No-Frills Real Estate Model – CEO Iterview

BizSan Diego Magazine – CEO Interview – by Joanna Posner

January 2008 Issue

Kevin Seney set out to change the face of the real estate industry, and so far it’s working

ImageWhen CEO Kevin Seney started Bug! Real Estate in Coronado, he made it his mission to deliver a new real estate experience. In doing so, he would be the first to step out of the homogeneous mold. About today’s leading real estate companies, Seney says they don’t vary in the way they’re branded, how they advertise or how they service the customer. “When you see something like that in the marketplace, that spells opportunity,” he adds.

The first area that Seney addressed was advertising. Having owned a mortgage company for 10 years, Seney witnessed how much money agents wasted on marketing. “They run their $2,000 to $3,000 ad, and they don’t get any calls from it,” he says. Indeed, Seney’s theory was confirmed when he read the Purple Cow, which emphasizes that advertising doesn’t work anymore, and it hasn’t for years.

So if advertising doesn’t lure homebuyers, what does? Seney says the only three relevant factors in home selling are putting a sign in front of the home, putting the home on the MLS and pricing it right. “If you price the home at market price, it will sell,” he says. Without a need for marketing, Bug! has eliminated the expense from its budget and is a more efficient company because of it.

The other cost-guzzler that Seney identified was overhead. “I’ve surveyed hundreds of clients, and no one ever meets agents at the office,” he says. “They either meet at the property or sign the papers at the mortgage or title company.” In a laptop-friendly, work-from-home era, the majority of agents use the office only for meetings. That’s why Bug! agents work virtually. Using the latest wireless technology, agents have full access to the MLS and the company’s intranet via their wireless laptops and cell phones.

Show Me the Brand
With his business model fine-tuned from a cost standpoint, there was one major component left: How to get his company out to the marketplace. While Seney isn’t a big supporter of traditional advertising, he is a firm believer of creating a unique brand. “In business today, you have to stand out in an amazing way, and if you don’t, you won’t get any business,” he emphasizes.

Today, however, no one real estate company stands out from the other. “Their brands are stale, they’re institutional,” says Seney. “The communication they’re sending out to the marketplace is ‘we’re big, we’re fancy, and we sell estate homes.’ But that image doesn’t work anymore.”

So Bug! leaves pretension at the door. In fact, Bug! bills itself as the no-frills, no-hype real estate company, making it a fun, friendly real estate brand like nothing else that exists today. To live up to that image, all Bug! agents drive the Volkswagen Beetle, a car that not only represents a casual and fun vibe, but it’s also an icon when it comes to branding. “And by using the Beetle as our delivery vehicle for this brand, we get to borrow that history,” says Seney.

But Seney didn’t stop there in bringing the Bug! Real Estate concept to the fore. After working with some local graphic artists on the Bug! logo, an integral piece of the company’s branding, Seney came up short. It wasn’t until he saw TiVo’s logo that he got inspired. The only problem was that Michael Cronan, a branding guru who developed the TiVo logo and invented the word TiVo, is world famous and probably couldn’t be bothered with a small company like Bug! But Seney contacted him anyway. To his surprise, Cronan liked what he was hearing about this new breed of real estate and agreed to create the Bug! logo for one tenth of what he normally charges. Thus was born the look and feel of Bug! Real Estate.


 

Bug! agents drive around with the company’s logo front and center on their vehicles, so the cars double as billboards. “You see them everywhere because they’re so recognizable,” says Seney, “and that’s the essence of what we’re doing from a marketing standpoint—we’re famous without much advertising.”

Home sellers also benefit from the company’s cost savings. Not to be mistaken with a discounter, Bug! is a full-service real estate company that aims to redesign the way agents do business and is thus able to lower commissions for its customers.

Having launched in February 2007, Bug! is going strong. It has opened four new franchises, as well as one regional office, and receives 100 inquiries per month from eager real estate brokers who love the Bug! model and want to open a franchise.

It looks like Seney’s bold move to turn the traditional real estate model on its head wasn’t a bad idea after all.

The unique edge of Bug! Real Estate’s franchise operation:

• John Assaraf, featured teacher in the book, The Secret, and renowned motivational speaker, who was also one of the most successful regional directors for Re/Max, is spearheading Bug! Real Estate’s One Coach, a yearlong coaching and business development program provided to all new franchisees.

• Businessman and successful entrepreneur Chris Siow is the first Bug! regional director for the entire city of San Francisco.

• Bug! is looking for brokers who feel 110% about the company—not necessarily top performers, just people who are passionate about the concept.

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Bug! is the FIRST National Real Estate Franchise to standardize on the new Apple iPhone.

Bug! is the FIRST National Real Estate Franchise to standardize on the new Apple iPhone. Because our agents all work “virtually”, we quickly realized the opportunity to standardize our agents on the new Apple iPhone. We already require that all agents have a “Bug! Mobile Office” package, which consists of a wireless laptop, cell phone, and eFax service, but in testing the iPhone, we quickly realized the advantage of this innovative device. With an iPhone, our agents always have internet access, and the ability to search the MLS for homes and property information. Because the device is all software based, we are not locked into any limitations based on fixed hardware. In addition, our research lead us to Colorware, who is custom making our Bug! iPhones wrapped in our distinctive brand, which further extends our Billboard Marketing System, to the most personal level. Now our agents will never go unrecognized, even when their cool Bug! is sitting out in the parking lot! Now, that is Marketing (made simple)!

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Bug! will host the First Annual Franchise Owners’ meeting in Napa Valley, CA

On March 7, Bug! Realty USA, Inc. will host the first Annual Franchise Owners’ meeting in Napa Valley, CA. All Franchise owners and agents will be attending this event at a private Bed & Breakfast Inn in Napa. Franchise owners will gather for round table discussions on ways to leverage the Bug! brand to improve their business. Founder & CEO, Kevin Seney, will be presenting his Vision for 2008 and the results of a very successful franchise launch in 2007.

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Special Guest Speakers, and round-table participants, will be Jim Walberg and Ann Marie Nugent of The Bay Area Team of Keller Williams Realty. Jim and Ann Marie were recently honored by Keller Williams, at their annual retreat for achieving the highest level honor as Platinum Members. Jim & Ann Marie will be sharing their most successful methods for building a referral based business and their personal perspectives on future trends in Real Estate.

Bug! teams up with John Assaraf and OneCoach for franchisee training

In October of 2007, Kevin Seney, Founder & CEO of Bug! met with John Assaraf and his team at OneCoach, to develop an ongoing coaching and business development system for our new Franchisee’s.  OncCoach specializes in showing small-business owners how to become the best in the world at their chosen niche.  Beginning in 2008, all Bug! franchisees are required to participate in the program.  ”As a new, start up company, we have discovered that we are better off outsourcing certain programs to experts in the field.”  ”We already provide our new franchisees with initial training to open their new franchise, and we host regular meetings among existing franchisee’s to foster relationships and new ideas from within, but the need for regular coaching and motivation for our new franchisees was just another opportunity to add value to our overall franchise package.”

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About Bug! San Francisco

Bug! is NOT a traditional real estate franchise. We are the NO FRILLS, NO HYPE Real Estate Company. We started Bug! with a clean slate, and a vision of making Real Estate SIMPLE and FUN again. Our powerful marketing system, is NOT dependent on high-cost, ineffective, traditional-media advertising. With our simple, yet powerful Bill Board Marketing System, even a new agent will stand out like a pro in their market place. The amazing part is that our system is FREE! To maximize efficiency, and make us more competitive, our agents ALL work virtually! NO DESK FEES! NO RENT! That is a formula for Success!