Crye-Leike Celebrates Profits In Hard Times By Turning To Web, Cost Cuts – Commercial Appeal, Memphis

By Tom Bailey Jr.

Posted January 20, 2010 at 12:04 a.m.


The agent with the most recognizable hair in Memphis real estate sat in the back row with her congratulatory bouquet of roses Tuesday, quietly showing why she’d just been recognized as the No. 1 agent at Crye-Leike Realty.


Instead of soaking up adoration during the company’s “2010 Kick Off” for about 400 agents gathered at the Holiday Inn-University of Memphis, Judy “Judymac” McLellan hunched over her smart phone, possibly working on another sale.


Leaders Dick Leike and Harold Crye acknowledged 2009 was a bad sales year for the region’s largest real estate company.


They used McLellan as an example for other agents to help Crye-Leike meet its $4.1 billion sales goal in 2010. That’s 5 percent more than the $3.8 billion in sales for 2009.


In a video, McLellan explained to fellow agents how her Quail Hollow office successfully adjusted to the harsh economy.


She pushed, and, while cutting back on newspaper and magazine advertisement.


“That saved us a lot of money,” she said.


McLellan’s office also started selling much less expensive homes in the weaker economy.


She held more open houses. And when she sold a house, she blanketed the neighborhood with Judymac’s “just-sold” cards.


McLellan also froze wages and cut back on bonuses in her office, but kept her team together without a layoff.


The meeting was designed as a pep rally, complete with a conga line to inspirational music.


All the news wasn’t bad.


Yes, the company fell short of its local goal of $1.4 billion in sales. The local sales of $1.23 billion in 2009 is an 8 percent drop from 2008.


And yes, the number of Crye-Leike agents across the Southeast has shrunk from 4,100 to 3,301 (and 1,300 to 950 in the Memphis area).


And the 2009 goal of building an Oakland office and a new Midtown office was put on hold.


But the 8 percent sales drop was much better than 20 to 30 percent that so many other agencies experienced, Leike said.


Six Memphis offices in 2009 exceeded their 2008 sales: Atoka, Commercial, Forest Hill-Irene, Germantown/Poplar, Hickory Ridge and Marion.


Fewer agents means less competition for the persistent. Eighty percent of the company’s agents made more money in 2009 than in 2008, Crye said.


The Internet traffic that came to Crye-Leike through search engine Google rose 16 percent last year.


FedEx, the linchpin for Memphis’ economy, is starting to rehire and has resumed its retirement contributions to its employees, said Steve Brown, Crye-Leike’s general manager. FedEx tells Crye-Leike the realty company ought to start “feeling” the improvements.


The company continued to implore its agents not to spend money on print advertising, a goal for 2009. Applause rang out when Crye announced the company spent 60 percent less on print ads in 2009.


The company also intends to increase its market share by absorbing brokers made weaker by the economy.


And while Crye wants agents to keep focusing on sales, they also can make money by managing the growing number of rental housing. The demand for property management can’t be ignored, he indicated.


— Tom Bailey Jr.: 529-2388


Crye-Leike goals


The region’s largest real estate company on Tuesday announced its goals for 2010, including:


$4.1 billion in sales across Southeast, up 5 percent from 2009.


$1.29 billion in Memphis-area sales, up 5 percent.


Build office in Oakland and relocate Midtown office.


Increase map-searching capability on Web site and improve the virtual home tour.


Digitize all transaction documents so agents can access them anywhere.


Create a continuing education designation for agents called SNP (Social Networking Professional).


Grow market share with more mergers.