RE/MAX: Training With A Competitive Advantage
Managing a global business is a daunting task, especially for those in charge of corporate training and communications. Making sure all employees, regardless of geographic location, remain up to date on the latest information coming from corporate headquarters is paramount for success. Satellite-delivered communications and training are becoming an even stronger asset, giving companies an edge in recruiting, retaining sales associates and selling products and services worldwide. In the case of RE/MAX, putting in place such a communications platform has turned into one of its strongest assets for both employer and employee.
In 1994, Mike Ryan anxiously waited in the corner office of Dave Liniger, co-founder and chairman of RE/MAX International. The pair was going to discuss how RE/MAX would become the first real estate company in history to create a satellite subscription network.
"At the time, it was such a revolutionary concept," recalls Ryan, vice president at RE/MAX in Denver. Traditionally, RE/MAX corporate trainers spent hundreds of days on the road each year teaching real estate classes throughout North America, he adds. Still, some associates based in large cities who wanted to obtain professional designations from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) had to wait months-or sometimes years-for instructors to visit their area. Agents in small towns had to attend national conferences in other states in order to receive the designation, spending valuable time away from their business and family in the process.
Ryan, who worked for a company that helped produce RE/MAX’s annual international conventions, proposed an idea for a satellite-based communications network to Liniger during a convention and made a lasting impression. RE/MAX later flew Ryan to its Denver headquarters, where Liniger offered Ryan the opportunity to launch the network, setting a deadline of five months, even though RE/MAX did not have a camera, a producer or any programming.
Recognizing this opportunity, Ryan accepted and met Liniger’s aggressive timetable by launching the RE/MAX Satellite Network (RSN) in November 1994— exactly five months after their Denver conversation. Initially, RSN offered four hours of satellite programming per day to 39,000 real estate agents throughout North America using three-meter satellite dishes and CLI Spectrum Saver satellite receivers.
Nearly 11 years later, RE/MAX realized its ROI when the network grew to one of the largest business satellite networks, providing more than 60 hours of programming each month and creating content that reaches more than 100,000 associates in 54 countries and nine territories. Today, travel expenses, lost sales time in the field and inefficient communications has become a thing of the past.
"In a very competitive franchise environment, RSN sets us apart within the industry," Liniger says. "Satellite-delivered communications and training are a tremendous asset that gives us an edge in recruiting, retaining our sales associates and selling franchises worldwide."
Establishing the network offered its fair share of challenges and sacrifices, says Ryan, who had to live in Denver for several weeks each month and fly back to his hometown in northern Kentucky to spend time with his family.
Even though the company would not officially release the exact amount, RE/MAX executives did says that the company invested millions of dollars to set up the network’s infrastructure, and since RSN would be used for training purposes as well as broadcasting industry news, every department was engaged in the development. Ryan had access to everyone from Liniger down, and each week, corporate officers brainstormed new concepts in addition to meeting with department heads. "Our biggest challenge was to put our programming together in five months," Ryan says. "We were definitely in crunch time."
The company’s departments helped fill the void by developing program ideas related to their own specialties. For example, the legal department created programs about the legal aspects of real estate, and zone operations contacted people in the field to serve as panelists and address topics such as advertising and personal promotion.
Prior to the launch, Ryan’s staff set up studios at the company’s international conventions, which typically drew close to 6,000 people. The opening session was taped as well as other meetings and convention rooms were converted into studios where the network’s staff taped top real estate leaders addressing timely, industry-related issues.
During one convention, the network recorded 120 hours of content in just a week. The material served as the basis for the network’s initial programming schedule, Ryan says.
RSN went live at the NAR’s broker conference-meeting Liniger’s deadline- and hundreds of people crowded the studio booth at the convention site. Security had to clear the aisles because interested realtors were blocking passage to nearby vendors.
At the time of the launch, RSN was available on a subscription basis only, requiring owners of RE/MAX franchises to invest several thousands of dollars to install the satellite infrastructure at their office and, depending upon office size, pay a monthly subscription fee of between $150 and $300. Nearly 700 offices signed up for the network that same day.
"We were overwhelmed by the rush of people who came to see what RE/MAX had announced," says Ryan. "We had to grin a little when most of the other major real estate companies at the show announced they too were going to have a real estate satellite network within the next six to 12 months. Immediately, we knew we had a unique competitive advantage on our hands."
Initially, the programming was designed around the profile of the average RE/MAX associate. RSN also featured panel discussions, formal education and a show called the "Great Office," which introduced some of the company’s leading franchise owners. Each month, a camera crew spent several days with these owners and their staff, capturing everything about their operations, ranging from the technology they used to their office decoration.
Looking back, Ryan believes RSN could have listened more closely to what real estate agents needed and wanted in regards to training.
"We thought we knew it all," he says, explaining that RSN’s positive roll out created a false sense of security. "At first, we would fly only our very top producers into Denver, put them in business suits and fire up the cameras. Some of these professionals, with their teams, were literally selling a house a day. They would be beating their chests, saying ‘I sell a house a day, I’m a multimillionaire.’"
But RSN’s staff feared it was becoming a network of talking heads. Many programs began to take on the same look and feel. Worse yet, the average associate could not relate to them, so some viewers began to do what every network dreads-change the channel.
RSN tackled the problem by creating programs like the "Shadow" series, which covers 48 hours of an agent’s life, but not just the high producers. It featured a variety of agents at different stages of their real estate career. Some had just entered the field, while others were experienced in commercial real estate. Some worked exclusively in resort areas or excelled in residential sales.
"We looked at it like we had 39,000 actors and actresses at our disposal," he says explaining that the network introduced best practices to agents across North America. "They were very dynamic, energetic people and became our most valuable resource for benchmarking within the system."
RSN also produced shows that dealt with logistical topics. Ryan cites an original "Accredited Buyer Representative" program that addressed the legal issues facing real estate agents regarding customer disclosure. Instead of showing PowerPoint slides or talking heads, RSN sent a camera crew to interview a real estate agent in Tempe, AZ, who tells an interesting story.
Years ago, when Arizona State University built its research park in Tempe, it disrupted the habitat of thousands of scorpions who quickly moved into the surrounding neighborhoods. As a result, real estate agents selling homes in the area had to disclose to potential buyers that the houses could have other occupants.
The program quickly became one of the network’s most remembered shows, Ryan says. A real estate instructor was shown pulling a scorpion out of a home’s electrical box. Viewers also watched buyers’ candid reactions to the news.
"People on the East Coast could not relate to this unless they saw it," says Ryan. "We try to work with instructors and show what is really happening in the field and the drama that sometimes accompanies their trade."
Less than three months after RSN’s first satellite broadcast, the programming was bumped up to six hours a day, five days a week. By this time, the network also joined forces with NAR by broadcasting its professional designation training (PDT) courses. By doing so, RE/MAX made history again as the first real estate company to televise both U.S. and Canadian PDT courses and continuing education programs that only applied to real estate agents in specific states.
Since then, most program content has come from the field. Ryan says his staff features associates either at conventions or back at their office during a typical workday. The same holds true with NAR. RSN only televises the association’s most respected PDT programs, registers viewers and distributes course materials. So far, Ryan says 18,000 associates have successfully completed a PDT or training course from NAR via the network.
"One of the first things I heard loud and clear when coming to RE/MAX was that some of the best ideas in the history of our company have come from the field, so we listen to our customers," he says. "We don’t reinvent the wheel."
More changes occurred as RSN continued to evolve. In 1999, Liniger opted to provide free office installation and programming to RE/MAX associates throughout North America. Now, an office would only pay a $35 monthly maintenance fee.
Two years later, the network partnered with Dish Network, a satellite TV provider with approximately 11 million subscribers. With its own channel-9611-active RE/MAX associates could watch RSN’s programs at home. RE/MAX also offered each office a free digital video recorder so associates could record important programs they may have missed due to their work schedule.
"Suddenly, we catered to their individual schedule instead of them following ours," Ryan says.
Today RSN supports more than 100,000 "actresses and actors," throughout more than 2,200 commercial offices and about 4,600 home offices in North America rece