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'Business within a business'

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  • | 11:00 a.m. June 26, 2015
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  • Tampa Bay-Lakeland
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Lakeland's housing market is on a steady climb, and Chris McLaughlin is at the forefront.

The 41-year-old entrepreneur is the franchise owner of Keller Williams Realty in Lakeland. With about 180 agents, it's the area's single largest real estate office. Founded 12 years ago, it now stands atop the competition with a market share of nearly 32% in Lakeland, according to BrokerMetrics.

Another feat: The office produced back-to-back record-setting months for total transactions in March and April. This comes at a time when the local housing market is on an upswing, yet far from its peak during the mid-2000s boom.

How does he do it? It's a cliche, but the answer, he says, lies in teamwork.

“What's interesting is back during the housing craze, we had more agents. So we're doing better numbers with fewer people, which means that our agents are more productive,” McLaughlin says. “Here in Lakeland, we're actually in the top three in the nation for most productive Keller Williams offices.”

A bulk of McLaughlin's agents work in separate units under the supervision of individual team leaders. That's not an uncommon approach in real estate, but at Keller Williams, where there's upwards of 15 teams, it's a big enterprise.

McLaughlin sacrifices to make the team-first model work. For one, he earns a smaller chunk of agents' commission dollars than other broker-owners. That's because he allows team leaders to build and develop their own sales force, which in turn, gives those leaders a shot to earn more of the share.

But in return, McLaughlin gets more than sales volume. The model, he says, provides more oversight and productivity. It also helps attract top performers, the brokers who want to establish their own teams with Keller Williams.

“The reason we're so productive here is we have little mini-brokerages within the Keller Williams office,” McLaughlin says. “We have all of these teams that have flourished, where the team leaders are making money because they're running a business within a business. If you're at a traditional company, they frown upon that, because they look at that as eroding their company dollar.”

While McLaughlin says agents are accountable to the Keller Williams brand, they have other priorities. Says McLaughlin: “They're also accountable to all of these other team leaders who are pushing them and pushing them to go out and make more sales, to make calls on expired listings, to call on For Sale By Owners, and do all of the lead generation it takes to be successful in real estate.”

Keller Williams Lakeland posted a monthly record of 252 transactions, representing buyers and sellers, in March. The office surpassed that with 259 transactions in April. In a given month, the office might keep 12% or so of the total commission dollars generated by agents. It's a high-volume/low margin system McLaughlin makes work by keeping expenses down. He owns the company's modest downtown Lakeland headquarters, for example.

“In general, I would say our business model has been very effective competing in up and in down markets,” says McLaughlin. “Of course only the paranoid survive, so there could be another business model that comes and competes against us successfully, but then we'll be agile enough to adjust to it.”

By Kyle Kennedy | Contributing Writer


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