notes. “People keep them around and call me.”

She even has “lake wannabes” who don’t live on the lake but request the calendars nonetheless. “I send them to anybody who wants them!” Allan said.

Books and lemonade

Tracy Wolchok Freeman, an agent in Maplewood, N.J., says she tries to do some kind of “drop-off gift” for her SOI about four times a year.

“Just before school started in 2014, I dropped off a copy of Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss to my 50 most important SOIs,” she remembered. “I tied it in with the fact that I had just completed my broker’s training.”

Another memorable “giveaway” involved a lemonade stand contest on Instagram after getting the idea from Katie Lance at an Inman Connect event. (Freeman credits Lance with the #lemonaderealtor hashtag she used for the contest.)

Freeman invited different people in her SOI to pick a charity and set up a lemonade stand to try to raise money for it, documenting the experience on Instagram.

The contest winner — whomever had the most “likes” on his or her post about the experiment — got to send an extra-hefty donation to his or her charity of choice, courtesy of a chip-in by Freeman.

‘The Flinging of the Loaves’

Chicago-based broker Leslie Ebersole started a tradition when she was an agent and still had her kids around to help, she says.

“End-of-year gifting to prospects, clients, friends can get expensive and weird,” Ebersole noted. “Baked goods in pretty bags with tissue are good for about everyone.”

One year when her son was driving her from house to house so she could drop off the pumpkin loaves, Ebersole remembers him quipping, “Why don’t you just fling them onto the driveway the way that the lawn guys throw little bags of mulch?”

“And thus was born ‘The Flinging of the Loaves,'” Ebersole recalled.

“My last year I was truly in sales, we did about 300 loaves and it turned into a multi-touch program,” she added. Here were the steps:

  1. Schedule an in-office drop-by time. For Ebersole, she remembers that the Monday of Thanksgiving week was a good target. Order cider, coffee, etc.
  2. Ask agents how many printed invites, breads and bags they want.
  3. Order pretty 5-by-7 cards with a Thanksgiving theme and print on it — “we’re grateful for your business; please drop by office from 10 to 4 for a small token, etc. etc.” For people who knew the inside story from past years, she referred outright to the “The Flinging of the Loaves.”
  4. Mail the cards about 10 days ahead of time. Ebersole said that her ratio was about five invites for every bread the agent would order, and that sending the pretty card to say “grateful” was a touch all by itself.
  5. Send follow up email(s) — “are you stopping by?”
  6. Wrap all the breads on the Saturday and Sunday before Thanksgiving week.
  7. Start delivering breads on Sunday to people who can’t come by and who you want to see.
  8. Host the office event on the Monday before the holiday. “It is astonishing how many people will come by to get a $4 pumpkin bread,” Ebersole noted.
  9. Deliver to people who didn’t come by on Monday evening and Tuesday.
  10. Her goal was about 20 to 25 personal deliveries per agent — plus as many people as the agent could get to come by.

“This was only one piece of staying in touch with people in an authentic way that fit the brand — community-based, food, friendly, personal,” Ebersole said. “It wouldn’t work for everyone. And it has to be genuine or it’s embarrassing to everyone.

“But it’s the kind of activity that is super-scalable, from the new agent who buys 10 of something inexpensive at Costco to a whole team or brokerage that makes it a big group project,” she added.

Brokerage-assisted client appreciation

Vanessa Bergmark, owner/president of Red Oak Realty in the San Francisco Bay Area, said that Red Oak offers a quarterly “CAP” — a client appreciation program — that sends gifts from local shops.

She says the brokerage sends out more than 300 a quarter with a thank-you note from the agent and a request for more referrals.

“Feedback has been exceptionally good (clients reposting on Facebook),” wrote Bergmark in an email. They invite agents to order as many or as few gifts as they like and bill the gifts to the agent invoices; an upcoming gift involves an olive-oil-and-vinegar set, and a Queen of Sheba honey gift sent out recently “received rave reviews.”

“We’ve only run the program for four quarters so far, with increasing agent involvement for each quarter,” Bergmark said. “It’s grown from 60 agents to start to about 380 to date.”

Kids, pets and games

Broker Tina McGowan in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, has done some creative things with the whale logo of her brokerage (Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty).

“Kids and dogs are my big things,” she said, noting that there’s nothing worse than a bored kid when parents are trying to look at a house. “A couple of my favorite things are those small fabric frisbees that you can twist and open, and the stress balls, which come in all kinds of really fun colors — kids love them for throwing around.”

Daniel Gale Sotheby's-branded bracelet, stress ball/whale and measuring tape, courtesy of Tina McGowan

Daniel Gale Sotheby’s-branded bracelet, stress ball/whale and measuring tape, courtesy of Tina McGowan

McGowan is a dog fan herself (she has four), so another favored gift are the dog biscuits with the whale shape stamped on them.

The whale of a dog biscuit that Tina McGowan gives to clients.

The whale of a dog biscuit that Tina McGowan gives to clients.

One couple selling their house and moving to Florida had three elderly poodles — Larry, Curly and Moe — who were so taken with the soft biscuits that McGowan says she had a purchase offer (for the biscuits).

She was talking to another client “and somehow we got on this big kick about how we don’t sit by the fire and play backgammon and chess and all of that,” she remembered — so McGowan gave the client a custom backgammon set with a little blue whale in the middle.

She also likes to give cooler bags “that are not in-your-face,” she noted — they have the brokerage name on the inside and the whale logo on one of the shoulder straps, and McGowan packs them with a bottle of champagne and a whale-shaped cutting board.

“It’s just a matter of listening to your clients,” McGowan said.

Pie in the sky

Washington, D.C.-based agent Cheryl Spangler has tried tons of different gift ideas to reach clients. “Like most agents, probably, who have been in the business more than 10 to 15 years — we literally try everything to see what we can do to get a response from clients,” she noted.

When she first started in real estate, Spangler remembers, she wanted to be appreciated by her clients, but her closing gifts were probably “way too costly.”

“For one entire year, I gave away a $300 membership to the ‘fruit of the month club’ with Harry & David — until my tax guy said ‘what the heck are you doing?’ since I could only deduct around $35 of that. Interestingly enough, that really never got me any real estate referrals.”

Spangler also said she has tried:

  • Thumb drives
  • Screen cleaners
  • Cell phone stands
  • Beach balls
  • Ice scrapers
  • Valentine’s candy
  • Christmas calendars
  • E-cards
  • Real cards
  • Newsletters — print and digital

She also makes a point to stop by her top 10 clients’ homes (past and current) every quarter — “just to say hi, not to ask for anything, and always bring a cute $10 gift,” she said.

But she also has a secret weapon — “one thing — well, two things — that have brought me over $10 million in home sales easy, if not more, in the last 15 years.”

The first is a personal note card — but it has to be really personal, Spangler explains.

The cards are “hand-written by me (not an assistant) where I actually do think of this person and comment about something I remember about them, something I liked about working with them or just genuinely saying hi and asking how they are doing,” she noted. “I really do get to the know the client as we work together. This is not a chore for me; I ask a lot of questions during the time I qualify them — both sellers and buyers — and I get to know their lifestyle.”

Spangler says that she doesn’t get a response to every notecard that she sends, but she’s certain they work. “If someone takes the time to write a personal note to you one day and without asking for anything in return, it just says how much they appreciate you.”

The second is a tactic that Spangler says brought her more than $3 million in sales one fall. “I decided to step out of my ‘business, buy it, order it online marketing mode’ and make 10 homemade apple pies with my daughter as a bonding thing and as a marketing gift to my top 10 clients,” she explained.

Spangler making pies with her daughter.

Spangler making pies with her daughter.

“After the pies were made and packaged neatly with a cute phrase, I dropped them at the doorstep personally within 24 hours.”

Homemade apple pies make a great promo.

Homemade apple pies make a great promo.

“This brought tears to one client’s eyes and shocked most since they couldn’t believe in this busy real estate world I would take time to make a pie and deliver it to them,” Spangler remembered. “One of these pies was to a client I loved but had somewhat lost touch with; one week later, this client called and asked me to come list a $3.2 million home.

“I have never minimized the old-school, great communication, family-oriented way of reaching out to people and will always keep this as a part of my marketing annually,” she concluded.

Spangler adds that she pays for and holds housewarming parties for all her buyers about 90 days after they move in. “They come up with the list of friends and family, and I take care of the rest,” she noted. “Now business is always flowing because I am always keeping it real with them — and not allowing technology to totally take over my follow-up program.”

A sign from above

J.T. Takacs, the Delaware state broker for eXp, says he’s gotten better return from a promotional item for his car over anything he ever bought for a client.

“I like the idea of car magnets, but I do it a little differently,” Takacs explained. “I don’t put a lot of information on them, and I don’t put them on the side of my car.”

Instead, he puts the car magnet on the back of his pickup truck, on the driver’s side, so that it’s eye-level with drivers behind him, he says.

And it generates leads for him, including one memorable moment in particular when he was driving down the highway and his cell phone rang.

He answered, and the gentleman on the other end introduced himself and said that he’d been looking for a house.

“It’s just not been going well,” Takacs recalls him saying. He’d tried one agent who never returned his calls; he tried looking on his own for a little bit; then he found another agent, who also wouldn’t get back to him when he wanted to put an offer in on a house.

“I am so frustrated, and I said, ‘Dear God, please give me a sign that I should be buying a house.’ Then I pulled up behind you at the traffic light.”

Takacs looked in his rearview mirror and saw his new client waving at him.

“We did go and get him a house,” he concluded.

Email Amber Taufen

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