New Company Diary: Growth Spurt

Our monthly check in with Sussex & Reilly in Chicago proves how busy a new company can be: It debuts a new office; rolls out health insurance to all staff; and readies a new advertising strategy.

October 1, 2000

Sean Conlon lost his father in September and was out of the office for much of the month. To maintain the diary's continuity, his partners, Tim O'Neil and Frank Parkinson, agreed to pinch hit and discuss the main business issues affecting the company in the last month. Sean's diary will return November 1. What has taken up most of your time this month?

Tim O’Neil: Two things. Introducing our company-wide health insurance program and getting ready to open our first branch office.The insurance program is through United Healthcare of Illinois.

Frank Parkinson: Everyone on staff--the salespeople and administrative people--is eligible. About two-thirds have taken advantage of it. Those who haven’t hold insurance through a spouse. Not too many real estate companies offer insurance. Why are you doing it?

O’Neil: You survive in this business by having the best people. We think that by offering this kind of benefit we'll be more apt to get the best people. When will the new office open?

O’Neil: October 1 or the week of October 1. It's in Lincoln Park, a neighborhood a couple of miles south and east of here , the Roscoe Village neighborhood,that’s closer to downtown and somewhat more expensive. We'll have about 15 salespeople and five administrative people in about 3,000 square feet of space. We're still doing some hiring for it. How will it differ from the main office?

O’Neil: We didn't want to add an office just to add an office. The Lincoln Park office is going to have a heavy buyer focus. We're putting in high-speed Internet access so buyers can come in, take virtual property tours, and talk with salespeople about what they want before they go out to see anything. We're also creating special materials such as pamphlets and packages that take buyers through the whole process of buying a house--everything from financing to insurance to taxes. You guys have built your reputation on listings, particularly new construction. Why the focus on buyers?

Parkinson: A full-service real estate office needs to do both. And it's not like we don't do any buyer business now. Probably 40 percent of our volume is buyers. We get calls every day from people who say, "I don't have a salesperson, but I saw one of your signs and want to look at one of your properties." Are you going to compensate buyer reps differently?

O’Neil: Yes. Because it takes more time to work with buyers, buyer reps get a little bit more at bonus time than the other salespeople.

Parkinson: And as with our listing salespeople, we also pay for their assistants, which frees them up to work directly with buyer clients. How will the three of you split your time now?

O’Neil: We haven't finalized anything yet, but it looks like we'll each spend a lot of half days down there. Sean, as director of sales, will obviously spend a lot of time there.

Parkinson: The idea is to centralize the administrative and transactional management functions, such as scheduling, at the main Roscoe Village office. That will keep us from having to hire a separate administrative staff for Lincoln Park, though we will hire an office manager for that branch. What kind of sales do you expect there?

O’Neil: We're hoping the office will add another $150 million to $200 million to our annual volume. The months leading up to holidays are usually pretty slow in Chicago. How are you going to spend that time?

O’Neil: We have to work on plans for next year--expansion plans, advertising and marketing plans.

Parkinson: We're definitely going to look at some other advertising venues. For the last year, we pretty much just hunkered down and spent all of our ad dollars on the Chicago Tribune. But I think we'll be looking at radio and billboards next year. How will the ad content change?

Parkinson: For most of this year--certainly in the beginning--the advertising was very much tied to Sean. Almost all of the ads carried Sean's picture. But in the last few months, we've moved away from that. Now we stress our rebate program and the excellent service we provide. Because the company has to be more than just Sean Conlon. The whole point of what we doing here is to create something that can be duplicated in other markets.

Robert Sharoff is an architectural writer for The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Chicago Magazine. With photographer William Zbaren, he has produced books highlighting the architecture of Detroit and St. Louis. He is a former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.

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