Six years ago, Vickie Parker set her sights on changing the residential real estate landscape in North Texas.
With a professional background in hospitality and home building, Parker was an unlikely figure to blaze a trail in the industry, but she has done just that as President of Nathan Grace Real Estate.
“What I bring to the table is a different way of looking at the business,” Parker said.
Her fresh perspective has helped make Nathan Grace one of the fastest-growing brokerages in DFW. In April alone, agents representing $100 million in volume joined Nathan Grace.
“We are very quick and nimble and can open an office very quickly, and we doubled our number of agents in 2014,” Parker said. “That growth is great, but retention is more important—when people choose to join us, we take their business very seriously. Every single agent who has joined us, their business has increased.”
“Our business model is the traditional brokerage turned upside down—we are service providers.” Parker said.
“The agents are small business owners and we are a business services provider—we provide what they need to be successful, from branding and consulting, to brokerage services and business planning,” Parker said. “If this were a clothing boutique, we would be their personal shoppers.”
“Boutique” is a key concept for Nathan Grace. While doing business studies before opening shop, she looked at what was missing from the residential real estate market in North Texas and found there was a lack of these kinds of brokerages.
“Boutique to us means offering high-touch and high service to clients,” she said. “The common thread is that all our people have the heart of a servant—we look for agents who love to serve others, be it their community, peers, or clients.”
In 2009, Parker began to look into the possibility of creating a new kind of real estate brokerage in North Texas.
“We talked with consumers and agents, and looked at businesses that had succeeded, like Toms shoes and their social responsibility, Lifetime Fitness and how they changed their industry’s way of choosing locations, and Zappos for technology and customer services,” Parker said. “We asked ourselves, ‘How do we do something different? Also, what are local brokerages doing right?’”
She brought veteran agent Amy Timmerman on board as vice president to offer her expertise.
“When Vickie called and had this whole different perspective on the real estate business, I drank the Kool-Aid,” said Timmerman, who got her real estate license at 21 after graduating from Southern Methodist University.
Parker and Timmerman officially opened their first location January 21, 2010, on Dyer Street behind Ozona near lower Greenville. Founding associate Peggy Hill and the Hill Group soon came over from Virginia Cook, Realtors along with Warren Sibley, and they were in business.
“At the time, for me and for Peggy, Warren and myself, we were agents who wanted something different,” Timmerman said. “Vickie’s perspective of looking at the industry differently was refreshing. Those who are part of us then and now have an entrepreneurial spirit, they are leaders.”
From the beginning, they’ve built their market share on the experience of their Realtors. When top agents Glen Christy, Robin Moss Norcross, and Jason Thomas joined Nathan Grace from Ebby Halliday in January 2012, Parker knew East Dallas would be their next location. The Lake Highlands Nathan Grace offices opened later that year at 9661 Audelia Rd.
“We tend to grow where we have agent presence. Our agents come to us very organically, because they wanted to do business with us, and were a referral,” Timmerman said.
Part of the draw for Realtors is the different way Nathan Grace does business.
“We’ve tried to create a brokerage that doesn’t operate in silos, where agents share their business, knowledge, best practices, funny stories, and they are there to lift each other up. It’s a noncompetitive environment,” Timmerman said. “When we train our agents from day one, we talk about how we are changing this from being a sales industry to a service industry.”
In 2014, Nathan Grace opened their Park Cities offices at 5757 W. Lovers Ln., as well as the Richardson location at 1391 W. Campbell Rd. Their newest office in Frisco Square, opened in 2015, is the flagship for Collin County, where the next three stores will be located, Parker says.
“In all of our locations, these shops are the agent’s space for their own use, too. [Realtor] Jen Ayyad had an art show at the Frisco location. They can use them for launch parties, PTA meetings, bible studies, sewing groups, or a book club, if they want,” said marketing coordinator Rylie Durham. “It’s not just our agents, but also our communities, who see Nathan Grace as a positive force within their neighborhoods. It makes us a much more approachable company.”
Parker says a crucial component to their success is their exceptional attitude toward agents, considering themselves a business providing a highly specialized service to an individual.
“When an agent joins us, we go through their business plan and we help them create their marketing and branding,” she said. “It renews them and their business so suddenly it’s fresh, and they’re excited about their business again, looking at their business through a different lens.”
Part of that is branding.
“We promote our brand through our agents and when an agent comes here, we create a personal brand for them,” Durham said. “The whole look and feel of their business revolves around that brand, and we help them implement it all the way from social media to gifts that they give to clients.”
Staff development and training are also a cornerstone of agent success.
“The first two days of training are very different from traditional real estate. We talk about creating and building your business, looking at case studies, and we talk about us being in a service industry and building relationships,” Timmerman said. “The last part of it is more about the Nathan Grace way of working with buyers, sellers, and other agents. It’s a paradigm shift.”
Nathan Grace has weekly “Square Tables” at every location, an opportunity for agents to participate in an informal MCE or hear talk on relevant market topics. They also have a once-a-month Development Day: half-day “adult field trips” where agents have gone offsite to both industry-related locations (like a bus tour of downtown to learn about development), as well as places like Scottish Rite Hospital (to learn about children’s prosthetics), Southwest Airlines, and the American Fallen Soldiers Project in Addison.
“The whole purpose is professional and personal—if we are developing our team to be smart business people who know what is going on in their community, it makes them much more well-rounded,” Parker said. “It’s been phenomenal. We follow those field trips up with an MCE, which we include for our team.”
So what’s next for Nathan Grace? Parker says they have their eyes set on continued growth and agent success.
“Many business models are built on the number of agents, but we measure success on the agent’s business success,” she said. “There is a big responsibility with joining Nathan Grace. You have to be comfortable enough to raise your hand and share ideas. I want everyone here to feel like they helped grow the brand and made a difference. They are all pioneers, and I want them to always ask, ‘How do we become the best advocate for the industry?’”