By Melanie Robitaille, Sr. Staff Writer and Graphic Designer
A great broker/owner keeps a good eye and pulse on the changing needs of their brokerage. When, where and how to grow are continuously evaluated, but sometimes it requires a complete change in strategy.
After 15 years of building the largest independently owned firm in Spokane, WA, Sabrina Jones-Schroeder and her mother and partner, Gregg Elizabeth Jones, found themselves at a crossroads, and facing the same decision when Gregg first opted to go independent. In those days she couldn’t find a single, major real estate brand with the same supportive, mentoring methodology she brought from her Mary Kay Cosmetic sales background. But that was then. Now there was EXIT.
“One of the things we were struggling with before buying our first EXIT franchise was agents coming in, only to be tempted away by other companies but never by another independent, always by other franchises,” Sabrina admits, which led to asking some hard questions like, “What are we doing here? Do we remain this large, independent firm that struggles to hang on to our people because we don’t have the franchise tools, support and data? Or do we want something different?”
After investigating their options, they were surprised to see how much their business philosophies aligned with EXIT Realty. But they knew the brand wasn’t the only thing they would have to change. “As an independent, when agents came in looking to make a move, we fell into the trap of offering special deals to keep people. We swore we weren’t going to do that again,” Sabrina explains, reminiscing about one of many lessons she learned, both before and after making the switch to EXIT, and later taking on full ownership of EXIT Real Estate Professionals when her mother took advantage of the company’s unique business model and retired from real estate.
“I’ve also learned as a business owner that not everybody belongs on your bus. Either they see the value, or they don’t. If not, they’re not meant to be on my bus,” Sabrina candidly shares. “Letting those people go is sometimes really, really painful. For me, it was literally my right-hand buyer’s agent and licensed assistant who’d been with me for 10 years. I realized later that she was also a somewhat negative energy in the office, which lifted once she was gone. It was like tearing off a band-aid, but it needed to happen.”
Since signing on the dotted line in 2004, the EXIT Real Estate Professionals banner has grown, evolved, and persevered through the 2008 recession and a global pandemic, to sit comfortably at a two-office operation home to more than 50 agents, heavily rooted in philanthropy and of which Sabrina couldn’t be prouder. “I think we have an incredible office culture. There’s a camaraderie here that we can attribute back to our very humble beginnings. It’s also about having a servant’s heart; me for my people, which attracts others looking to join, and my people for their clients. Because this I know,” she imparts, “if you take care of people, eventually the money follows.”
And take care of their community they do through their charitable EXIT Shares initiative, working with shelters on blanket drives, putting boots on the ground at food bank luncheons, adopting a family every Christmas, and supporting organizations’ fundraising events, which proved harder than ever this past year.
Every spring they attend Second Harvest Food Bank’s Taking a Bite Out of Hunger auction, by purchasing a table’s worth of tickets. Like so many other events, it was cancelled in 2020 due to social distancing protocols, but the community rallied and brought about something much greater. “Not only did every agent leave in their donation, but others contributed toward the company donation so I could up the ante. Then, I took that to my Rotary Club and challenged 10 other business owners to kick in $1,500 each, which parlayed into another $15,000. That was then matched by my Rotary Club’s community service dollars, and then the Rotary district sent Second Harvest a grant. So, through relationships, we were able to raise roughly $75,000.” Sabrina choked up recalling this initiative, acknowledging that this was during a time when many people in the community weren’t sure what the market was going to do, and how they might be impacted financially.
While she patiently waits regular in-person gatherings with her staff again, Sabrina believes that advancements in real estate technology over the past 15 years don’t change the basics. “The acceleration of technology, though wonderful as some of it may be, has also allowed real estate professionals to become complacent,” she says. “Younger agents will never know that feeling when the MLS® book hit the stoop Friday morning, then combing through it to find new houses and calling clients to set up showings. Now the challenge is figuring out what technology to use specifically as a continuation of your human connection. True salesmanship is connecting with the client, and we still desperately need that, now more than ever.”