When the COVID-19 pandemic upended the traditional work structure, businesses scrambled to determine the most efficient ways to virtualize in-person tasks. For Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, that included selling franchises — typically a 6-12 month process with tons of face-to-face meetings.
Now, approximately three months after lockdowns began to be implemented nationwide, the Realogy subsidiary is announcing its newest franchisee, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Gaetano Marra Homes, in the Connecticut markets of Fairfield and New Haven.
It’s the first instance where the entire end-to-end process was done virtually and the very first franchise sale for Colette Ravache, a sales director with the Realogy Franchise Group who joined the company in March.
“When we went on lockdown, which was March 13 for franchise sales, we were all talking about, ‘I wonder if we can actually pull off a virtual sale,’” Sherry Chris, the CEO of Realogy Expansion Brands, told Inman. “And so everyone was trying because they wanted to be first, and the irony was that it was a brand new franchise salesperson who did it.”
The typical process, according to Chris, takes up to a year and involves early meetings between the franchise salesperson and a day-long in-person visit by the prospective broker, where BHGRE pitches its value proposition and gets to know the broker. Then, there’s more meetings and financial disclosure documents to be signed.
And, Chris said, even more meetings.
“There are usually many in-person meetings that take place before the actual signing,” Chris said. “Quite often, the franchise salesperson and the broker are together when the documents are signed.”
“We never met with the broker in person,” Chris added. “We were able to conduct a virtual proposition meeting with that broker. The salesperson and the broker, everything that they did, and their interactions, were online or by phone or by Zoom or Microsoft Teams.”
Getting a broker signed to launch a franchise is just the first step. Next comes actually launching the franchise.
Typically after a broker is signed up, there are more meetings to determine how the brand is going to be announced to the agent, which is normally done live at a country club, hotel ballroom or the office. It’s an event with a lot of fanfare, Chris said.
The entire process was closed without Chris — whose expansion brands role covers Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate and ERA Real Estate — ever meeting the broker. It speaks to the power of the BHGRE brand, according to Chris.
Typically, when BHGRE is doing these meetings in person, they find a high percentage of brand awareness for BHGRE, due to it being a lifestyle brand with a strong value proposition, Chris said. It boasts of core values of passion, authenticity, inclusion, growth and excellence.
“Standing for something and being an authentic human being is very important,” Chris said. “If you have a brand that wasn’t as well known, I’m going to guess that it would be more difficult because you have to sell the agents on why this is taking place.”
Since Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Gaetano Marra Homes was closed and launched virtually, the company has done other virtual launches, including Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Connections in Crown Point, Indiana, and Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Central in Charleston, West Virginia, region
“We’ve started to perfect the whole virtual scenario,” Chris said. “Now we’re able to conduct business in a pretty sophisticated way, end to end, without actually having to meet the broker.”
The utilization of virtual tools to grow the franchise network is something that exists deep in the lifeblood of BHGRE. When Chris launched the brand in 2008, she had no brokers, no agents. In September of that year, the financial markets and housing industry crashed.
Chris said the company weathered that storm by believing in the importance of people owning real estate and using its social media feeds to get the word out and sell franchises.
“All I had was a strong value proposition in my pocket and a small team of people who were very passionate about and we grew from there,” Chris said.