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ARCHIVED  August 13, 1999

The Group soars higher

FORT COLLINS — Another summons for Larry Kendall arrived in mid-July.This time it was from the National Association of Realtors, meeting in Vail and seeking the guru of The Group Inc. Real Estate to dispense his wisdom to the organization’s Residential Real Estate Council.
“They called and said, RWe want to know how The Group sells real estate,'” Kendall said from his car phone as he descended the west side of Vail Pass on his way to two days of meetings. Returning phone calls, no matter where he is or what he’s doing, is normal business practice for The Group’s founder and chairman.
The occasion was not the first time Kendall has been asked to share secrets. Anyone who has watched his 24-year-old Fort Collins firm soar to become the region’s preeminent real estate brokerage would love to know how it’s done.
Measures of The Group’s success catch every real estate broker’s eye:
n In 1998, The Group’s 80 licensed brokers were on the listing or selling side of 3,168 residential transactions in the Fort Collins area, almost double the number tallied by the closest competitor.
n Dollar volume of 1998 residential sales was $546.5 million, a 41 percent increase over the $388.8 million posted in 1997.
n The Group remains the No. 3 commercial real estate brokerage in Northern Colorado — behind two large commercial real estate specialists — even though barely a quarter of the firm’s business is commercial.
The pending merger with The Group Inc. of Loveland, a Group “branchise,” and the building of a 27,000-square foot sales office on East Harmony Road are further evidence that the Group’s growth has not slowed.
Most of The Group’s secrets are not really so secret. The brokerage has a long-standing ownership plan that keeps its best people happy and holds down turnover. The firm nurtures a “culture” — one that embraces unconventional ways of thinking about the real estate business. “No limits” is a company mantra. The Group also concentrates on what it does best, and has demonstrated willingness to abandon other pursuits.
“They don’t lose very many agents, and that says something,´ said Re/Max Advanced Inc.’s Fran Hardman, who has competed with The Group for market share during the last 10 years “They have also done a great job of promoting themselves in the community.”
Long-time “Groupies,” as members of the company refer to one another, remember beginnings that were characterized by offbeat innovations that had other brokers scratching their heads. Popular perception of The Group during the late 1970s and early 1980s was that the company was akin to a “cult,” and some of the rituals that Groupies participated in — such as walking across beds of glowing coals or focusing mental energy on bending spoons — helped foster the image.
These days, Kendall, Group president Sharianne Daily and senior brokers wince slightly when they recall those experiments in motivation and self-realization. They prefer now to be thought of as what they are — the No.1 brokerage in Northern Colorado — rather than what they were.
To that end, Kendall prefers to talk about turning points during his company’s evolution since he and 11 real estate friends founded it in 1976. Ironically, the brokerage grew fastest after a period of retrenchment, when Kendall and other managers bailed out of projects that were profitable but lacked focus on the relationships with customers that had been built over the years.
One watershed year was 1992, when The Group got out of the real estate development business.
“One of the things that we had to do as a company was to make a decision on what business we were really in,” Kendall said.
“At the time, everyone’s emphasis was on multiple profit centers dealing with all aspects of real estate — not just sales but development, construction, insurance, mortgage financing. But what I found was that it was really hard to sell somebody a home one day, then two weeks later show up at a neighborhood meeting to describe what our plans are for the field behind their house.”
Kendall said his company’s first ideal was shared ownership. Today, as through the firm’s history, all brokers and several staff employees are “equal owners” — each holding up to 4,500 shares in the company. Kendall says the idea was almost too revolutionary in the 1970s.
“In 1976, we were pretty much in the industrial era of real estate,” he said, referring to the top-down management style that most brokerages adhered to. “We were accused of being socialists. People didn’t understand the concept, or even the name. I remember a PR consultant we talked to who said, RNow, you’re not really going to keep that name, are you?'”
Harvey Nesbitt, now the “dean” of Group brokers, having joined the company in 1977, remembers the fits and starts that characterized the early days.
“It wasn’t always easy, and sometimes it was pretty rocky,” Nesbitt said. “Everybody wanted to manage. Everybody wanted to pick out the color of the stationery, and nobody wanted to sell real estate.”
Nesbitt directly credits Kendall for keeping the loosely run ship afloat long enough for it to catch the wind.
“A lot of other brokers would not have had the persistence and determination to make a noble project like this work,” he said. “The secret of how this thing works comes down to our fearless leader.”
Many of the long-time brokers at The Group have become millionaires under the ownership plan that Kendall and his partners devised. That’s why they stay, and why so many others want to join. With the completion of the new Harmony Road building, the company will hire nine new brokers, and requests for interviews are keeping Kendall’s and Daily’s phones ringing.
“We will have interviewed 100 brokers to come up with the nine that we will hire,” Daily said. “We work on becoming better at what we do every single day, and people with the same philosophy are the people that we attract: RAnything I can do, I can do better.'”
While so many real estate firms honor their brokers with sales awards, The Group has never had such a recognition program. Visitors to any of The Group’s offices won’t find a “sales person of the month sign on a parking place,” Daily said, adding that the contests defeat the principles that she and Kendall have tried to promote.
“We’ve got two reasons for not having sales contests, or sales people of the month or the year or whatever,” Kendall said. “The contest notion is not congruent with the team ideal, and it’s not in the best interest of the customer. If someone is out there working for himself or herself, is he or she working for the customer? I don’t think so.”
Conversations with other Group brokers show that the customer-first “ethic” that Kendall, Daily and other managers espouse is infectious. Groupies walk the walk, and talk the talk.
“If something is right, even though it’s not profitable, we’ll do what’s right,´ said Marilyn Barnes, a Group broker since the early 1980s. “What goes around comes around, and we know that it will serve us down the road.”
A departure from the business-as-usual approach that dominates much of the local real estate landscape shows up in The Group’s advertising strategy. All listings are advertised with asking prices and addresses. While some local brokerages have picked up the practice in part, others prefer to hold the information close and wait for the phone to ring, Kendall said.
“We’re the only industry I can think of that offers products for sale to the public without telling them the prices,” Kendall said. “If we are, as we want to be, the No. 1 source for real estate information in our market, we’ve got to get the information out. ` Now, we’re putting prices on all of our signs.”
The signs get attention — not just from buyers, but from other brokers. Competing with a force as dominant as The Group has become in the Northern Colorado market can be daunting.
“They’re experienced,´ said Gene Vaughan, president of Re/Max First Associates Inc. “They are quality agents to work with. They are a fine, fine company that does a wonderful job. But they’re not the only thing going on. I can say the same thing about what Coldwell Banker’s accomplished, or what Re/Max has accomplished.”
Vaughan credits Kendall with helping to foster a Northern Colorado real estate community that has emerged as more cooperative, and less competitive — to the benefit of all brokerages.
“I believe that several of us have worked hard to create a great Board of Realtors,” Vaughan said. “I would say that about Larry Kendall, and about other members of The Group. I hear of things from other communities that they can’t accomplish anything without bickering among themselves. We’ve gotten beyond that. It’s true that they are my bad competitor, but I know what to expect when I deal with them.”

FORT COLLINS — Another summons for Larry Kendall arrived in mid-July.This time it was from the National Association of Realtors, meeting in Vail and seeking the guru of The Group Inc. Real Estate to dispense his wisdom to the organization’s Residential Real Estate Council.
“They called and said, RWe want to know how The Group sells real estate,'” Kendall said from his car phone as he descended the west side of Vail Pass on his way to two days of meetings. Returning phone calls, no matter where he is or what he’s doing, is normal business practice for The Group’s…

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