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Vered: Darryl Mayers

An entrepreneur turns real estate on its head when he buys a family business

Juliet Pitman

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Darryl Mayers of Vered Real Estate

When Darryl Mayers bought Vered real estate agency, there was a great deal about it that he didn’t like. “I couldn’t stand what I saw as common practice in the industry – cold canvassing, annoying and invasive marketing, overpricing to get mandates and most of all the gushy 60s American-style selling techniques,” he recalls.

He didn’t even like the look and feel of the Vered brand: “The name was great – really established in the market – but the brand was so ‘mom and pop’.”

But in spite of the faults he found, Mayers also knew he’d made a good buy. “I’d come from Investec and was looking around for a new challenge. When the family who owned Vered approached a friend of mine to ask if he knew anyone interested in purchasing their business, I told him to buy.

I just knew I could run it,” he says. After a due diligence and a deal that took only two months to structure, the former owners emigrated to Australia and Mayers was the proud owner of a business he knew very little about.

But sometimes not having experience in an industry can be a distinct advantage. In Mayers’ case it has allowed him to take a fresh approach to things – if there are any holy real estate cows, he’s ignored them. “In particular, the level of sales training was very weak – the market was awash with cold calling in the evening and knock-and-drops – all very lazy and passive ways of getting stock.

It drove consumers mad and it was never measured so you could never tell how ineffective it was. But it was all so entrenched in the market that no one seemed to want to question it or recognise how bad it was,” he says.

After listening to dismal presentations bya number of different trainers, he eventually took things into his own hands. As he explains, “I wanted agents to start building relationships with people and you don’t do that by giving them a free fridge magnet or a calendar with a scone recipe on the back.

So I started doing dialogue training with agents and tried to weed out all the stock-standard responses that the old training manuals contained. They all suggested that if a customer asks you to cut your commission, you should tell them to cut their asking price, but frankly that’s not a great way to talk to a person.

“So instead of being confrontational, rather have a reasonable answer that treats your customer like the sophisticated consumer they are. Talk to them. Enter into a conversation. If you believe they’re asking too high a price, explain the current market conditions and real estate trends to them.”

But in spite of his no-nonsense approach, Mayers admits that one of his biggest challenges was ensuring that he didn’t make too many drastic changes too quickly. “I needed to remain sensitive to the fact that many of the people in the company had worked there for many years and were used to one family and one way of doing things.

Slowly, over time, he changed the brand from the ‘mom and pop’ style with a heart-shaped logo to a cleaner, less cluttered and more sophisticated look and feel. “I asked agents to give me six months before they considered leaving and in the end we didn’t experience a very high staff turnover, in spite of the fact that we almost completely repositioned ourselves in the market,” he says.

If anything, the changes have only built a stronger business. “Today we have a very work-orientated group and some of our teams are doing four times better than the best team when we bought the business. We’ve built up a rookie from scratch in Hyde Park, for example, and he did close to R250 million in 2007.

And having strong teams has attracted great agents from the outside and motivated our existing agents to push harder,” he says. With a consolidated foundation, the business is set to expandand Mayers has already started selling licences. “We’re aiming to do ten a year,” he says. Contact: +27 11 646 5432; www.vered.co.za

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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