Linda O’Koniewski talks navigating real estate franchises

This HousingWire Daily interview transcription features an episode with REAL Trending, a podcast that focuses on interviewing the brightest minds in real estate. In this episode, Tracey Velt, managing editor at REAL Trends, a HousingWire sister company, interviews Linda O’Koniewski, CEO of Leading Edge Real Estate in Boston, discussing the lessons she learned after finding out her former franchise pulled the plug, and they had to rebrand overnight.

Five years later, the company is on solid footing, regaining some of the agents they lost and introducing new initiatives like the LEAP program, which offers a plug-and-play system for virtual teams and brokers.

Listen to the full episode here or below and make sure to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Below is the transcription of the interview. These transcriptions, powered by Rev, have been lightly edited and may contain small errors from reproduction:

Tracey Velt: This is Tracey Velt, managing editor for REAL Trends, now owned by HousingWire and HW Media. Today, you’ll be listening to an exclusive interview that features Linda O’Koniewski, CEO of Leading Edge Real Estate in Boston. In today’s interview, Linda discusses lessons learned rebranding from a franchise to an independent, and her company’s innovative new program called Leading Edge Affiliate Partner Program, a new solution for teams and small independent brokerages. Welcome, Linda.

Linda O’Koniewski: Thanks for having me, Tracey.

Tracey Velt: I was obviously first introduced you through your partner, Paul Mydelski, and you are both a part of the REAL Trends CEO group, The Broker Council. I’m glad to see you, again. At the time that I met Paul, the company was going through a transformation from a franchise to an independent, literally overnight. Tell me a little bit about that, and then we’ll go into some of the steps that you took to calm the storm, because it was, literally, overnight.

Linda O’Koniewski: In fact, it was an unconventional way to become an independent, certainly. Like most small teams, or people who want to grow a brokerage, we joined a franchise, and kudos to a lot of those wonderful people in that organization, and the friends I’ve met along the way. We decided that, contractually, we could not have a mind-meeting, a meeting of the minds, on what we consider was a fairness issue. It got hairy. Our franchiser decided that if we wouldn’t sign our franchises, that we couldn’t operate. Overnight, we became Leading Edge Real Estate. We were not prepared to do that, we did not have our brand ready. We hadn’t thought it out. We thought we’d be stuck in the remaining contracts for the next couple of years. It meant we had to think on our feet fast, and we didn’t do it right. I can tell you that we did not launch, we should have been better prepared. I have a lot of advice for people who want to do that someday.

Tracey Velt: That’s great. Let’s talk about that. What were your immediate steps? Obviously, you had to remove your branding from everything. From taking signs down, to not using letterhead, to all your marketing products and programs, and that. How did you get that across to your agents, and what were some of the things that you immediately did to calm the storm, and reassure them?

Linda O’Koniewski: Remember, every sign that you have, every piece of social media, every pen in your office, is branded with your franchise. It was difficult. We have a lot of people who had been very loyal and respected the franchise, and yet, we considered this the most amazing opportunity. One we did not take full advantage of for another year. Overnight, we were just producing signs, they were very bland. We didn’t look at the things that were really important in a brand. We simply had to de-brand, and get a new name out there. That journey, for the next year, on building a brand, was very interesting, Tracey, in that we made a lot of expensive mistakes. When I say that, I mean, we hired big, fancy in-town marketing gurus, and branding gurus, and everyone has the same process. Build a logo, everything is around the logo. At the end of this, what we discovered is, I think all logos are pretty much crap. I don’t know why real estate agents and companies bother with logos, unless you’re an Apple or McDonald’s or BMW, and you have millions of dollars to support it, that’s not what’s important. Your name is important.

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