With more than 3,800 transactions produced by 140 agents last year alone, RE/MAX of Reading has sold more homes than any other single-office RE/MAX company in the country. But for broker/owner Jack Fry, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. What he’s most fiercely proud of is the generous spirit that pervades his Berks County, Pa., firm, and the commitment to a high-touch culture that empowers others and generates success.
Fry, who grew up with a dad in the real estate business, earned his license while still in school, and, fresh out of college in 1973, joined his father’s independent company in the Reading area. Four years later, a member of the Million Dollar Club, he won a state award for sales from the Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS®.
At the 1978 National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) convention, Fry found himself in tune with the RE/MAX real estate system and, with his father as a 50/50 partner, bought the RE/MAX of Reading franchise in 1980. There were two agents on board.
“I was impressed with the approach and objectives of the brand,” says Fry, “and its commitment to independent agents. Everyone carried their own weight. I liked the RE/MAX synergy.”
The two worked hard to get the franchise off the ground, but when his father died suddenly that same year, Fry became the sole owner and broker of record. He was 27 years old.
Today, he leads a company with more than 140 full-time agents and an administrative staff of 16. The office regularly holds more than 30-35 percent marketshare for all listings sold in the scenic Berks County and Greater Reading countryside region some 45 minutes from Philadelphia, and the company is ranked by service guarantor QSC as one of the top three companies in the country in customer satisfaction.
But something more than dedication has driven the company’s achievement.
“By 1993, when the nationwide average was six transactions per agent per year, we were doing three times that number,” says Fry. “The phones were ringing, and everyone was busy, but I sensed an undercurrent of negative energy. I realized that I didn’t like our own culture very much. Then I had an epiphany. If I was unhappy with our company culture, it was my responsibility to change it.”
He called a meeting, attendance mandatory, and thanked everyone for their considerable achievements. But he also called for a new way of conducting business.
“I was inspired to run a high-touch company, to put the emphasis on service and accountability, and I knew it had to start with me,” says Fry. “I told them I was taking full responsibility for beginning a new era of positivity—for building a culture that embraces change, supports positive energy, and excels at serving others.”
His plan, he says, was to make company business transparent to every agent, downplay ego and negativity, provide a new kind of coaching and training, and create a workplace that thrived on support and service.
The new vibe wasn’t for everyone. Within 30 days of this momentous meeting, 10 percent of the firm’s 56 agents had summarily left the company. But among those who remained, Fry sensed a positive change in energy, and in the following year—with no discernible change in the market—they added 13 service-minded agents, and business grew from an average of 18 transactions per agent to 28. The new culture was making a tangible difference.
“By being transparent about operational expenses, and sharing the basics about how the company operates, I gained the trust of my agents,” says Fry. “And gaining their trust empowered me to lead, which, in turn, empowered my agents.”
Among those who stayed was manager Jim Williams. An industry veteran primarily responsible for recruiting, coaching and training, Williams was a firm advocate for the firm’s new policy.
“I’d been with the company four years when this new era began,” says Williams, “and I quickly began to see the change.”
“It’s not about who’s right” became the company’s mantra, notes Williams. “It’s more about what’s right.”
Fry and Williams introduced new individual and team training based on the self-help lead generation and accountability philosophies of Brian Buffini and Tom Ferry.
“The goal was to help our agents become the best people they could be,” says Williams, “and to meet and surpass their own goals by passing that positive energy on to others.”
As business grew, so did the need for improved and expansive marketing concepts, with a focus on technology and the growing field of social media.
Enter Tavia Ritter.
A veteran in retail customer service with a keen eye for technology and the value of social media networking, Ritter came to RE/MAX of Reading in 2006.
“I loved this place from the beginning,” she says. “I liked the people and the purpose, and the energy that was being produced.”
Ritter created new profiles and automated communication platforms for agents to use with their customers, as well as introduced a strong digital footprint focused on recruiting.
“It’s all about relationships,” she says. “We’re all on the same page about what we stand for, and what each of us does best. We know the value of personal communication, and our agents stay in touch with their customers long after closing.”
Technology makes that easy.
“The agents aren’t out there looking for the next shiny, new toy,” says Ritter. “We do all of that for them so they can go out and do what they do best.”
In fact, there’s a multimedia room that seats 100 where group training is ongoing, but individuals can also get special attention when they need it.
“In a sense, that’s our advantage,” says Williams. “We have a United Nations of real estate agents here with a variety of backgrounds and experience, but we have almost no turnover outside of retirements because people work together and flourish here. We enjoy working in this environment.”
In great measure, he adds, it comes from the top.
“Jack is one of the most trusting and caring individuals I’ve ever been around,” he says. “It’s our pleasure to share that caring attitude with our customers.”
In recruiting both new and experienced agents, Williams looks for team players who enjoy working with others, are focused on achieving goals, and motivated to do the very best job for their customers.
Recruiting efforts are helped by the company’s reputation in the real estate community as a workplace of high-achievers who seem genuinely glad to come to work.
“We put each other and our customers first,” says Fry. “We’re completely transparent, and we have great producers who don’t let ego stand in the way. That’s rare, I know—and I’m very protective of the culture we’ve created.”
Part of that protection means providing his agents with an abundance of services, including transaction coordinators who free the agent from paperwork, a service desk to handle promotions and marketing, and an IT department that reliably brings in state-of-the-art but easy-to-use technology and practical social media training.
The firm also has an unparalleled leadership team. Under Fry’s presidency, with Williams as general manager and Ritter as IT officer, Joe Peterson serves as compliance/dispute resolution manager and KJ Fry and Keith Malone as team managers. Kelly Pieja is the firm’s chief financial officer, while Kate Flowers heads human resources and agent services.
“You do the As,” Fry tells his agents. “We do the Bs and Cs so that you can be out there doing what you do best.”
In return, Fry expects that each agent will touch the consumer at the highest level, doing everything within their power to help customers achieve their real estate goals.
But it goes deeper than that.
Every RE/MAX of Reading agent is deeply involved in the community, supporting national organizations like the American Cancer Society, the Children’s Miracle Network and Women in Crisis, as well as a myriad of local causes—more than 100 in all. And they’re not simply donating funds. They’re out there coaching kids, stocking food pantries, teaching literacy, and more.
“Paying it forward is more than just a phrase here. If there’s a need, we support it,” says Fry. “When you have it in your heart to help, it permeates into the community.”
Not only does this kind of work ethic and caring approach become its own reward, but also continues to drive agent productivity and enhance the bottom line. In a region with an average sales price of about $ 180,000, RE/MAX of Reading has received the Pennsylvania/Delaware Regional Award for highest transactional volume—over $ 650 million—for several years running.
What’s on tap for the future?
“We’ll continue to stay aware of changes in the market environment and vigilant in our effort to be first with the best to the consumer,” says Fry. “Tavia is our eyes and ears in terms of technology and marketing, and Jim’s longstanding commitment to our company ideals will help bring the best and brightest agents to us for the long haul.”
In the 16 years since Fry’s decision to change the company’s focus, the market has seen change upon cyclical change. But steady and consistent growth remains the hallmark and strength of the franchise he guided from its fledgling stage to the company it is today.
“The arithmetic is easy,” concludes Fry. “High, positive energy and a culture of caring will always equal success.”
For more information, please visit www.goberkscounty.com.
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