It was the premise of the Academy Award winning film Jerry McGuire: Is there a better way to do our business?
It is also what taxi companies and Sears Roebuck, who invented the catalogue industry, never asked. Therefore, they stood flabbergasted as Uber and Amazon hit like an asteroid extinction event on their market share.
Perhaps, it is because Barbara Schluraff hasn’t spent her entire career in real estate that caused her to look at the industry differently.
As Schluraff reinvented her professional self, she also embarked on a quest to change the paradigm of how agents and brokers, along with the buying and selling public, relate to each other and work together at her Century 21 Ocean agency.
“Our industry has one of the highest rates of people leaving the business, as well as high agent turnover,” Schluraff said. She went on to explain it is a combination of increased pressure to lower commission rates, combined with the fact that, as Schluraff put it, “Agents prize their ‘independent’ status, but at what cost?”
“In today’s market,” she said, “it is like the agent is the head coach, the defensive coordinator, the offensive coordinator, the o-line and d-line coach, as well as being the quarterback and wide receiver. They don’t have a team, where everyone focuses on their specialty and everyone is able to enjoy the results of exponentially greater capacity.”
Happy Agents, Happy Clients
For Schluraff it came down to the age-old premise, if your people are happy, then they will work to make their clients happy. “I love the real estate business,” she shared, “but I observed that to be effective and successful you had to be on all the time, there was no work-life balance, which simply isn’t sustainable.”
Like in most industries, the internet has been a positive disruptor in real estate. However, it has also made the responsibilities of individual agents more complicated. They not only have to service their buyers and sellers, often they also must launch and maintain numerous social media sites, as well as specialize in market comparisons and understand all the nuances of the transactions. Schluraff thought specialization and a team approach was a more logical and effective way to run a brokerage.
From the beginning of this journey, Chenay Strum, Century 21 Ocean’s operations director, has been Schluraff’s strongest ally and strategic partner. She observed, “Barbara is passionate about her people succeeding and that doesn’t just translate into closing more business, it is being successful in their lives.” Strum is the agency’s point person on inbound and outbound internet marketing and social media. She is also a real estate outsider, with a background in human resources in the resort and retail industry.
“Barbara is so much more than just a ‘boss,’” Strum said, “She’s someone I trust. She’s resilient. She’s got grit. But personally, she empowers me and lets me run with my crazy ideas that push us to live outside the typical real estate box.”
A Road Less Traveled
Schluraff started studying innovative brokerages around the country and even went to California to learn from a leading agency that is pushing the creative envelope. Within her agency, she used tools like DISC to align people with their strengths, instead of everyone being a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none. In turn, this freed all of them, particularly agents, to do what they do best.
An out-of-the-box approach seems to come naturally to this Florida native. After graduating from FSU, Schluraff headed to Colorado “to be a ski bum,” but also got involved in organic produce. Which, when she started longing for a warmer climate, took her to Hawaii. “I really didn’t know what I was going to do when I got out there, but I had learned to live simply,” she said.
Coming back to Florida, the Space Coast offered the lifestyle and opportunities she was looking for. An avid surfer, lover of wildlife and water activities, the area provided the healthy, coastal living approach she enjoyed and knew others were searching for. It also was a great place to raise her two, now grown, children. She transitioned from a home-schooling mom to lending to real estate and found her fit.
The Client Experience
“Ultimately, it is the client experience that will differentiate us,” she said. “If we have a team that all share their strengths, the clients will see the distinction.”
Research has demonstrated that though people shop the market on the web, they still look for a real estate professional to guide them through the transaction.
Unlike the car business, where people want to avoid sales people, in real estate they look for a person they can trust.
Therefore, just like people check Yelp to evaluate restaurants or a bed and breakfast, more and more customers are checking not just a company’s listings, but other real estate client’s reviews, before deciding on a broker or agent.
“I took a call from a client who was selling an oceanfront condominium,” Schluraff shared. “He was in his mid-30s and when I asked if he wanted to meet with me and discuss our services, he said, ‘No, I’ve researched you online and you’re who I want to work with.’ It sort of shocked me, but then I realized that is what Chenay and other members of our team are there to do.”
With the variety of choices customers now have, there has been a flip/flop in the supply/demand model, putting the power in consumers’ hands. Therefore, discovering what they want and assisting them in a way they can’t find anywhere else, is the recipe Schluraff is serving and training her team to deliver.
Schluraff uses tools like DISC to align people with their strengths, instead of everyone being a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none.
This frees all of them, to do what they do best.