Gary Schottenstein learned from his father, Irving Schottenstein, to treat your customer right and fairly. And after more than 35 years in the real estate business, he still holds true to that — and tries to treat everyone that way, from customers to employees.
In fact, the chairman and CEO of Schottenstein Real Estate Group keeps a voicemail to remind him, and because it makes him feel good.
Bruce Heine was trying to buy one of the company’s condominiums for himself and his wife. The two had a lot of health problems.
Schottenstein says Heine couldn’t qualify for a mortgage. So, even though he didn’t know him very well, he told him to go ahead and move in, and pay what he could until he could buy it.
He got this call in August 2012:
I very sadly wanted to let you know that my wife died Friday night after six hours of open-heart surgery. I just want you to know that you allowing us to get into that beautiful place meant everything to her. She was the happiest I’ve seen her in years.
She saw me through five surgeries and some business setbacks, and she stuck with me with five IVs and I almost lost my leg. And it just — everything, she just willed me through it. And you making this, allowing this, to happen is immense.
I don’t — I know you’ve done hundreds of thousands of transactions, but you will never do a transaction where you have anyone more appreciative and grateful than myself and my wife.
Heine’s wife spent 10 days in the condo, and Heine himself died just over a year later in September 2013.
Schottenstein is very proud of the experience, but makes no brags about it: “I am not trying to toot my own horn. You’ve just got to feel for other people.”
Here’s how Schottenstein Real Estate, one of the largest developers and builders in the Midwest, focuses on customer satisfaction and team building.
A customer-centric culture
Schottenstein Real Estate strives to be open and forthright with customers. Management tries to get feedback from residents, so it throws different events and has staff mingle with residents.
“We’re a company that, if you want an appointment with the vice president, they’ll come to your home or business,” Schottenstein says. “We’re not some out-of-state company with ABC in the name that no one can figure out who they are.
“I think we were the first developer to implement a total satisfaction guarantee warranty for any resident.”
Schottenstein Real Estate’s first core value is to: “Build honest, open relationships with residents, customers, contractors, related parties and the public, so that our promises and integrity are unquestioned and reaffirmed to all.”
By striving to reinforce the customer’s trust and their decision to contract with Schottenstein Real Estate for one of the most important parts of their life — where they live, you build long-term relationships.
“When someone does business with you, they have confidence in you, and you want to try to, obviously, earn their confidence and trust ongoing in the future,” Schottenstein says.
Building the right team
Real estate, like many industries today, can be challenging, from locating and acquiring land to getting entitlement approvals. However, the right team is essential to success.
“We’ve been able to attract a very good team of associates, including vice presidents in charge of different divisions, and we’ve been able to maintain, for many years, great sub-contractors and suppliers and vendors, many of which have been doing business with us for almost 40 years,” Schottenstein says.
Even with the downturn in real estate over the past four to six years, Schottenstein Real Estate has still been able to grow and start a number of new projects, which is a testament to its employees.
Finding the right people to hire is a very important factor in any company, Schottenstein says. You need to spend a lot of time interviewing and ensuring someone is the right fit.
“You have to be very definite on the job description and what you expect out of someone, and you have to ask a lot of questions and make sure that they can meet those objectives,” he says.
Schottenstein Real Estate has found that a mix of internal promotions and recruiting talented people from competitors is a successful combination.
Once the employee has been hired, Schottenstein says, you should try to treat him or her as well and fairly and honestly as you can. By helping the employee grow and meet personal goals for success in their job, employees will want to stay with the organization for years.
You also need self-starters and self-motivators, who enjoy doing their work. They aren’t in it just for the money.
“You want people who enjoy getting up every day, going to work, that don’t clock-watch,” he says. “And, to me, no matter what position you’re in, you have to have good communication skills.
“Even people who are on the Internet and computer all day, I want them to be able to communicate with their co-workers and certainly with the public, the customers, anybody else. You have to be able to communicate and also, you have to realize that you’re part of the team,” Schottenstein says.
“Generally speaking, you have to really be sure that they like the industry that they’re in. You don’t want people just holding a place until retirement or just doing it for the money.”
Teamwork is very important in any company. Employees need to be able to understand how they fit in with their job duties as part of the whole organization.
One way to get associates to buy into the company’s mission and vision, Schottenstein says, is giving them freedom with their schedule, including the ability to take personal time off to participate in family and non-work events.
“We like to have them schedule their own time and meetings and not punch the clock. We don’t have a clock to be punched here,” he says.
The hours aren’t as important as the efficiency and performance.
“We don’t necessarily require someone to work a lot of long hours and overtime hours,” Schottenstein says. “We would rather have you work smarter and better; quality of time is more important than quantity of time on the job.”
So, how can you measure someone’s performance without just looking at the hours they put in?
If someone is in leasing or sales, Schottenstein says it’s pretty apparent by how much they are selling. Otherwise, working smarter means being focused, and not wasting time.
“When you’re at work, you have to be able to put your personal life behind you somewhat — you have to be able to focus,” he says, “and keep yourself aligned with what the company wants you to do.” ●
- Build honest, open relationships, so your integrity is unquestioned.
- Hire people who have passion beyond the paycheck.
- Encourage staff to work smarter, not longer.
The Schottenstein File:
Name: Gary Schottenstein
Title: Chairman and CEO
Company: Schottenstein Real Estate Group
Education: Bachelor of science in business administration with a concentration in accounting from The Ohio State University.
What was your first job, and what did you learn from it? My first job was really working construction and maintenance for apartment communities, and what I learned was to appreciate the hard work done by all the contractors and laborers. When you’re out there you can see how hard people work — and primarily working with their hands.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received? The best business advice I ever received was from my father, Irving Schottenstein. He said to always care about your customers and try to treat them fairly and honestly.
Who do you admire in business? I admire people who are able to be successful in business, but also successful in their family life and have time to give back to the community, the city and to charitable organizations.
What does business success mean to you? It’s not just one word or something. I would say: No. 1, enjoying your work and the people that you work with; No. 2, would be accomplishing project goals, including building households which can appeal to and satisfy the residents; and No. 3 would be to develop communities which enhance the overall city and state where it’s located.
Find out more about Schottenstein Real Estate Group at: