Sink or Swim… Again?

It’s no coincidence that 1/3 of my friends on Facebook are in the apartment industry. I have been in property management for 1/3 of my life. It’s no coincidence that the majority of fans of Stik Pocket on Facebook are in the apartment industry. It’s in my blood and has sustained me for nearly a decade and a half.

I have spent as much time with people from the apartment industry as I have my own family and some who were colleagues have become like my family (Justin Dunckel). I have loved in this industry (anonymous) and I have lost in this industry (Meryl Weingarden).  As “God Only Knows” (what I’d be without you) by The Beach Boys plays in the background I’m forced to wonder.

It’s no coincidence that my time in this industry is about to come full circle. In 2006, the NAA Conference was in Denver, CO. The keynote speaker that year was none other than William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, whose Inauguration I attended in 1993. It so happens I saved my invitation to his Inauguration and brought it with me to Denver that year. I had no idea how it would work out, but I wanted him to sign it. As it turned out, I was standing in the middle of the Denver Convention Center, shortly after his speech, when two Secret Service members walked by either side of me. I slowly turned around and saw #42 walking my way. In fact, he was approaching me and within seconds he was shaking my one hand while the invitation was tucked safely in the other. As he shook my hand he pulled me toward him. I will never forget that moment. We chatted briefly and I decided to not ask for his signature. I did not want to spoil that moment. Ten minutes later I ran into the President again. At that moment I told him I brought my invitation 1,300 miles for him to sign and he politely did.

The NAA Conference is in Denver, CO again this June. The keynote speakers this year are Michael J. Fox from Back to the Future and  Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John of ABC’s Shark Tank. That’s right. Shark Tank. You know, that little show for entrepreneurs to present their business ideas. Oh, and guess what?! They are having a contest for members of the apartment industry to submit their ideas and the three finalists will get to present to Daymond and Barbara.

The reason I got to meet President Clinton at NAA was because I put myself in the right place at the right time and brought what I needed to get the job done. History will repeat itself one way or another in Denver this coming June! I’m so excited to be up late brainstorming ideas for my video and have spent a lot of time in thought  thinking of all the people from the apartment industry who have helped me along the way and I know that will be the most important part of my submission.

When I resigned from Village Green after seven years of employment, I wrote a letter to my bosses, Jon Holtzman and George Quay. In the letter I shared with them the one lesson I would never forget from each of them. Jon taught me to not “play small” and George taught me to “be undeniable”. For many years I lived by those words until a person I admired challenged me to come up with my own mantra. Something that is 100% positive. I argued and said they aren’t negative. I still took the challenge and recently it came to me in a note from a friend. That note read “give me everything”!

I will.

Self Doubt vs Self Trust

On November 2, 2013 I had a thought pop into my head that made me pull my truck to the side of the road. The thought started with the questions, “Why do I work extra hard? Do I work extra hard because I’m on the verge of becoming homeless or because I am on the verge of great success?”

At that one moment in my life, the possibility of becoming homeless became real to me.

I was renting a room from my good friend at the time and had been for over a year. I didn’t have a lot of time to look for a place to live, so I just asked my dad and step-mom if I could stay with them while I figured out what to do next. Funds were tight and I did not want to make a long term decision out of desperation. I even considered just staying at my office Downtown Detroit, but that wasn’t realistic. So I moved in with dear old dad and decided to not worry about it. I will figure it out and I cannot let a distraction like that get in my way. Two weeks later, I got a message on Facebook from a friend who was buying a new house and needed a roommate. I moved in the first week of January.

The fact of the matter is, there was no chance in hell that I would ever become homeless. Instead of giving in to self doubt I gave in to self confidence and self determination. For the first time in a long time I started to trust myself.  I also reminded myself that I am surrounded by a network of family and friends that have always been there for me in the best of times and in the toughest of times. I gave myself credit for the role I played in creating that network of support.

What was also happening was I was becoming more aware of my surroundings and more compassionate to the homeless men that live on my street. Those less fortunate who aren’t as lucky as I am to have people in my life that won’t let me fail. I’ve started to employ them and help them as much as I can with the resources I do have available to me.

That moment I pulled my truck over was a defining moment for me and put me on a path to make a difference and that’s exactly what I intend to do. I’m grateful for that moment and I’m grateful that it was just a moment.

photo-23

(As a footnote to this post, I just want to say that I know I portray a certain image of myself on social media. I tend to be positive and upbeat and I don’t like to complain. That will never change. That is just who I am. I just wanted to share this story because I don’t want to paint a false picture of what my life is like. I struggle too. Every day. Just like you. I wouldn’t change a thing though. I feel so lucky to have the struggles I have. It could be a lot worse.)

 

 

Our First Big Sale

I’ve been recording a lot on my iPhone to document this journey. A lot of it is just me talking and sharing my thoughts, but I stumbled across this video yesterday and it reminded me why I am doing this. The footage here is a recap, full of energy and excitement, of our first big sales meeting. It took place on August 26, 2013 and since then our relationship with this customer has grown by leaps and bounds.

Mr. Chain

I recently realized that I have always been an entrepreneur, even when I worked in Corporate America. My first job out of college, I worked for a little plastic injection molding company in Troy, Michigan called Mr. Chain. I loved the owner, Mike Russo. He was 78 years old and a WWII Ace Fighter Pilot. He was also an entrepreneur. Unfortunately, he was not my boss.

While visiting their factory in Copemish, Michigan, I discovered a product that they used to manufacture and asked the factory manager to ship one to my office. It was a plastic terrarium. I proceeded to contact some live amphibian suppliers and I eventually had a terrarium on my desk with frogs, lizards and plants growing from seedling. I realized that this could be an incredible educational tool for school children and I began to market it to education supply companies and they started buying. Unfortunately, the supply was limited and when I approached my boss to begin production of new units she  did not want to produce them.

Now I was in a bit of a pickle because I had been marketing it and was told if it began to sell that they would be produced. Well, that didn’t happen. It was the first time in my budding career that I had to make a big decision. I went to my boss a few days later and sat in her office to discuss the situation. I insisted that we begin production of the terrariums and she refused. So I handed her my resignation letter.

I really enjoyed that job and was disappointed to leave, however, once the terrarium project was halted and I was put in a situation where I had promised customers a product that I could no longer deliver, it was time to leave. My boss was let go soon after for other reasons, but I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if she embraced the entrepreneur in front of her and began production of a product he had brought back to life.

The One I’m Writing

I have to confess. I really don’t enjoy reading. I wish I did, but the fact of the matter is I find it tedious. The irony is that I love to write. I love using the creative side of my mind to paint a picture, tell a story or just share an idea. I have written 60 plus articles on brainoblog prior to this shift in content. I’ve written about 50 pages of a screen play about my brother and about five chapters of a World War II romance based on the story of my grandparents. I’ve also written dozens of poems and random musings that I’ve never shared with anyone. I started the screen play in college and I started the story about my grandparents after my grandmother passed away in 2010. I never finished either of them and I recently figured out why. Those are not my stories to tell. I have my own story to tell. People frequently ask me what my favorite book is and I always just want to answer, “the one I’m writing”.

A year ago today, I received a package with 125 white, rectangular stickers. They were about as boring as a sticker can possibly be, but I was beyond excited. Just reflecting back on that day and everything that has happened in the last year put a lump in my throat and sent chills down my spine. Trying to organize my thoughts and memories brings so many smiles to my face, but also brings a lot of stress and anxiety. I want to share my story with anyone who is interested and tell it in my own unique way. I want to show the personal side as well as the business side. I’m really great at being positive all the time and that will never change. This hasn’t been a perfectly smooth journey, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be.

I’ve learned a lot about business, relationships, stickers, promotional products, marketing, social media, advertising, printing, distribution etc. over the last year. More importantly, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve done a lot of reflecting on my career in the apartment industry and wondered why I lasted 7 years at Village Green but no more than 18 months at any other job since college. The simple answer to it all is that I was on the wrong path. That corporate America wasn’t for me. That doesn’t explain Village Green though and that is a huge chunk of time to dismiss as an anomaly.

When I was in high school I played lacrosse, was captain of the wrestling team and participated in student council, National Honor Society, honors choir and even had a lead in the spring musical. I was on every committee for every event from blood drives to school dances. If you’ve ever seen the movie Rushmore, I think part of that character was based on me. My degree from the University of Michigan is a Bachelor in General Studies. If Michigan offered minors, I would have minored in Biology, Spanish, Marketing and Political Science. I even landed an internship in Mexico for two summers supervising a finishing plant. My first real job after graduation was at Village Green where I was Special Projects Manager. I ran ancillary income programs that ranged from cable and telecom contracts to a program where residents could purchase a home.

All of these experiences have led up to today where I can gladly admit that I am a jack of all trades and master of one. The one thing I have mastered, is being open to any opportunity that comes my way. And now, I can answer the question “what’s your favorite book?” with “The One I’m Writing”.

 

 

Repost – The Apartment Industry Arms Race

This is a repost from December of 2010, nearly 2 years ago. I think it’s interesting that much of this has already start to come true. I recently discussed this with a client over the phone after she gave me some advice. She said,”We would rather work with a company that does one or two things very well, than with one company that does everything satisfactorily.”  I feel there is room for both in this industry, but eventually any successful small businesses will likely be bought by the successful conglomerates. This is not unique to our industry, of course. Feel free to weigh in your opinion and give me some feedback on this.

I’ve not blogged in a while, but this topic keeps coming up almost every day for me.  I see it in marketing, IT and operations on a regular basis.  Essentially, there is a race in our industry to be the first company that can be a one-stop-shop for owners and managers.  The more services a company can offer, the more weapons they have in their arsenal.  In meetings with credit reporting/background verification companies, they talk about their Craigslist posting service and web site design capabilites.  In meetings with property management software companies, they talk about their ability to do utility billing (RUBs) or lead tracking numbers.  In meetings with lead management and call tracking companies, they talk about their upcoming property management software package.  In a few years you will be able to go to the company that did your water billing five years ago to design your website, track your leads and manage your social media.

There is an inherent problem to all of this, initially, but I think we’ll find it to be extremely successful in the long run.  The best way to illustrate this issue is using an industry that is very near and dear to me, the auto industry.  Growing up in Detroit, I watched the big dogs slowly lose market share to newcomers to the market.  Hyundai and Kia, for example, started to manufacture cars in South Korea.  Hyundai was originally a construction company.  Kia originally manufactured bicycle parts and metal tubing.  These two companies are now one large company and happen to be the fourth largest manufacturer of automobiles in the world.  A South Korean company.  Who would have thought?  Just like who would think today that a company that we use today to track our marketing leads might become our property management software provider in a few years?  It will happen and stranger things will also happen.  Here’s the issue I need to address:  Kia and Hyundai made crappy cars for a long time.  Cheap and crappy.  So crappy, they had to put 10 year warranties on them in order to compete.  These cars didn’t even last ten years.  The tires didn’t even last ten-thousand miles.  I’m exaggerating, but hopefully you get the point.

The companies that are in this race in the apartment industry are essentially designing a vehicle for property owners and managers to drive their business.  The problem is some of them have crappy transmissions and some of them have to demand a recall because the gas tanks explode on impact.  To put it in terms of our business, some of them have crappy craigslist posting tools and some of them have not quite figured out how to make sure there isn’t a break in the code when a resident tries to reserve an apartment online.  This means we have to have spare parts lying around to compensate for the shortcomings of the “one-stop-shop” concept until it is perfected.  This could get pretty costly, but in the long run we may simply have to sacrifice in order to support this initiative.  Also, there will be a-la-carte options offered as well, I’m sure, but this too will more likely cost more than the one-stop-shop solution.

I don’t know who the winners will be and I sure don’t know how long it will take for the first company to get there, but the bottom line is, this is a great thing for our industry.  Kia and Hyundai make some pretty nice cars today and are winning awards for quality and design.  I hope the companies that are competing in this race to be all things to all people in the apartment industry figure this out soon.  It’s exciting to watch as the quality of products and services in our industy continue to improve.

Live Apartment Style – Marketing Campaign to the Highest Bidder

Going Once, Going Twice

What do you do when you have a creative idea, but nobody to really sell it to directly? Mind Racing Media, is putting that question to the test right now. After 12 years of working in the apartment industry for companies such as Village Green Management, Edward Rose and Sons and The Laramar Group (3 of the top 30 largest management companies) he decided to launch his own marketing company, Mind Racing Media. Culling from best practices and marketing successes at many high-profile development launches and property re-brandings, Owen has created the “Live: Apartment Style” marketing campaign. The concept is based around all the services and benefits related to renting an apartment – maintenance-free living, no lawns to mow or weeds to pull, fitness and social amenities at one’s doorstep, and more free time to enjoy living instead of residential upkeep. A proven marketing concept with one catch: Owen had no way to use the campaign. Yet.

In his previous corporate career, Owen’s marketing ideas didn’t have to be “sold” to a client – they simply had to be approved by ownership and management. In 2005, Brian resurrected an old campaign, “The Grass is Greener at Village Green” by having his graphic design team add elements of green grass to stock photography of standard elements found at Village Green communities. A woman ran on a treadmill with a grass belt; a group of young professionals played pool on a table with grass instead of felt; and a woman lounged on a grass raft in a sparkling pool. He tweaked the old Village Green tradition of spray painting the communities’ grass bright green in March in honor of spring and St. Patrick’s day by instead giving away tins of wheat grass that prospects could grow in their kitchen and which were branded with the Village Green logo and tagline – far less messy and more environmentally friendly.

In 2008, at Edward Rose & Sons, Owen created an entire marketing campaign where prospective renters were encouraged to “Live. Better.” This campaign did well during an economic downturn in Detroit. Owen felt it was not a time to promote luxury and “resort style living” but a time to promote value and service. While images portrayed luxury amenities, the tagline spoke of a simple offer. The campaign under-promised and over=delivered. Renewals during that time period were coveted and became a top priority for the Detroit market.

Owen has branched out to create his own company in the last year, but retains several property management and real estate clients. “I am still passionate about leasing and marketing apartments,” Owen said. “Several of my clients are in the real estate industry and I have been helping them with their social media, training, websites and SEO strategies. The difference today is that when I come up with an idea, I have to be very protective of who I pitch it to. When I came up with the ‘Live: Apartment Style’ campaign, I just didn’t know how to best approach it so I revisited a tactic I used in the past when I auctioned an apartment on eBay for Village Green Companies. I’d love to say that this is a unique idea, but once again, I simply brought back an old idea that worked and put a new twist on it.”

Owen has secured the website http://www.liveapartmentstyle.com, has developed much of the imagery and wording for the campaign, all of which will become the property of the winner of the eBay auction. He is also including 40 hours of consulting to add further value to the campaign and ensure its success. The auction will begin on June 18 and will run for ten days. He will be practicing what he preaches to promote the campaign using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn to get the word out to the industry. For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/mindracingmedia.

Go directly to the auction -

Going Once, Going Twice

DENVER, CO, May 16, 2012 — What do you do when you have a creative idea, but nobody to really sell it to directly? Denver’s Brian Owen, president of Mind Racing Media, is putting that question to the test right now. After 12 years of working in the apartment industry for companies such as Village Green Management, Edward Rose and Sons and The Laramar Group (3 of the top 30 largest management companies) he decided to launch his own marketing company, Mind Racing Media. Culling from best practices and marketing successes at many high-profile development launches and property re-brandings, Owen has created the “Live: Apartment Style” marketing campaign.  The concept is based around all the services and benefits related to renting an apartment – maintenance-free living, no lawns to mow or weeds to pull, fitness and social amenities at one’s doorstep, and more free time to enjoy living instead of residential upkeep.  A proven marketing concept with one catch: Owen had no way to use the campaign.  Yet.

In his previous corporate career, Owen’s marketing ideas didn’t have to be “sold” to a client – they simply had to be approved by ownership and management.  In 2005, Brian resurrected an old campaign, “The Grass is Greener at Village Green” by having his graphic design team add elements of green grass to stock photography of standard elements found at Village Green communities. A woman ran on a treadmill with a grass belt; a group of young professionals played pool on a table with grass instead of felt; and a woman lounged on a grass raft in a sparkling pool. He tweaked the old Village Green tradition of spray painting the communities’ grass bright green in March in honor of spring and St. Patrick’s day by instead giving away tins of wheat grass that prospects could grow in their kitchen and which were branded with the Village Green logo and tagline – far less messy and more environmentally friendly.

In 2008, at Edward Rose & Sons, Owen created an entire marketing campaign where prospective renters were encouraged to “Live. Better.” This campaign did well during an economic downturn in Detroit. Owen felt it was not a time to promote luxury and “resort style living” but a time to promote value and service. While images portrayed luxury amenities, the tagline spoke of a simple offer. The campaign under-promised and over=delivered. Renewals during that time period were coveted and became a top priority for the Detroit market.

Owen has branched out to create his own company in the last year, but retains several property management and real estate clients.  “I am still passionate about leasing and marketing apartments,” Owen said.  “Several of my clients are in the real estate industry and I have been helping them with their social media, training, websites and SEO strategies. The difference today is that when I come up with an idea, I have to be very protective of who I pitch it to. When I came up with the ‘Live: Apartment Style’ campaign, I just didn’t know how to best approach it so I revisited a tactic I used in the past when I auctioned an apartment on eBay for Village Green Companies. I’d love to say that this is a unique idea, but once again, I simply brought back an old idea that worked and put a new twist on it.”

Owen has secured the website www.liveapartmentstyle.com, has developed much of the imagery and wording for the campaign, all of which will become the property of the winner of the eBay auction. He is also including 40 hours of consulting to add further value to the campaign and ensure its success. The auction will begin on June 18 and will run for ten days. He will be practicing what he preaches to promote the campaign using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn to get the word out to the industry. For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/mindracingmedia.

 Go directly to the auction.
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