Weathering the Storms

Leonard Kaiser attributes the success of his Alabama real estate company, which focuses on Gulf Coast vacation properties, to his committed workforce and a great beachfront.

May 1, 2010

Leonard Kaiser
Kaiser Realty, Gulf Shores, Ala.
Years in business: 33; became sales agent in 1977, opened company in 1980
2009 revenue: $8.1 million, all divisions
2008 revenue: $8.4 million, all divisions
Number of offices: 2
Number of employees: 80 full-time employees, 15 sales associates

Selling the Beach

When I started out in the real estate business back in 1977, most people around the country didn’t even realize Alabama had a beach. I made my first commercial sale in 30 days and I still have the same client 30 years later. I’ve watched our area grow from a sleepy seasonal vacation spot to a thriving year-round family vacation destination.

A True Family Business

We’ve been in business for 30 years, which makes us the oldest real estate and vacation rental company in our area that is still under original ownership. In addition to property sales, we manage about 700 rental condos and we’re the management company for 14 homeowner associations. There are now about 5 companies competing with us, but our values are what differentiate us.

Our mission as a brokerage has always been to operate as a family since we’re here to serve families.

People Who Care

We have about 10 people who’ve been with us for 15 years and three or four others who’ve been here for more than 20 years. I believe in investing in my people and treating everyone with honesty and respect.

We offer generous benefits, from 401(k)s and profit-sharing to health insurance and flexible hours. If we take care of our people and show we genuinely care about them, they will take care of our customers and their problems. They may occasionally make a mistake, but they’re never guilty of not caring.

The Worst Storm Yet

Our area was hit by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, but we were able to build back up and rental demand came back. And even though Katrina didn’t cause damage here, the negative publicity did hurt business. But the current economy has been more challenging than any storm we’ve ever faced. We have more control in  recovering from storms than we do from recent economic problems.

After a storm, you see what the problems are, identify solutions, and go to work. With regard to the economy, solutions aren’t as apparent. We’re finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel in terms of banks resuming interest in the second-home market. It’s also helped that we’re a low-debt company with a focus on retaining our earnings, and that we have a good relationsip with banks.

Allaying Vacationers’ Fears

For the first time, we’re including travel insurance at no charge to tenants for every vacation stay. We want to remove the worry about cancellation fees and we think it should give us a competitive advantage.

Last year we made travel insurance available for a fee of 6 percent of the rental, and about 25 percent of guests purchased it. We’re also doing more to stay in touch with past customers, including sending e-mail blasts with special offers to get them to come back.

Staying on Top of Tech

Since the company’s beginning, we’ve stayed ahead of the curve with technology. We were the first local real estate company to be fully computerized in the late 1980s. We started virtual tours in the late 1990s, and today we’re working hard to boost traffic to our Web site and stay active with social media.

30 Great Years

To celebrate three decades of business, we’re having a party for employees and agents to thank them for their efforts throughout the years. We’re also running specials for our clients—we’ll give a 30 percent discount on vacation rentals to people celebrating their 30th birthday or their 30th wedding anniversary.

We’re proud to have reached 30 years in business, and we have no plans to slow down. I’m staying focused on the future with an optimistic attitude.

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Wendy Cole

Wendy Cole is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.