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REAL Trends Game Changer: Sheryl Chinowth, CEO and Co-Founder, Chinowth & Cohen Realtors, Oklahoma

Jul 22, 2020 7:44:18 AM

Starting the brand as a small, luxury firm, Chinowth said that the plan was never to grow as large as they are today. But, the relationships they built with agents working the luxury market propelled them into growth mode. Find out more about the process and her lessons learned in this podcast.

Tracey:

This is Tracey Velt, editor and 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 Real Trends game changers. Today we're speaking with Sheryl Chinowth, CEO and cofounder of Chinowth and Cohen real estate in Oklahoma to find out how they managed record growth between 2014 and 2018. Welcome Sheryl.

Sheryl:

Thank you.

Tracey:

We'll start at the beginning. Tell me a little bit about the brokerage and some of your recent growth initiative.

Sheryl:

Well, the brokerage started in 2004 and there were 25 of us. That includes staff, brokers and agents. As of this year, we're approaching 620 agents.

Tracey:

Wow, that's amazing. Tell me a little bit about how... What were some of your early goals and how did they compare to your growth goals now?

Sheryl:

We really opened the company to be a small luxury boutique. We really weren't planning on the growth. We started out, like I said, with the 25 participants in the company. What we didn't realize, after we opened, that we had very strong market shares especially in the luxury market. When we opened, we had done so many transactions with agents from other companies and we always had a model of making sure that we did everything we needed to make the other side of the transaction smooth, not just our side. We worked really hard to make the other agent on the other side look good. We never played gotcha games with contracts and we didn't really expect, but I think the... We had built so many trusting relationships with our peers throughout the community, they wanted to show and sell our listings.

Sheryl:

When we opened the company, they wanted to move on board with us. So we opened thinking we would... We thought we would maybe have seven to 10 agents with us and then we opened with 25 total people, but within a month we had 40 agents and within a year we had 125.

Tracey:

Oh wow. That's awesome. Did you do any mergers or acquisitions or was all of your growth fairly organic?

Sheryl:

All of our growth was organic. We have not done any acquisitions. We've had smaller companies that had just a handful of agents that have had moved on board, but there was no acquisitions.

Tracey:

Okay. Obviously in every entrepreneur's life there's some aha moment, kind of a moment where you realized you needed to change the way you were doing things in order to scale or grow or stop your current business plan and kind of get creative. What was your aha moment?

Sheryl:

Well, with me being the CEO and Lee Cohen being the CFO, we have different types of thought processes. I always had a process of let's build the barns and they will come and he always had, let's get them on board and then build the barns. So I do think over time we did figure out you don't have to have large spaces. You can have agents move on board in smaller spaces and put kick outs in the leases so that if you start taking over market share in the areas that you open up, that you're able to move out of those leases and buy or build buildings that you own.

Tracey:

Okay, great. We'll go into a little bit more specifics about your growth. Obviously, there are some things that you felt you did really well, which is kind of making the other agent look good on the other side of the transaction, but you must've had some other kind of recruiting or business practices or cultural practices that contributed to your success. So let's get specific about that and tell me a little bit about some of those things.

Sheryl:

We've never been really consistent with recruiting. We will have a... We'll spend eight to 10 weeks and work on it and then next thing you know, we're growing at such a pace so we're in the heat of the market and we get back to just helping the agents and running the business, but I do believe like with most companies that grow really fast or grow well, it's their culture. I do believe that the main reason why we've grown the way we have is we have had a lot of like hearted, people that have hearts like us, hearts of service who want to give back that come on board. We've had times where we've had to prove that our culture was so important to us that we've let top producing agents go that we're destroying our culture and every single time that we have done that, we more than replace that top agent very quickly. I think a lot of it mainly, for us, has been the culture and the service of improving as many lives as you can while you're here.

Tracey:

Okay, great. I'm going to ask you a question that wasn't on your original list, but let's talk about leadership. You say that Mr. Cohen and you both kind of have a little bit of a different idea and maybe even different leadership styles. What are some lessons that you've learned through the process of growing your business that the two of you kind of learn together?

Sheryl:

Well, the company grew so fast that it was not possible for Lee and I, especially for me. I was handling so much of the training and the marketing and how we were building that I was hitting walls every once in a while and trying to figure out how to grow and still maintain normalcy in your life is a challenge with a company that's growing really fast, but when we love it so much, it's our passion. I've done this since I was a child. I'm a second generation and I have two sons who have come into the business and also helped us grow.

Sheryl:

They're pretty good... If they have an agent that contacts them or they have an agent they sit down and meet with, they usually bring them on board with us. They've been a great help to us not being on overload, having four of us running it at a time instead of two. It's a big difference. We also added on more and more brokers and more and more staff, but trying to keep that balance, especially when the market fluctuates, that's a real... That's a whole discussion in itself.

Tracey:

Yeah and I wanted to talk to you about that and I don't know if I'll use this in the podcast because it's so timely right now, but I've talked to a couple of different brokers who, when the downturn happened, they changed a lot of their practices and they're taking action today due to the Coronavirus and the market, which may bounce back a little bit quicker than obviously last time, but still is going to be... There are some challenges ahead. Are you doing anything because of that? Are you taking any actions? What are your thoughts on that?

Sheryl:

Well, one thing, we went through the 2008. For us, that was one of our largest growth periods, 2008, 2009, 2010 because when the market is really, really busy, top producing agents can't move. They're too swamped, but when 2008 came along, their business slowed down and that gave us the opportunity to pick up a lot of top producing agents. So we actually, through the recession, grew to 350 agents plus. What we're looking at now... Although I don't think this is the same. This isn't like 2008. This is more of a bump in the road. I think it will be a few months possibly, but 2008 the core problem was real estate and mortgages. That's not what this is. I think it's going to rebound a little bit quicker, but we also know that real estate markets run on 14 year curves. 2021 2022 we had been preparing for a bump for there.

Sheryl:

Now we were... Because of the Coronavirus, we did have two staff that had left and had moved to... One had moved out of state and one had retired and we did decide to replace them and got right down to the line of hiring them and when all the Coronavirus came about, we decided to bring in other staff and... Everyone here knows whatever your job is, if you're HR director, but we need help in payables, then you need to step in and help with payables. We kind of have several of our staff cross trained.

Tracey:

Okay.

Sheryl:

We can help each other without... We're at a point... Our market in Tulsa is still very busy. We have an on-staff minister. That's one of the best things I think we ever did for the company and he calls different periods different days, whether we have Moses days or Red Sea days, but we've had what he's calling Noah days where our contracts are just coming in. They're just stacked.

Sheryl:

When I came in to my South office this morning, by 10 o'clock in the morning, they'd already had seven new listings come in just in one office and just a first couple of hours. We're still really busy here. We only have three cases of the Coronavirus and I don't know if that is why we're not seeing as much of it yet. I do know it can go from three to 150 overnight so we're trying to be careful and we have put a hiring freeze on. We learned over the years there are... It's better to have some positions that are part time and are hourly so that if we do need to back them down, it's easier to do that.

Tracey:

Yeah.

Sheryl:

We've learned a lot through the recession. The recession really helped us and going through that, we also learned here's how we can... If anything happens again, how to back down quickly.

Tracey:

Okay. Yeah. I was just curious. Okay.

Sheryl:

Large reserves.

Tracey:

Yeah, that is important. I was just curious because I've heard reports from brokers and they were in harder hit areas that people are a little hesitant to list their house because they don't want strangers coming through it or they're requesting virtual showings only, things like that. They're not necessarily not putting their house on the market, but they do have other different demands than what you'd usually see.

Sheryl:

Right.

Tracey:

Yeah. Okay. So my last question is really, if you could offer other brokers some advice when growing their businesses, what would it be?

Sheryl:

Well first of all I would say do not do this business for the money. Do this because you love people and you want to see people grow and you want to see their lives improves and their families grow and figure out how to do that from the bottom to the top and from the top to the bottom. On a softer note, much softer note, do not buy your printers. We bought all of our printers and we found we didn't want to owe anyone any money so when we opened the company, we bought all of our printers. What happens with printers is as soon as they're paid off and done, they no longer make the parts that make them work when you need to fix them. Lease your printers.

Tracey:

Good idea. Do you have any other tips for brokers? Any lessons learned?

Sheryl:

I think this is a business. I mean, you have days where you're like, why in the world am I doing this, but 99% of the time it's just... It is helping even when it gets tough in a transaction. When you help an agent through a transaction or a buyer or a seller who's hit some bumps in the road and you get it all smoothed out and everything works out and you see people actually... I mean, this is the one business... This is the one business where we literally are putting families on the foundations they're going to build their lives on. Their memories are going to be there. Their futures are there and it's usually their biggest investment.

Sheryl:

If you can't think of it as a foundation that you're putting people's lives on and their futures on and all of your agents the same way, that if you can keep education going and train them and train them and be available. We have so many agents that do move on board with us because we pick up our phones and answer them and it's surprising how many brokers don't.

Tracey:

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Well, Sheryl, thank you so much for joining Real Trends on the podcast and congratulations on being named a 2020 game changer.

Sheryl:

Thank you. Thank you so much.

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