New markets require new approaches and tactics. Experts and industry leaders take the stage at Inman Connect New York in January to help navigate the market shift — and prepare for the next one. Meet the moment and join us. Register here.
Anywhere Expansion Brands CEO Sherry Chris is no stranger to a market shift.
Chris has spent the past 35 years leading some of the top real estate brands in the U.S. and Canada through double-digit mortgage rate hikes, housing crashes, recessions and a plethora of other industry-specific shifts.
“I started in this industry in the early 1980s, when, you know, some of the audience members weren’t even born or were very young,” she said in a previous Inman interview. “I’m gonna say I’ve had the great opportunity to go through several cycles. There always is a cycle.”
“But I was told an interesting statistic the other day, where I think it’s like 70 percent of agents today have never been through a cycle,” she added. “And so you’re in luck, an industry veteran is going to talk about what it was like back in the old days.”
The experiences from her “old days” have enabled Chris to stoke impressive growth at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate and ERA, the latter of which spent 2022 celebrating 50 years in the industry.
“ERA is very strong. Globally, we’re in 33 countries, and it’s a brand that will continue to grow globally,” she said. “I’m excited about the beginning of this year and what 51 will bring.”
Ahead of her latest Inman Connect New York appearances — you can catch her virtually on Wednesday — Chris sat down with Inman to reflect on ERA’s 50th year in the industry and what leaders can do to create long-lasting brands even in the midst of hard times.
Inman: We’ve talked quite a few times over the past year. The last time we spoke, you were kicking off ERA’s 50th anniversary celebration, and there was a lot of excitement about what the year would hold. Obviously, the market has changed quite a bit since.
With that in mind, how have the past months been?
Chris: Yes, the last time we spoke was in the spring, and we had our big conference in March celebrating ERA’s 50th anniversary. Since then, we finished our broker-owner retreat, Ignite, where we celebrated the success of many of our brokers and continue to celebrate the 50th anniversary. ERA is a brand that always finds something to celebrate — the overall positive attitude of the broker-owners and agents is really infectious.
At the end of last year, we launched a new women’s network for our broker-owners called The Hera Society. It’s been very well received, and we’ve continued to work on that platform with coaching opportunities and ideas shares for female owners. We also launched a Team ERA wellness program, where we’ve developed a partnership with wellness consultants and our National Advisory Council to share content to hold each other accountable.
All of these things are an example of the strong ties that ERA has as a brand with one another, and the incredible level of collaboration. I was sad when 2022 ended because it was a great year of celebration and a great year of growth as well. I have so much more I could say, but I’ll stop there for a moment (laughs).
I’ve been following ERA throughout the year, and you’ve done a great job with recruiting and retention — the latest stats said ERA brought on 18 new franchisees and renewed just about as many existing franchisees.
As you’d said before, kindness and collaboration are paramount for you. But how do you maintain that when sales decline and things start getting choppy? What’s your advice for leaders who are struggling with morale?
It’s a great question. For ERA, we’ve had a strong culture for 50 years, so it’s naturally there. But, for others, it’s important to remember that it’s never too late to build a strong culture, which is so important when we do encounter shifts in the market and face more challenging times.
One of the things I talked about over the past year is winning in the curve. So my analogy has been around horse racing. When horses are coming out of the gate, and they’re in the straightaway, everyone has the same advantage. That’s the kind of market that we’ve come from, but when we’re in return, that’s where brokers and companies can really create significant opportunities for themselves to get ahead and do things better than their competitors.
We’re in that turn right now, and when we talk about what we can do to stay ahead of the marketplace, it’s about making sure that our agent productivity increases and providing exceptional customer service to the end consumer.
I’ve been through several changes in the market throughout my career, and I see each one — whether it’s an upswing or a downturn — as an opportunity to reflect upon your business and make necessary changes.
That goes into what you’ve said about growth throughout the year. The past few years have given a lot of real estate companies the opportunity to supercharge their growth, and we’ve seen people have to cut back from that and adopt a more measured and sustainable approach.
So how are you approaching growth in 2023?
For a mature brand like ERA, there are always a lot of franchise agreement renewals that take place every year, and so far this year we renewed 17 long-term franchise agreements and that speaks to the confidence that these brokers have.
One of the things I like to talk to prospective brokers about is the fact that when we are in a changing market, it’s very important to have somebody stand at your side as your business partner, so you’re not shouldering everything on your own. I think it wouldn’t be great right now to be a small company and without help in a market like this — What do you do? How do you grow your agents’ productivity? What sorts of things should you not continue with? That’s the guidance we provide to our broker-owners.
As you said, there’s a lot of press out there that is talking about companies making significant cuts and things like that. But the way I like to look at it is right-sizing your company for the marketplace you’re experiencing today, and that makes good business sense. That’s not doom and gloom.
That is approaching business in an efficient and profitable way because, at the end of the day, we want all of our companies to not just grow at any cost, but to grow strategically and grow profitably.
I read an article yesterday about right-sizing and how journalists decide to frame the layoffs that are happening across all kinds of industries, which, oftentimes, veers toward the negative.
But staying on that topic, what are the strategies for continuing to add value even while right-sizing? How can brokerages support their agents’ bottom lines even as sales slow?
We believe that diversifying your revenue stream as a broker-owner or as an agent is very, very important. At Anywhere, we have the Anywhere Leads Group that provides leads for companies, and we have Cartus relocation services. So these are some things that we manage at the Anywhere level for our franchisees.
But from an agent’s perspective, agents should sit down and look at what the core of their business is and how they can modify that to be more productive. If they’re getting their business just from one store, that’s probably not the best thing for the future. So diversify your spending as an agent and look at the return.
For me, I like to look at a 10x return. So if you’re spending $10,000 as an agent, then you should be getting $100,000. That kind of leads me to right-sizing your business. Right-sizing doesn’t always necessarily mean cutting things. It means changing things.
So if you have a support team that is not generating revenue for your business, look at that and see how you can tweak those job descriptions so everyone on the team is actually creating revenue and has a [return on investment] attached to their compensation. These are not necessarily easy things to change in a day, but they’re very important in business. And if we look outside of real estate, that’s what companies — successful companies do.
Whether you’re an independent agent or a team leader, you are the CEO of your business. So sit down and look at what you’re bringing in, where’s it coming from and how you can optimize your spending. That alone will help agents really maneuver through any type of market condition.