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6 Outside-the-box Promotional Ideas
(Some are wacky by they work!)

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In a tight buyers’ market, your name can easily blur gray among an endless list of sales associates. Find out how these Realtors® pop and sparkle.

“In a very competitive marketplace; it’s always a challenge to be creative. But what I’ve seen is that the tried and true always win out,” says Dr. Charles Matthews, director of the University of Cincinnati’s Center for Entrepreneurship, Education & Research in Cincinnati. “Folks who have always been in the marketplace are always keeping their name out there in the community, and [those] who are knowledgeable are the most successful.” Your goal is to assure that people can easily dredge your name from memory, he says. “You need to come up with something unique so that when people sell or buy, they think of you first.”

Some Florida sales associates have done just that. From wacky to wonderful, here are some ideas.

1 The Guy with the Bus
In rural Blountstown (population: 15,000), it’d be hard to miss “The Christmas Bus.”

Every December, Danny Ryals, broker of Danny Ryals Real Estate, decorates the 1972 Partridge-Family-era bus with lights and holiday themes—or whatever else strikes his fancy—along with his real estate advertisements. He gives free nighttime rides to community groups so that they can enjoy the seasonal lights and go caroling in style.

And everyone remembers his name.

More important, they call him when they’re ready to buy or sell a house.

“People stop me all the time,” he says. “In the grocery store, I’ve gotten business and referrals. They say, ‘You’re the guy with the bus!’ [Some] of them don’t say it, but I know that’s how they got my name.”
He bought the bus in 1980 for $600. Although it’s old in years, it’s been driven only 53,000 miles. “I only drive it a few hundred miles a year, so this bus will outlast me,” he says.

Because Ryals transports the public, insurance is high—up to $1,500 per year. Even so, it’s worth it, he says. The bus has taken on a marketing life of its own; Ryals prints Christmas cards with a bus photo, and his 7- and 9-year-old children and their friends throw more than 100 pounds of candy from the bus during neighborhood rides (cost: several hundred dollars, which includes new lights, too). He also takes out a $250 ad to get the bus on the front cover of local home magazine, “Buy a Home.” And he drives it in the local Christmas parade. Business advertising signs that he displays on the bus cost $100 each.
“There’s nothing I do as far as advertising that gets our name out better,” Ryals says.

2 The Downtown Mural Artist
Amy Rosebush had never taken a painting class in her life. That didn’t matter to officials who gave her an award for her 19- by 18-foot mural on the side of a historic downtown building in St. Cloud.

It earned her a lot of free press. Not only was she touted as the mural artist, but in interviews she was also able to publicize that she was a real estate professional. Rosebush, a sales associate with Sapphire Realty Services Inc. in Kissimmee, puts the mural image on her business cards and Web site. She pays about $200 for 1,000 cards.

“I saw a pickup in business after I did the mural,” she says. “I would hand out my business card and mention that the painting on it was one I had done for St. Cloud. People would say, ‘I know that painting!’ I immediately click with them as a human being. It helps me break the ice.”

One of her clients, a man from New York, had visited the mural with his daughter. He told Rosebush that he was excited to be working with the sales associate who had created it.

Now Rosebush is expanding on the idea. She’s targeted a high-end neighborhood with a mailing, saying that, if they list with her, she’ll create paintings of those owners’ homes as a memory keepsake after they sell. She spent about $300 on the mailing.

“I will pay for everything, the canvas and frame and paint, and I’ll do the painting in any size. These are million-dollar homes, so even if I spend part of my commission on the painting, someone will have friends [that they can refer to me]. It works for me if I get my foot in the door and create a relationship,” she says.

3 The eBay Guy
For $150 a month, Vance Remele gets worldwide exposure to more than 181 million shoppers in 35 countries—on eBay. Since November, Remele, a sales associate with Southern Realty Enterprises in Longwood, has closed five sales, averaging $190,000 each, from his eBay listings.

“It’s $150 well spent. You can’t get that kind of exposure even on TV. I’ve had contact from people in Israel, Belgium, Sweden, Chad and Puerto Rico,” says Remele. “The traffic that comes in on eBay is phenomenal. You get a lot of tire kickers, but that’s fine.”

Here’s how it works: While most eBay listings are auctions, Remele’s is a straight advertisement. He puts together a photo show with $69 software called Nero. One ad takes hours to assemble, he says, “but it only takes one person to make it worthwhile,” he adds.

When he gets a bite, he points the potential buyer to his Web site and continues to build a relationship. “Both of us are online at the same time, so I’m speaking to them while they’re surfing my site,” he says.
Although Remele discourages people from buying properties sight unseen, some do it anyway. One of his condo listings sold for $128,000 to an Ohio woman who saw the property for the first time on closing day.

“About 78 percent of homebuyers shop the Internet. So in my opinion, 78 percent of real estate associates need a good Web site. You’re missing the boat by not participating,” he says.

4 The Soccer Dad
Jim Manning, a broker-associate at RE/MAX South Shore Realty in Tampa, calls himself the “team owner” of two enterprises—the “BestBrokerFlorida Thunder” and the “BestBrokerFlorida Sharks.”
Yes, they’re his kids’ teams—11-year-old Jesse’s and 5-year-old Lucy’s. This year during the December-to-March soccer season, Manning sponsored each team’s uniforms and outfitted them with his “BestBrokerFlorida” slogan. During the games, he takes digital photos of the team players and e-mails them to their parents. “So they’re getting a subliminal message!” he says.

Manning also strategically placed an 8- by 3-foot banner at the entrance of the soccer complex that announces: “BestBrokerFlorida Kicks It with Brandon Soccer.” Other team sponsors’ banners weren’t as colorful, he says. He designed it and worked with a Kinko’s graphic artist to put it together. All told, he spent about four hours on it. He paid $700 for both teams’ uniforms, plus $200 for the banner.
“At RE/MAX, you’re encouraged to create a sub-brand, so I spent a lot of time honing in on ‘BestBrokerFlorida,’” he says.

Manning notes that the complex has 12 fields and that daily attendance is “huge.” “Every day, there are tons of kids and games and parents. There are traveling squads of teams,” he says.

He hasn’t been able to directly tie any sales to his efforts yet, but he expects them to pay off soon. He notes that socializing with other parents builds rapport.

“The costs are relatively low for the amount of exposure I get,” he says.

5 The On-the-Trail Specialist
Cyclists comprise a tight community, especially those who regularly use the Withlacoochee Trail State Park. The 46-mile trek is the longest paved trail in Florida.

Cynthia Smith, a sales associate with Cridland & Cridland PA GMAC Real Estate in Inverness, fell in love with cycling three years ago and moved from a home near the ocean in St. Augustine to Citrus County so that she could use the trail regularly.

“When I moved to the area, I had difficulty finding a [sales associate] who knew where the trail was,” she says. So she parlayed her hobby into a business-getting opportunity.

Smith sponsors riders in the Clean Air Ride for the American Lung Association and the annual October Rails to Trails Ride. Each participant receives a goody bag that includes a T-shirt, power bar and water bottle. Local businesses can also contribute to the bags, so Smith contributes first-aid kits.

The kits are small and include a Band-Aid, an alcohol swab, a dose of Excedrin—and Smith’s business card, which is orange and touts her as the “On-the-Trail Specialist.”

Each kit, ordered from Branders.com, is also imprinted with her logo. They cost $1.70 each, and Smith orders 1,000 per ride, plus an extra 200 so that she can offer them in her office.

She also provides riders with a county map, which she buys from her broker, already stamped with the company logo. She marks each with the location of her office in relation to the trail. The cost is $400 per 1,000. “If I have to e-mail [participants], and they want information about the area, hopefully they’ve kept their map,” Smith says.

“I believe you can best sell what you know and love.”

6 Shhhh ...
Getting people to recognize you as a real estate specialist becomes easier once you find the venue in which to display your knowledge. Lidya Gongage, a sales associate with Stirling/Sotheby’s International Realty in Winter Park, is organizing free classes in conjunction with the Seminole County Public Library.

“The library is a friendly, neutral environment, and we’re not selling anything—just giving information,” Gongage says.

Gongage plans for a mortgage banker (usually her daughter, Michelle, of The Mortgage Firm in Winter Park) to teach a class to first-time homebuyers. “There are a lot of young people who can’t afford to get started, and she helps people bring their credit up so that they can buy a house,” Gongage says.

She has also lined up a representative from First American Title Co. to do an informational session on Internal Revenue Service Code 1031 for investment property buyers.

“I’ll be in attendance to shake hands and bring refreshments. I’m a good cook, so I’ll make some special European cookies,” she says.

In addition, Gongage and two other sales associates in her office have paid $2,300 each to get their contact information on shopping carts at the local Albertsons supermarket. Ad Carts Co. designs the ads and puts them in jackets in each cart.

“It’s all about name recognition. Maybe someone will recall my name, but won’t be able to place where they heard it. But they’ll still contact me. At this point in my career, it’s worth it,” she says.

Heidi Russell Rafferty is a Georgia-based freelance writer.