Profile: Going It Alone

May 1, 1996

Ebby Halliday, REALTORS®
Name: Ebby Halliday, REALTORS®
Location: Dallas
Size: Almost 900 salespeople

Today business is better than ever, says Petey Parker, director of relocation services and vice president of Ebby Halliday, REALTORS®, in Dallas.

Parker is referring to the company's relocation business in the nine months since Ebby Halliday left RELO\The International Network, the organization it helped create 35 years ago.

"Our cost of doing business is less by not being a member of a network," Parker says. "And since we've taken this gamble, we've increased our number of incoming referrals by about 20 percent over this time last year. We've increased our outgoing referrals by almost the same amount. And even though it's hard to know whether closings are through the old or the new system, what I'm seeing is a 13 percent increase in conversions. So that tells us it's working."

According to Parker, the company also saves money by not paying annual and per transaction network fees, though it bears the cost of promoting its referral and relocation business. "Even with a network we had the cost of marketing referral business."

Why the move? "In our opinion, the market share was getting tight, so we had to evaluate whether the marketplace was just getting smaller---and we were still getting our percentage of it---versus the possibility that there were still a lot of people moving, but we weren't getting our share. Had we used the changing market as an excuse, or was it a reality?

"We were willing to go either way. If the pie was getting smaller and we had the major share of it, we'd say, "OK," and know what to expect. But if there was something wrong so that we weren't increasing our business, we needed to make an adjustment. And we found we were too limited in our thinking."

To evaluate the problem, the company turned to its salespeople. "We asked, `What's it going to take to pep up the referral business?'" Parker says. "Our salespeople said they felt very limited in what they could do without being adversarial with our in-house relocation department. They wanted to use their own resources. If they were members of the Women's Council of REALTORS®, they wanted to use that referral system. If they were working toward a designation and met people in their classes who worked as they did, they wanted to use those resources."

The company created a compromise and offered salespeople a choice of using the in-house system or referring to practitioners of their choice. "Salespeople loved that," Parker says.

But the decision to leave RELO was difficult. "Because Ebby was a founder, we were very, very true to the network. We told our salespeople they were going to have to support the decision, because we were taking a big gamble in pulling away from RELO," says Parker.

Parker has nothing but positive words for RELO. "It's a fine network. And when our relocation coordinator, Brett Morton, died, RELO rallied around. It did all it could to let members know about his death. Because of its effort, Brett's family received hundreds of cards. RELO was a family that came together even when we were outside the family."

A Sign of Things to Come?

When Ebby Halliday, REALTORS®, walks, people listen.

When the Dallas-based company walked away from RELO\The International Network just nine months ago, the move had the potential to send a loud message throughout the brokerage community.

"RELO was very concerned," says Petey Parker, director of relocation services and vice president of Ebby Halliday. "Other companies watch companies our size, and it made a statement for Ebby to leave. We never felt good about that, because it was a terribly hard decision to make."

Some observers wondered whether the company's move was a sign of the weakening of relocation networks. Not so, says Jerry Hancock, CEO and general manager of RELO in Chicago. "Since Ebby Halliday left, we've replaced it with four independent companies in the Dallas area. We haven't seen a decline in the number of referrals going into or out of Dallas. As for other brokers' contemplating their network affiliation as a result of what Ebby Halliday has done, there has really been almost none of that."

Dona DeZube, editor of Federal News Services' Relocation Report, also doesn't think the company has launched a domino effect. "I haven't seen other big companies do it," she says.

In fact, both Hancock and DeZube believe Ebby Halliday's move is one that few brokers could make. "Is it feasible for independent companies to work outside networks?" DeZube asks. "Ebby Halliday is a big company with nearly a dozen people in its relocation division. I don't know how many relocation staffers the average independent has, but it's not a dozen. And the relocation director at an independent company typically doesn't have the time to do all the work a network does."

"There are only a half dozen companies around the country dominant enough to be able to stand alone without a network," Hancock says.

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