When the going gets tough, the military get going.
Or so it was for 10-year army veteran Geoff Kaslar, principal at LJ Hooker Thornleigh, in Sydney’s northern suburbs, when he first became a real estate principal 12 years ago.
Mr Kaslar found his first months as a principal incredibly tough, having followed his decade in the army with six years in a business that manufactured and installed window displays and signage for the real estate industry.
He recalls how vendors wanted more than just a recognised brand name above his door: “People wanted to know what my track record was; where I live; what I’d sold; and what listings I currently had.
“And, of course, it was zero for me in the first six months.”
He had to battle hard to get those initial listings, and the fight didn’t end there. “It must be one of the only businesses on the planet where you don’t get paid unless you sell them,” he says.
Mr Kaslar, who has had a strong interest in real estate since he was young, decided to leave his window display business after seeing first-hand how some principals often struggled with the management side of running an agency.
“My military background had instilled in me a very strong self-discipline which, combined with a persistent attitude to succeed and achieve personal and business financial goals, helped me overcome the odds,” he says.
But being new to the principal’s role also had its advantages.
“On the other side, not having worked in real estate enabled me to bring a fresh approach and perspective to dealing with clients, which provided a point of difference. This was helped greatly by bringing my daughter Amy into the business to work in sales alongside me as she had a solid background in the hospitality industry,” he says.
Mr Kaslar’s office now boasts 12 staff, including seven sales agents, and he would be the first to admit he needed help in those early days. Key management figures from head office would often drop by to see how he was progressing, and other principals within the LJ Hooker network were also key contributors to his growth.
“[Principals] would say, ‘If you’ve got a problem, just give me a call.’ – they were very generous with their own time.”
He adds that it’s tough trying to be a sales agent and run a business at the same time. He enjoys hearing how other successful people made it to the top, and in particular, how other principals manage to do well. LJ Hooker’s ‘Peak Performance’ program gives him this opportunity.
“There are no outside speakers, and instead they invite principals to come and talk about their businesses,” he says. The program has included one extremely successful principal who happily admitted he wasn’t interested in how to run a business, and instead employed a business manager to take care of this for him.
While things were tough initially, it didn’t take too long for both Mr Kaslar and his daughter, Amy, to post strong sales.
“Amy and I qualified for the LJ Hooker Captains Club within two years of opening, and remained at that level for six consecutive years, thereby attaining life membership,” he says. “This group comprises the top seven per cent of the entire LJ Hooker network, so based on their measure we have achieved a high level of success.”
TRAINING AND LEARNING
Training is very important to Mr Kaslar, and he’s quick to attend any courses from which he feels he can learn.
“I’ve done every course [offered by LJ Hooker’s head office] I could do,” he says. “I just don’t think you can ever stop learning; you always pick up something, and I encourage my staff to do the same.”
His team appears just as eager to learn. For instance, they have asked him to make them more accountable for their daily tasks, something he picked up from a seminar run by renowned US real estate agent and trainer, Bob Bohlen.
“He was very much about daily accountability,” Mr Kaslar recalls. “I said to my people, ‘I’m very happy to make you accountable daily – Is that what you want?’
“My management style doesn’t involve looking over people’s shoulders and jumping on them. As long as the results are there, I figure the work is being done. But they said, ‘We want that [accountability], we want to go to the next level.’
“Our team now turns up every week with a response to all the basic key performance indicators from an activity point of view. The focus isn’t on sales; rather, it focuses on what they need to be doing from a prospecting perspective, week-in, week-out,” Mr Kaslar says.
“That’s one of the biggest failings of agents,” he says. “They don’t have the consistency over the long term to keep doing those prospecting activities. They get caught up if they get a few listings. They stop doing the stuff to bring in the flow of business at the top of the funnel, and instead they focus on what’s down the bottom.
“They fail because their sales results over a 12-month period are like a rollercoaster.
“The top agents never take their eye off the prospecting side of things. It ensures they have a big year, the whole year, and they don’t suffer from that feast and famine problem that a lot of them have.”
Mr Kaslar has ramped up this training over the past six months, with a view to helping his team through what he says is a tougher market. He also conducts performance reporting in a group setting, so agents have to go through their prospecting numbers in front of their peers.
Sales training is also paramount. “We spend a lot of time on role plays, and what I call those ‘critical moments’ in a listing presentation when virtually the next thing that comes out of your mouth is either going to win you or lose you the business.”
“We practise a lot of that,” he says, “and I try to make it fun. It’s done every week, and this is what has attracted some of my most recent additions because they’re not getting that where they were. I’ll do one-on-ones with them if they need extra help and I’ll go to appraisals with them if they think they need that.”
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
Mr Kaslar no longer sells and instead he manages the sales team. He believes this has enabled the business to reach a new level and is now well positioned for continued growth.
“I see my role now in ensuring that each of our team members reaches his or her full potential, so I measure my success by theirs,” he says.
The industry has changed that much in 12 years that it’s hard to keep up, he adds. “It’s much more sophisticated than it was,” he says. “I think everything is accelerating so fast these days, and technology is such a big component, that if you can’t adapt and use it, and keep up with it, then you’ll be left behind.”
As Mr Kaslar moves into his sixties, his thoughts also turn to his secession strategy: “I plan that in 10 years’ time I will have exited my business, although I suspect that with the prospect of having my daughter Amy take over the reins, there will still be some involvement,” he says.
“At the moment, I have reduced my days in the office to four, and over the next few years my hands-on involvement with training and mentoring will be further cut back. I will concentrate predominantly on the financial side of the business to ensure its viability into the future for all our staff.”