Top 100 Companies: The Magic of Simplicity

Colorado independent marches to its own drummer and thrives.

July 1, 2002

At least six times per year, a franchise or potential merger partner comes to court The Group Inc., a northern Colorado real estate company. And at least six times per year, the 26-year-old independent company steadfastly rebuffs the overtures.

It’s no wonder the company has lots of suitors. Since 1976, The Group’s sales have climbed from $8 million to $1.3 billion. Among this year’s Top 100 Companies, The Group holds the title for best productivity, with an average of 33 transaction sides and $7 million in sales volume per salesperson.

The company’s success derives from sticking to the principles of cooperation and egalitarianism, says Sharianne Daily, CRB, The Group’s president and CEO. “People want the secret to success to be magical; they think there’s got to be more than that. It’s just that simple.”

Twelve founding partners established the employee-owned company in 1976, at a time when such ownership structures were virtually unheard of in residential real estate. The Group is set up as a corporation, so partners’ liability is limited to the value of the stock they hold in the company. To become a partner, salespeople sign a stock subscription agreement, which stipulates they’ll have $100 per closing withheld to go toward the purchase of stock. When they’ve set aside enough to buy 500 shares, salespeople are issued a stock certificate in their name. Stock is also offered to select managers and staff. Like salespeople, they can allocate a portion of their income to purchase stock.

Over the years, as other big players engaged in consolidation and ancillary-service packaging, The Group’s partners have stuck to brokerage and watched their business grow. Today The Group has more than 200 partners and seven offices. Because the company has maintained its independence, Daily says, its partners can make decisions on the basis of their market knowledge, rather than follow a national dictate on how to market, advertise, or run the business.

The Group maintains a strict production standard: 30 percent or more of all sales in the marketplace. It succeeds, Daily says, because the company philosophy has meaning and benefit to its partners. “The greater the correlation between the goals of the individual and the goals of the organization, the greater the success of both,” she says. “It’s simple, but it works.”

Besides giving its partners common goals, The Group allows people to focus on what they do best. Salespeople sell. Managers manage. And support staff supports. The ratio of sales partners to support staff is about 3 to 1. “Sales partners are never bogged down in paperwork,” Daily says.

Throughout the organization is an understanding of the primacy of relationships. “If we don’t have good relationships internally, then we can’t build good relationships with our customers,” Daily says. Thus, the company doesn’t pit salespeople against one another with sales contests, special parking spots, or rankings. “The mindset is, ‘We’re in this together.’” The “all-for-one and one-for-all” philosophy hasn’t hurt sales partners’ motivation or their bottom line:On average, they made $230,000 in gross commission income last year.

The Group’s emphasis on relationship-building extends into the community as well, she says. “We’re totally invested in northern Colorado. Because it’s where we live, all the dollars stay here,” says Daily. The company contributes time and resources to numerous local charities, such as the Fort Collins Symphony, the Fort Collins Area United Way, The Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the Alzheimer’s Association.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a conscious business strategy, but we feel we have to give back to the community we live in,” says Daily. “The better you make your community, the better your business will be. It ties back to building relationships.”

Relationships also determine The Group’s expansion decisions. “We only expand in areas where customers need us,” says Daily. When the company opens new offices, they’re freestanding structures owned by The Group. “It shows customers you’re not just throwing up a sign in a storefront. You’re here to stay.”

The Group Inc. Top 100 ranking: 73
Top officer Sharianne Daily
2001 transaction sides closed 6,230
Percent change from 2000 16
2001 sales volume $1.31 billion
Percent change from 2000 25.33
Number of salespeople 187
Sides per salesperson 33.3
Sales volume per salesperson $7.02 million

Elyse Umlauf-Garneau is a Chicago-based freelance writer and former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.