Own name or brand name – what’s in a name?

MAIN IMAGE: Clive Levy, founder and principal Clive Levy Properties; Cynthia Machaba, founder and principal Cyn Mac Properties; Bruce Swain, CEO Leapfrog Property Group; Berry Everitt, CEO Chas Everitt.

Estate agents, perhaps more than any other profession, often trade under their own name. What are the pros and cons of choosing to trade under your own name instead of under a brand name?

‘What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ … the question pondered by Juliet in Shakepeare’s drama reflects on the strong association people may attach to a name. In her case it was unfortunately a negative association as her beloved Romeo was from a rival family, but a strong enough positive association may lead to the building of a business legacy.

It is a time-honoured practice in business to use your own name when creating a new business to indicate your commitment to your brand. Just think of famous brand names such as Barclays Bank, Cadbury’s chocolate, Ford and Armani to name but a few.

The real estate industry, perhaps more than any other, also has a strong tradition with personal names. Some of them count under the country’s top franchise brands today and there are countless more smaller businesses that have become trusted names in the communities where they operate.

That being said, some marketing experts such as Bernice Ross, well-known US real estate coach and author, discourages the use of your name to brand your business. She fears selling a business with a personal name might make it less attractive to buyers. She advises that you rather mention real estate and target a specific market, for example a specific area with a name like Knysnarealestateplots.com or a niche market such as Flats4USstudents.com.

On the other hand, Ross acknowledges that many independents use their own names and suggests that if you are one of them to create alternative URL’s where you reference your location or niche market and link the URL directly to your homepage. Read more about her advice to make your business more sellable here.

So, what are the pros and cons to consider when choosing a brand name? Property Professional asked some local property practitioners for their take on this.

Clients know my name

Clive Levy, principal and founder of Clive Levy Properties in Blairgowrie, Johannesburg, says he made the choice to go on his own after he had been in the property industry for many years. “I had been selling in my area for 25 years and it was the best way to let my clients know who I was i.e. an experienced agent in the area and not a new kid in town,” explains Levy. His intention from the start wasn’t to compete with a corporate image – he wanted to have a suburb-based agency with a homely feel that conveyed personal service.

Cynthia Machaba, founder and principal of Cyn Mac Properties (Cyn Mac is short for Cynthia Machaba) in Soshanguve near Pretoria, agrees fully about building your brand on the trust you built up over the years with your clients. “In real estate, you are the agent first, making you a brand yourself. Depending on how well you build your brand, you earn a lot of trust from clients, the community and associates,” she starts.

It is therefore easier to build on that foundation, when you finally decide to go on your own, she says. “People already knew who I was. They could trust me. It therefore made lots of sense to build it from there.”

To illustrate how people tend to remember personal connections, Levy tells the story about his ‘postcard drop’ back in 1999 when he was still operating as a sole trader under a franchise name. His daughter, Bianca, had just been born and he distributed branded postcards in his area which had a picture of him holding her. The wording was: ‘If you want your house sold in 20 years, call me. If you want it sold now, call my Dad!’

“People even today say we remember that postcard! They can’t remember the franchise’s name but they do remember me,” he says.

Clive Levy says many people still remember this marketing postcard he made 20 years ago.

Limitations to trading under your own name

As mentioned, US marketer Ross says it may become a downside should you decide to sell your business that’s trading under your personal name. This is one of the limitations that has to be considered affirms Bruce Swain, CEO Leapfrog Property Group.

“Should you as a founder exit your business and new proprietors take it in a direction you did not anticipate that legacy will still be associated with you. It may also be that it creates the expectation that you are a sole trader involved in every aspect of the business,” he says.

Today estate agents are expected to be a brand themselves reaffirms Swain. He believes though that this effectively negates the motivation for naming your business after yourself.

For Leapfrog there was never any question about the name of their brand. “We didn’t want the brand tied to a personality. Rather the vision was to ensure inclusivity through a name anybody could take ownership of,” he ends.

Carefully weigh up the options

In the end it all depends on what is right for you and where you want your career in real estate to go. For Levy he chose going under his own name to build suburb-based agency with a local feel in an area where people already knew and trusted him – he didn’t want the corporate image.

Machaba says she wants her brand to leave a legacy, one which will be carried over by future generations. She has no intention of selling her brand. Machaba finds herself in strong company. After all, South Africa has a proud tradition of entrepreneurial women that built a brand that became a legacy that continued even after their death – from top national brands like Pam Golding Properties and Aida South Africa to highly successful local brands in the areas where they operate.

Others prefer building up their own loyal clientele while being part of a strong brand with a national footprint. Berry Everitt, CEO of Chas Everitt, lists several reasons to become part of a group like theirs. There is the access to resources such an online training academy as well as the on-the-ground support from skilled and experienced people that has been in the real estate industry for years. A strong brand is also able to afford a huge technology infrastructure. Lastly, being part of a group with a national footprint and international affiliations means being able to attract more clients as you will have access to a much larger audience of potential buyers.

It all depends on what you feel will be the right fit for you and your career in real estate.

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