In 2002, three Penn State College buddies got together to form Century 21 Redwood Realty in Ashburn, VA. The humble venture started by Shawn Milletary (Chief Operating Officer), Nick Pasquini (CFO and Director of Business Development), and Eddie Berenbaum (President and Chief Marketing Officer) from their basement has exponentially grown to a 10 office, 400-agent company. From 2013 to the present, Century 21 Redwood Realty has been ranked in the top-ten of all Century 21 franchises internationally.
From Basement Startup to Record Breaking Company
Shawn Milletary was born into a family that sold real estate. This early exposure to the world of commissioned sales helped him sharpen his marketing instincts and leadership skills. He teamed up with his future business partners in college. They spent several years in the new construction business, soon rising to the top of that industry and winning several prestigious awards along the way. The small team saw huge gaps in customer service and marketing in the late 1990s. So in 2002, they seized this opportunity by leaving the new construction industry to form the independent brokerage, Redwood Realty.
We launched Redwood out of my basement with three agents -- me, Nick, and Ed.
Customer service and advertising was sorely lacking in Shawn's market. But he decided Redwood Realty would change that -- it would become the leader in the industry when it came to customer service and advertising. This was at a time when other brokerages couldn't imagine any value in deluxe brochures, virtual tours, websites, social media, and other technology-driven marketing. Redwood's foresight led them to incorporate all of these elements into Redwood Realty's marketing and advertising initiatives with great success.
A few years into business, Redwood noticed signs of an impending crash in the D.C. market. The 20% year-over-year appreciation in the area was simply unsustainable. While other agents rested on their laurels, Redwood doubled-down on providing the best marketing and customer service in the area with the thought that inevitable market crash would make these company traits vital to consumers. This strategy proved crucial for Redwood Realty's continued success when the real estate market eventually collapsed nationally in 2008.
[The crash] actually worked out really well for us. Have you seen the movie Forrest Gump? When Forrest got the fishing boat for shrimping, he went far out at sea to shrimp while the whole shrimping fleet stayed in port during a hurricane. While he was out working, the rest of the fleet was destroyed in the storm while his ship survived. This is kind of how we felt when the market crashed, we were the only company in the area consistently working to serve their clients. So, when the market crashed and it became important to provide these services in order to sell houses, our competitors sunk and we thrived.
Processes Crumbling Under Paper
Though Redwood Realty’s marketing strategy proved immune to the market crash of 2008, as Chief Operating Officer, Shawn saw their internal processes breaking down from the influx of new business. He recalls one overwhelmed employee pulling out every document from a filing cabinet. She began stacking them in a pile next to her desk for easier access to all the paperwork.
I watched my agents walking around with 5 or 6 files under their arm or in their bag and it was just ridiculous. So we decided to go paperless out of necessity. That's when I started looking around for the right system.
At the time, running a paperless office was considered as just another passing fad. Shawn even called the state regulatory agency to ask if they were going to be compliant if they went paperless. Redwood Realty’s ideal system needed to be mobile. Shawn wanted his brokers to be mobile. Mobility meant access to their transactions and documents at any time from anywhere. His team went through demos and trials of nearly every paperless solution available at the time. Alas, the search was unsuccessful - no solution quite rose up to meet Shawn's needs.
Eventually Shawn’s friend, Tony Arko of United Real Estate, suggested he check out Paperless Pipeline. Shawn decided to give it a chance and signed up for a demo. Once he logged in to the system, he knew he had found the solution of his dreams.
It's just an easy program to use. It's simple. It's beautiful. It gets the job done without being complicated.
A Paperless Path to Growth
Paperless Pipeline turned out to be a great fit for Redwood Realty and their ever-growing agent base. For several months, select team members piloted Paperless Pipeline in the background. The system proved useful right from day one. Eventually a company-wide rollout allowed all agents to use the system. Some were impressed right away. Others needed some time to break their old habits. But in a few months, every single agent had embraced the system with delight.
For a short period I'd still see agents carrying their folders and I’d say, ‘Why are you carrying those? You have every file you've ever done right on Paperless Pipeline!’ Soon enough they realized that they could actually access any document from anywhere at any time. Agents could be on vacation and they could resend a missing contract page a title company needed for settlement – all from their phone. And that was something that was very valuable.
Redwood Realty prides itself on being always ahead of the technology curve. The company insists that any technology -- including a paperless system -- must be usable by all agents regardless of their technological skill-level.
I want to make sure that I have a product that appeals to everyone. I have been unable to find another product like Paperless Pipeline that is able to work at all levels of agent technical expertise.
One of Shawn’s favorite things about Paperless Pipeline is the incorporation of user feedback. If someone has a good idea, the Pipeline team acts on it and implements new or updated features monthly.
It’s a great product and what I like about it is that we have been with them since the beginning and Paperless Pipeline has rolled out additional features as a result of our feedback - and when they are rolled out they actually work!
Shawn and his growing team walk a path paved by agent prosperity, technological insights, great customer service, and cutting-edge advertising. The days of paper literally stacking up around agents’ desks are far behind him. Freedom from paper has opened the door to unlimited potential to scale. When you’re born and raised with an eye for real estate sales, you never let opportunity pass you by. Take it from Shawn Milletary and his successful team at Redwood Realty.
Secret #1: Always continue on a path towards growth
We are obviously very interested in growing. We definitely see some markets we want to expand into and are always interested in continuing to grow from within. It’s very important to me that our current offices are as productive as possible and that we continue to provide the absolute best place for our agents to work.
Secret #2: Every office needs a Brittany aka Director of Operations
Brittany Bissey, the Director of Operations, has proven critical to Redwood’s success. The talented operations coordinator stood out because of her knack for efficiency, smart ideas, and trustworthiness. Shawn promoted her knowing she would stay engaged with the agents during multi-office trainings.
She’s been great at thinking of things I never thought of. She’s enabled me to do everything I need to do without letting operations screech to a halt. I wouldn’t make a decision about operations without discussing it with her. She is very much in the trenches and communicates with the processors in the field. In reality, they communicate more frankly with her than they do with me and she helps us to always make the right decisions.
Secret #3: Be a client focused company
At Redwood Realty, company success results from being client focused. This means that you must first focus on the needs of the agents.
If you are truly a client-focused company, you’ll be an agent-focused company. We want to grow from within and continue to serve our clients. We want to make each office and each individual agent that is already with us more productive while continuing to expand our footprint.
Secret #4: Be an office your agents want to work for every day.
We definitely work very hard, but we very much enjoy each other’s company. The way I like to manage is that if you make sure you get along well with your employees, in turn it makes people want to work harder for you. We treat it like a family business. Our office environment and our accessibility to our agents is very important. We're interested in technology, service, and marketing. We've never relaxed on that. We've expanded upon it.