Taking it personally

When Dennis Drennan rode into town five years ago to launch a local office of Realty Executives, he vowed to raid his competitors of their better agents in order to land his franchise within the top four area real estate companies within two years (see SBN September 1995).

Drennan, who had been vice president and regional director for ERA in Chicago before returning to Canton in 1995, had built a successful 20-year career as one of the top producers for several local real estate companies and for the 11-state territory of ERA he managed before deciding to set out on his own.

Now, five years later, Drennan’s Realty Executives Commitment franchise has grabbed 10 percent of the local market share — in number of listings — and he has managed to hire 45 full-time agents without losing one to another real estate company.

While his success since his return to Canton may not be surprising, the fact that he achieved it by making a personal investment in each of his agent’s personal and professional well-being is practically unheard of — especially in the cutthroat world of real estate sales.

His secret weapon might just be his wife, Fran, who he brought on board a few years ago to recruit agents and provide overall HR services. Realty Executives franchises are set up so that agents work as independent contractors. They pay a fee to the franchise to work under the Realty Executive umbrella, for the office space and for the training they receive, but they get to keep 100 percent of their commissions.

“We’re so different,” says Fran Drennan, vice president. “There’s no competition amongst agents. There’s really a camaraderie where we celebrate each other’s victories and we share our sorrows.”

But simple encouragement barely describes the level of interest the Drennans take in their agents.

For one, every year, agents share in a personal and professional growth study. This year, they are studying the life applications of Stephen R. Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” called “Living the Seven Habits.” At the beginning of each weekly sales meeting, the Drennans, who provide copies of the book for agents, recap what was discussed at the last meeting, and then delve into the book a little further.

“It’s enough to get everybody on the same page,” Fran says.

It’s not required reading, but, as Fran is quick to point out, she knows the regime is being taken seriously because “you start to hear people using the terminology around the office.”

The Drennans choose books that promote both personal and professional growth, because, as Dennis says, you can’t separate the two. Last year, agents read and discussed Og Mandino’s “The Greatest Salesman in the World.”

Dennis’ credo is: “If we become better people, we’ll become better agents.”

That may be why each sales meeting focuses on the principles on which Drennan founded his company: total honesty, no politics, the Golden Rule (“Doing unto others as we would really like them to do unto us”) and always seeking the “adult/adult relationship” Covey writes about in his books.

The Drennans’ involvement with their agents extends beyond the workplace. Everyone spends a day each summer helping to build a house for Habitat for Humanity, while the company donates cash (this year, $5,000) to the project.

Fran says that the camaraderie gained from working together toward a cause like that can’t be duplicated.

“It’s a whole new opportunity to see the agent, to see their strengths, and for them to see us. It’s fellowship and it’s fun,” she says.

She says those experiences help create memories for the agents, and as a result, a history for the group overall.

“Once you have a memory in place, you can refer back to it, just like traditions with a family,” she says. “You just have that sense of belonging.”

The Drennans also host picnics, parties, dinners and lunches for agents to celebrate just about every occasion — from new hires to each agent’s anniversary.

And every day, agents are encouraged by Fran (a former chemical dependency counselor) to bring their problems to work.

“There are so many times that agents get beaten up out in the real world,” Fran says. “We hope this is a haven where they can come and get a pat on the back and a hug. If you’re doing battle out there, you don’t need to do it internally.”

Maintaining a ‘safe haven’ means discouraging competition among agents, a practice that flies in the face of traditional sales environments.

“We don’t have any salesman of the month parking places. At meetings, we don’t say, ‘Who has seven listings, stand up, and whoever doesn’t have any, crawl under the table,'” says Fran. “Everyone is on the same level. Everyone here is professional. How divisive is encouragement with a parking spot, for someone to have celebrity while someone else is kicked down?
“We don’t believe in it and we don’t do it.” How to reach: Realty Executives Commitment, (330) 492-2162

Connie Swenson ([email protected]) is editor of SBN.