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REAL Trends Game Changer: Ashley Bowers President, HomeSmart International

Jul 15, 2020 8:01:51 AM

With a growth plan to be in all 50 states and to double their agent count by the end of 2023, HomeSmart and its leadership team led by Bowers is strategically moving toward success. Find out about their growth plan in this podcast.

Tracey Velt:

This is Tracey Velt, editor in chief of content for REAL Trends. REAL Trends 500 data shows that there are a handful of brokerage owners who consistently achieve high growth year after year. These brokers were selected to be 2020 REAL Trends game changers. Today we're speaking with Ashley Bowers, president of HomeSmart International in Arizona to find out how they managed 86% growth between 2014 and 2018. Welcome Ashley.

Ashley Bowers:

Thank you.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah. So let's just kind of start at the beginning. Tell me a little bit about your brokerage, your position. I think you've been with HomeSmart since 2013 and were instrumental in implementing growth initiatives. So tell me a little bit about that.

Ashley Bowers:

Yeah, absolutely. You know, we have a thing at HomeSmart that we set ridiculous expectations and then we find a way to make those expectations normal, and so that's kind of the basis of everything that we do. And we've been strategically building a leadership team as well as a bid management team to make sure that we can continue to sustain hyper-growth metrics in all areas of the business, whether it be, the brokerage or the franchise side.

Ashley Bowers:

We're continuing with franchising across the country, looking at being in all 50 states by the end of 2023 and our growth plan right now has us doubling our agent count in the next three years. And so we're laser focused.

Tracey Velt:

Yeah, absolutely. That sounds wonderful. So obviously achieving that type of growth over the past four years is incredible. So tell me about those years of mergers, acquisitions, organic growth. Tell me a little bit about how you grew.

Ashley Bowers:

Absolutely. So we actually focus on all areas of growth. We continue to focus on our organic growth. We range anywhere from 7% net agent gain to 13% net agent gain depending on our market. Some of the markets where we, have a heavier saturation, obviously we have that lower percentage, it's kind of evening out a little bit, but we're still able to maintain it each year.

Ashley Bowers:

And then franchising and bringing on not only conversions but also we bring on a lot of startups. So our startup franchises typically have a growth goal to get from, zero or maybe two or three of them that are running the brokerage as well as starting it, to a hundred agents in their first year is really where we try to get them to. So it's very quick and obviously that can happen and stress in that as well. And then we have been trying to really be strategic about our acquisitions over the last several years. We're getting more aggressive with those, but we've had 1500 agents that we acquired in Denver, Colorado a couple of years ago and about 150 agents in the Phoenix market that we've acquired over the last couple of years. And then most recently 650 agents in the Maryland, Virginia, DC market. Our growth plan for the next three years will be 2500 acquired agents per year. In order for us to hit our targets.

Tracey Velt:

Okay, great. So obviously in every entrepreneur's life there's an aha moment when you realized you needed to change the way you were doing things in order to scale and grow or stop with a current business plan and get creative. So what was your aha moment?

Ashley Bowers:

Wow. I think actually one of them was just, even this year. I was introduced to a concept in strategic planning. I've always been a planner. My background is in organizational development and psychology. So that's an area of focus for me within the business. And you know, you get into those one year, three year plans and you're just constantly going for that end goal. And not necessarily looking more at those micro goals that you can manage and shift on kind of on a monthly basis.

Ashley Bowers:

And I was able to hear a speech on a tool set called the 3HAG WAY and it talked about quarterly planning to really get to predictable numbers. And so how you have a three year plan that's broken into 12 quarters and you adjust slightly each quarter based on hitting and or exceeding the target. And the individual that created the concept has used this with six different organizations herself plus her consulting organization to actually be able to predict cash, profit and top line revenue three years out,+6 very consistently. And it's not something that we've been able to do. Most entrepreneurs can't do it. We just keep going, we'll hit it and you keep striving and build plans to hit it. But it's not quite that predictable. And I think that was a big one for us in the last, even just in the last six months, it's been a big one for all of us inside HomeSmart.

Tracey Velt:

Okay. So let's talk some specifics about your growth. What did you and your leadership team do to create such growth? And it kind of piggy backed on your aha moment. So tell me a little bit about your recruiting, your business practices and your culture.

Ashley Bowers:

Sure, yeah. I mean that obviously starts with our founder and CEO, Matt Widdows and he's always about like that next thing and the growth. That he's very specific that we have to have a place where people want to come to work, work hard, have fun. And make an impact why they're doing that. And I think we kind of keep that at the core of our decisions and try to balance our tech focus with our operational focus, with our service focus, with our culture focus. And it's a delicate balance at times, to say the least.

Ashley Bowers:

So we start inside with the employees first. If they're happy, they're going to serve our customers, agents and consumers much better than if they're not. And so we really focus on our Employee Net Promoter Score and how they feel about being in the organization. Making sure that regardless of their position, they understand how it impacts the top line and the bottom line, as well as our franchise brokers, our agents and our consumers.

Ashley Bowers:

And so they can kind of see the work that they do and how it transcends throughout the organization and even outside of the organization. And so I think that that's key, is them understanding like we have our agent services team, they have to answer 92% of calls in seven seconds or less that come into the brokerage. And that's from around the country because they service the agents of our franchises and they will jump up and celebrate and scream when they hit 96% and 97% for a week. So it's exciting to them versus it feeling like it's this hard metrics that we're always focusing on. So kind of changing the way people feel about the numbers. I think has been key.

Ashley Bowers:

We are always recruiting, you know obviously we have referral programs and things like that with our agents, but we have corporate recruiters within all of our markets. And then we also have a call center in our headquarters office that does calling around the country, not only for our corporate location but also for all of our franchise locations. And that was a game changer for us a few years ago, our franchise side was only growing at about 10 to 12% net agent count each year. And we had to change something, otherwise we weren't going to hit that scale mark. And so we added the call center because as a startup franchise it was really difficult number one for them to hire a dedicated recruiter or agent recruiting just went on that proverbial to do us like it does for a lot of broker owners.

Ashley Bowers:

And so it wasn't something that, the prospecting wasn't getting done right. There was a meeting or somebody walked in, obviously they are having that, but processing wasn't getting completed. And so we started the call center. Since having a call center in place, our franchise systems, they grow between 25 and 32% at each year. So it's really been a changer for us.

Tracey Velt:

And tell me a little bit about the call center. How many people work in the call center and are they working day and night or, tell me a little bit about it.

Ashley Bowers:

Yeah, so we, we service the call center in actually all of our departments across all of the US time zones. So from Hawaii to East coast, we're open. And the call center has about 17 people in it currently, I mean, yes we have turnover and things like that in the call center, but not nearly as much as your typical call center. We run about 25% turnover in our call center, so that helps us kind of really teach them about the market and what it is that they're selling. And they tend really like it, because agents want to hear about new opportunities or at least hear about competition. So the calls aren't as angry as your typical call center position.

Ashley Bowers:

But the demographic of our call center is very similar to any call center. And so we have a lot of competitions, like monthly contests, quarterly contests. So it's a very fun culture up there. It's in our corporate office and we try to pull them into different events and get them exposed to the agent population as much as possible.

Ashley Bowers:

And our franchisees are fantastic because whenever they come to the corporate office, they'll go and sit and do calls side by side with their representative who's calling in their market and they get to know them and have those types of conversations and a lot of people at that level in that organizations don't get to experience that, so they really appreciate it.

Tracey Velt:

Okay. And how are you training the call center employees? I assume their employees, to recruit?

Ashley Bowers:

Yeah, so they're more or less they're lead gen or appointment setters versus doing the actual recruiting. They can't do the hiring piece of it. The broker still has to do that side. But what they do is they go through all of our typical new employee orientation, which is about four days, when anyone comes on board to understand what we do, how we do it, our value, proper culture. And then they get two weeks of on the job intensive training before they ever start making a phone call. And so they're, they're listening, they're doing side-by-sides, the leaders of the department are calling and they're, helping them through that. We have lots of scripts and decision trees and things of that nature. Lots of automation with our technology to make sure that they're always talking about the right location and what's available.

Ashley Bowers:

And then we integrate with all of the franchisee's calendars so they can set appointments for them so that the agent can go in and actually be interviewed and then potentially hired by the broker owner.

Ashley Bowers:

Okay. And then ongoing, there's lots of coaching and chairsides and one of the things we do is about every four months we switch the location that they're calling just to kind of refresh and give them something a little bit different to talk about. And that tends to really help our results as well.

Tracey Velt:

Okay, great. So if you could offer other brokers some advice when growing their businesses, what would it be? This might be kind of, a lessons learned.

Ashley Bowers:

Yeah, cut out the noise. You know, internally we always say if the industry is kind of going one direction, we're usually going the opposite. And every once in a while we will get in our own heads and think that maybe we should do something more traditional or get involved in something or join a conversation. And every time we do it really becomes a distraction. So just, build your plan, run your plan, run your business the way you want it, build the culture that you want to have and be mindful of what else is going on and be selective on the things that you also want to join in on. But cut the noise and when people are saying it's not going to work or it's not going to happen or you can't do it, just kind of keep that focus. If Matt wouldn't have been able to do that years ago, we wouldn't be celebrating our 20th year, come January. So, and that's really important.

Tracey Velt:

Okay, great. Well, congratulations on being named a 2020 REAL Trends game changer, and thank you for joining REAL Trends today.

Ashley Bowers:

Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.

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