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When Chicago-based brokerage @properties was preparing to expand into the Atlanta market, it took a drastic step: A company executive actually moved temporarily to the Georgia city to help bring the new team up to speed.
The episode highlights the challenges of expanding a real estate brand onto new turf. Such expansions involve not just branding and hiring, but dispersing technology, best practices and — most importantly, Tuesday’s panelists argued — culture. But it can be done, according to both Hamrick and Bryan Drakulich, broker-owner of Reno-based Better Homes and Gardens Drakulich Realty who also appeared on stage Tuesday.
Here’s how Hamrick and Drakulich did it:
Know when to act
Drakulich said real estate is dominated by people who are either working in their business, or on their business. People who are working in their business can become very focused on transactions and other day-to-day operational issues, but for such people it’s important to recognize “when you’ve maxed out.”
“You know when you can’t do much more,” Drakulich said. “That’s when it’s time to grow. The challenge is to take off the hat of working in your business and start working on your business.”
In Drakulich’s case, he said his own team helped him recognize when it was time to act.
“They were the driving force behind it,” he added. “I’m grateful I have a good team around me.”
Culture is key
Drakulich and Hamrick both stressed that culture is key to pulling off a successful brand. In the case of @properties, one way the company — which is one year into a fast-growing franchise effort — pulls that off is by pushing adoption of the company’s various technology platforms. And by getting involved on the ground.
“We’re very hands-on in the onboarding process,” Hamrick explained.
Getting culture can be tricky, with Drakulich noting that “it you don’t do a good job in the first 12 months you’re not going to get to 24 or 36.” In his case, he prefers to expand via mergers and acquisitions because that offers an immediate market presence. However, he noted that such an option also presents cultural challenges because the acquired teams may come in with a totally different mindset.
Drakulich said it simply takes work to bring everyone up to speed. To accomplish that, he meets with potential agents and asks them “point blank if they’re where they want to be.” The idea is that he’s trying to understand what his future agents need.
Hamrick made a similar point, saying leaders who want to expand should “wow them with value, not with money.”
Know where to go
Figuring out how to export a culture is important, but it’s also key to simply find a place to expand into. Hamrick said that in @properties case, the company looks for markets “where the status quo has prevailed for a long time.” She said that was particularly the case when her company moved in Detroit — it was the firm’s first franchise — and the team that opened the office “saw kind of an innovation void.”
Hamrick also suggested starting out local, which has worked out for @properties, which grew in the Midwest before opening an office further away in Texas.
“For our first year of franchise efforts, that’s what we wanted to do,” she said. “Kind of stay close to home base.”