By David Laprad
Chattanooga Realtor Charlotte Mabry had achieved the dream of many agents.
After 31 years in the business, Mabry was a local real estate icon. Her business was flourishing to the tune of $70 million in annual sales, the Charlotte Mabry Team at Keller Williams Downtown Realty was a fixture in the Chattanooga market and more listeners than ever were tuning in to her long-running Saturday morning real estate radio show on WGOW.
Mabry had even earned the endorsement of Barbara Corcoran of “Shark Tank” fame, who’d said, “There’s only one agent I’d trust to sell my home – Charlotte Mabry.”
But as Mabry reflected on her success, something bothered her. Yes, she and her team were selling $70 million worth of real estate every year, which should have been gratifying. But then again, she and her team were selling $70 million worth of real estate every year.
“[Keller Williams founder] Gary Keller says everyone has limitations. We’re born with specific skills, and if we choose to, we can work to the level of our capability, but that’s our ceiling of achievement,” Mabry says. “Running a team that was doing $70 million in sales was my ceiling of achievement.”
So, at 62 years of age, Mabry began to contemplate her future. “I started thinking, ‘What do I want to be when I grow up? If I want to be something else, I’ve got to do something else,’” she says.
Mabry also began to scrutinize her business. As she looked closely at the team she’d built during the previous 25 years, she identified an issue.
“I had agents who were great at taking leads and running with them, but all I was doing was giving them fish; I hadn’t taught them how to fish,” she says. “That was working for me, but it wasn’t a sustainable business model because I was just teaching them to be dependent on me.”
Mabry couldn’t shake the feeling that, despite her success, her creation had an ephemeral quality. If she were to step away from it, would it cease to have value.
So, Mabry fashioned a new dream: To build a business that held monetary value and taught its agents to excel on their own.
“All we have to offer is the legacy we leave behind,” she says. “I wanted a team that not only performed well but was built on principles that would keep them going whether I was there or not.”
Mabry’s first step toward achieving her new aspirations was discovering a concept known as expansion, a process by which Realtors take their business systems and replicate them in other parts of the country.
“When you can take your business from Chattanooga to New York City and it still works, you have a company with value,” Mabry says. “You have a McDonald’s you can duplicate.”
Mabry’s search for a partner led her to Chris Suarez, a Portland, Oregon-based Keller Williams Realtor who was selling more than twice as much real estate as she was.
“Chris is well-known within Keller Williams,” Mabry says. “He’s 40, sharp and well-connected.”
Suarez had developed a number of systems that broke down the tasks centered on the various means of lead generation in real estate into simple steps and was making them available to agents across the nation through expansion.
“We’ve been No. 1, 2 or 3 in Portland for the last decade, and there’s a reason why,” a busy Suarez says during a 6:30 a.m. phone call. “But agents haven’t been systematized enough to duplicate that success in their city.”
For open houses, Suarez had created a list of tasks that carried agents from promoting to hosting to following up with potential clients.
“Are your knocking on doors, making calls and sending mailings, and, if so, what are you saying and what are you mailing?” Suarez says. “Then you move on to what you say and do when someone arrives at the open house, what you say as someone is leaving and what you send afterward and when.”
A database available to agents tracks each step.
Mabry was impressed with Suarez’s systems, but the Portland Realtor didn’t take credit for devising the concept of expansion. Rather, he acknowledged Keller, who sparked a discussion among several top agents that led to its development.
“Keller began talking with top agents around the country about the notion that a Realtor should be no different from a broker, and that every agent should be coached on how to build a business,” Suarez says.
This group of agents conceived a system that would enable an agent to build a business that wasn’t walled in by geographical boundaries.
“Expansion grew out of Keller’s vision of creating something better for agents and the industry,” Suarez continues. “An agent might be in a city where there’s only so much business to be done, where the average sale price is too low to facilitate growth, where the population is small or where there’s only one office.
“There are a lot of reasons why people would want to expand.”
Mabry believed implementing Suarez’s systems would allow her and her team to shatter the ceiling that had been holding them back. So, following much discussion and the stroke of a pen in May 2018, she became the Charlotte Mabry Team powered by Xperience.
Although Mabry’s partnership with Suarez has a financial component – he receives a portion of her proceeds – Suarez notes that Mabry has not purchased an Xperience franchise, nor did he buy a percentage of her business.
“We have a partnership. Our goal is to grow the production of Charlotte’s business,” Suarez explains. “Charlotte uses her reputation, influence and team-building to do her part. In turn, I launch her agents into production, coach them and provide systems for marketing, transactions and customer service.”
Although Xperience is based on Portland, Suarez has people across the country generating leads, providing hiring solutions and coaching agents.
“We also have teams contributing to our budget and allowing us to provide these services,” Suarez adds. “As a result, Charlotte’s agents can launch their businesses with systems for getting into production and then growing.
“And her clients are receiving a high level of service.”
Although Suarez had partnered with individual agents around the country, Mabry was the first team he’d brought into his fold. Likewise, Mabry believes she’s the first agent or team in Chattanooga to bring the expansion concept to the city.
While the transformation of Mabry’s business was an exciting time for the Realtor, many of her team members didn’t share her enthusiasm.
One of the key components of Suarez’s systems is accountability; agents are not simply given a set of tasks to perform, they are also held accountable for completing them. Suddenly, agents who were accustomed to taking leads and running with them were required to submit to daily trackers.
“We’re operating a business, and if you’re here, you’re expected to produce,” Mabry says.
This didn’t sit well with many of Mabry’s team members, most of whom jumped ship. Out of the 15 individuals on Mabry’s team when she formed her partnership with Suarez, only two stayed with her. Since then, she’s replenished a portion of her ranks with seven new team members.
“I’ve turned over nearly an entire team in the past 18 months,” she says. “It’s been a wild ride.”
Mabry says the mass exodus was part of her growing pains.
“My ship was going one way, and I turned it in a new direction. I’d been giving out leads and not requiring anyone to do anything else. Suddenly, I was asking my team to grow along with me.
“That sounds great, but when you’re in the trenches, it’s a different story. When I began to hold people accountable, it wasn’t for everyone.”
Mabry’s bottom line also took a hit following her deal with Suarez. As her old team dissolved and she built a new one, her sales dipped from $70 million to $35 million annually. “I was willing to implode my team and start over for a principle I felt was right,” she says. “But that’s what it took.”
Now, Mabry says, she’s poised to begin seeing the fruits of her decision. For starters, she has a team of nine that’s been trained in Suarez’s systems and are learning to grow their individual businesses from within her team.
“We do a lot of coaching with Chris’ team. One week, we talked about how to help sellers. The next week, we discussed how to work with buyers. The next, we covered how to grow personally so you can take your own business to the next level,” Mabry says.
“Thank goodness for Zoom. Video conferencing is amazing.”
Suarez’s systems are also working for Mabry. For example, after 15 years of selling perhaps one house a year at open houses, she says her team is now “selling houses right and left from open houses.”
“We’ve handed Charlotte our playbook for lead generation, and each agent chooses the kind of lead generation he or she enjoys, whether it’s open houses, door knocking, working with investors or working their sphere,” Suarez says.
Mabry continues to have her eye on shattering the ceiling that vexed her for years. But to get there, she says she needs more agents. “We have more business than we can handle,” she admits.
Mabry uses a single word to define the kind of agent she’s seeking: talent. “Talent pushes you because it doesn’t necessarily want to stay in the same place,” she says. “I have a team of agents who want to grow. They want leadership opportunities, and I want to facilitate them.”
Mabry’s team members aren’t the only ones who are pushing her to new heights of achievement; just like she presses her agents toward productivity, Suarez is holding her accountable.
“Charlotte’s accountability to me is connected to profitability, to the attraction of agents, to the growth of the people on her team and to making sure those agents are following our systems,” he says.
Since forming a partnership with Mabry, Suarez has added more teams across the country, including New York, Texas (he has four teams in Austin), Idaho, Washington, Florida and California.
His job, he says, is to stay ahead of the industry by figuring out the services that will allow these teams to stay relevant.
“I’m responsible for making sure our teams aren’t disrupted by changes in real estate by looking at what we’re doing, what’s working and where the industry is going.
“There are a lot of problems to solve in real estate. We step back and ask, ‘What problems does our industry present and how do we solve them?’ That gives agents simple solutions to working in this industry and buyers and sellers solutions that accomplish their objectives.”
One problem expansion might create for Mabry is additional turnover as agents grow in knowledge, experience and ambition and then strike out on their own. With this in mind, Mabry sees expansion as both a blessing and a curse.
“I now have agents on my team that not only understand what to do with the fish I give them, but also know how to fish themselves,” she says.
“If they stay with me until we’re all a million years old, awesome. But if they leave and grow their own team, then I’ve coached and trained them in a way that allows them to build something that has value.
“Xperience is not just about creating sales, it’s also about growing leaders.”
Now at the far side of the most challenging transition of her career, Mabry says she feels remade and powered by a level of energy she hasn’t felt in years.
This is allowing her to put what she calls “the most difficult 18 months of [her] … life” behind her and begin focusing solely on the future.
“There were some sad goodbyes and people who thought I’d lost my mind. A couple of the agents who left said, ‘I liked you better back then,’” Mabry recalls. “And I appreciate that. They didn’t understand where we were headed. But the difference is the me I am today is a better me for them.”