Recently, my travels found me in the rainy Pacific Northwest for meetings with the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Northwest Real Estate team, including president/CEO Jason Waugh and Northwest Real Estate Chairman Mike Gain. I started off by speaking to our Seattle-based agents and managers, then drove with Jason and the event’s keynote speaker, Ashton Gustafson, 174 miles on I-5 southbound to Portland.
I was thrilled to spend time with both Jason and Ashton – Jason for his consummate professionalism and leadership of the Northwest Real Estate brokerage, and Ashton because I was intrigued by the speech he delivered in Seattle that spoke about the importance of connection. Essentially, Ashton’s message was that no matter how much you Tweet or post or snap in today’s tech-centric world, real estate is still centered around genuine, personal connections. It doesn’t matter, he might argue, if you achieve real connection through handwritten notes, in-person meetings or even a casual drop by to visit a past client. Real estate is not an online business; real estate is a people business.
Ashton’s core thesis is something I agree with wholeheartedly. In my own estimation, if you asked real estate agents where their latest deals came from, a large majority would honestly say that seven out of 10 of their most recent transactions involved existing relationships and people they already knew. As I always say, “You must be that relationship!”
I had this idea of connection tossing around my mind as we arrived in Portland and I readied myself to address the Northwest Real Estate team. After getting to Portland, I quickly changed and went down to the lobby to wait for dinner when I ran into Ashton. We exchanged friendly greetings, and after I asked him where he was off to, he told me he was going to a place called Powell’s City of Books, and would I like to join?
Books, you say? Yep, I’m in.
Off we went to Powell’s City of Books, which I had no idea was literally a literary metropolis, spanning an entire city block with an estimated 1.6 acres of bookshelves (once inside, I was actually given a fold-up map to navigate my way around). I learned during my visit to the City of Books that this legendary landmark of Portland is actually the world’s largest used book store and the flagship shop of Powell’s, the largest independent chain of bookstores on the planet. Not to mention, Huffington Post named this particular store in Portland the “one thing you must do” when you visit Oregon.
So, what’s the message (and what does this all have to do with business)? Well, as I wandered row after row of books – taking photos of every title I want to add to my “must read” list – I couldn’t help but think that this place, large as it may be, was really a microcosm of the real estate industry. How, among so many downloadable eBooks and online PDFs, could such a place like Powell’s exist if not for the very fact that people still crave to connect? For the book industry, this translates into fingers on the actual page. For real estate, it means boots on the ground, meeting clients and building relationships through the power of our personal presence. Because any business – whether it’s the business of books or the business of homes – is never really about the other stuff that’s shiny and new. It’s about the people, and that will never change.