When I first started Front Street Commercial Real Estate Group in 2002, I was primarily engaged in developing small commercial real estate projects in South Florida. I moved to Gainesville in 2004, and for the first six years I lived here, almost all of my business was out of town. I was never really concerned about branding or whether anyone knew my company’s name — it wasn’t really relevant to my business.
In 2010, I decided to adapt Front Street into a brokerage service company. I had suspected for some time that there was an opportunity for a commercial-only real estate company, but there were a few problems. Most notably, I was virtually unknown in Gainesville and my company had zero brand awareness.
I knew that if I was going to be successful, I had to build a brand for Front Street and help separate my company from the better-known companies I’d be competing against. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
LESS IS MORE: As business owners, we are obviously entrenched in what we do and how we do it. We take pride in all the big and little things we do to service our customers. We want to tell the world how wonderful we are. The problem is that most people, including our customers, don’t really care about the multitude of things we might do well. They care about the one or two things that are important to them. I realized that it’s difficult to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and only deliver to them what they want to see, but I suggest you try it. Our signs, for example, are very simple and have only the absolute bare minimum information on them. We don’t even put our personal names on signs because we don’t see how that would help us serve our clients. Our brochures and website are also very streamlined and concise, containing only the absolutely most important information. I try to ask myself, “So what?” after I read anything that will go on our marketing materials. If there is not a useful or relevant reason for that information to be out there for our intended audience, then what’s the point? It’s much harder to be concise and brief, but it’s well worth the effort when building a brand.
BE DIFFERENT: I recently read a wonderful book by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne called “Blue Ocean Strategy.” In it, they describe how most companies just try to outdo their competitors by doing basically the same thing with only slight variations. They battle each other in the “red oceans.” Truly successful companies, however, seek to set themselves apart so that they can create their own “blue oceans” to do business in. We are constantly seeking ways to differentiate ourselves and make sure that our clients understand and believe in our value proposition. Dedication to this is challenging and affects everything you do as a company and how you communicate with your customers.
STAY TRUE TO THE MISSION: It is challenging to define a meaningful mission for a business, and it’s even more challenging to stay true to that mission. It takes resolve, conviction and guts. You will be tested and tempted to set that mission aside, but you must stand strong. As a business owner, it is often hard to say no to business, especially when you’re just starting out. I’ve learned that it is crucial to remain aligned with the mission we set out to create. Sometimes, that has meant that we have had to say no to listing certain properties or doing business with certain clients, but I knew that the cost of not staying true to our mission would be swimming directly into the red ocean with all our competitors.
GET INSPIRED: Motivation and inspiration can come from places you wouldn’t imagine they would. The sleek design and colors of our office space were inspired by a technology retailer I visited when we were planning the move to our new office. We’re primarily a real estate brokerage company, but we really don’t operate like one in a traditional sense. I look outside our industry at companies to model our business, branding and marketing efforts after. I don’t want us to look like every other real estate brokerage company out there — it’s a generally uninspiring industry, and we want to inspire our clients and our customers. We’re a marketing company and the product we market just happens to be commercial real estate, so we model our business more like consulting and advertising firms.
From my beginnings as a real estate developer, I know that building a real estate project is very gratifying. The project always has a clear beginning and a clear end when it’s completed. Building a brand is something that is ongoing and never ends. It takes constant hard work and dedication, but if you do your homework and commit to continuing to learn, it can be fun and rewarding, and you can build a brand that will be long-lasting.
Nick Banks is the managing director of Front Street Commercial Real Estate Group located in Gainesville, Fla. Front Street offers brokerage, management and mortgage banking services to its commercial real estate clients. Nick is a graduate of the University of Florida, where he serves as an advisory board member to the Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies. www.FrontStreet.net