BreakAway Agent Podcast Episode #35 With Oliver Tonn – Co-Owner of EV Master Franchisor for Florida, based in Naples
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TIFFANY: Hey there, I’m Tiffany Youngren, owner of OMH Agency and welcome to Breakaway Agent. In a world full of real estate pros, struggling to get ahead, there are few who emerge and become wildly successful. If you are or are working to become one of these breakaway agents then this show is for you. Thank you so much for listening. And even if you just get one thing out of the episode that helps your business grow, well that’s a huge win. And hopefully you get a few nuggets to help you move forward. Today, I’m really excited to welcome Oliver Tonn, co-owner of Engel & Völkers, Florida. The brand’s Master Franchiser for the state of Florida, located in Naples, Florida. Oliver has been in the industry for over two decades with various companies and has even taught Franchise Management at the university level. He first joined Engel & Völkers in 1998 as an apprentice when the company only had 20 offices, most of which were in Germany, back then. 12 years ago Oliver was offered the opportunity to relocate to the USA with Engel & Völkers. He and his partner, Timo Khammash, have since grown their business to more than 30 franchises in the state of Florida. And are part of a network of nearly 900 shops globally. Oliver, welcome.
OLIVER: Thank you Tiffany, thanks for having me.
TIFFANY: Yeah, you are welcome. I’m so excited to hear more from you. Can you just start by telling us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
OLIVER: Well you already talked a lot about myself. So, as you said, I’m the Master Franchisee/Co-owner of Engel & Völkers here in Florida. We sell the franchises and we support our franchisees to become successful in their markets. So, that’s our daily focus, and as you said, I’m with the brand for a very long time. I first started to work for Engel & Völkers actually over 20 years ago, in Hamburg, Germany, when the company was a very small, tiny, company but already had a stellar reputation. And that intrigued me to apply for the apprenticeship, as you just said, at Engel & Völkers. And it’s maybe an unknown term here in the United States, I think the apprentice is known from Donald Trump but that’s not the same concept. It’s an educational concept we have in Germany. And it’s pretty much a two year program where you go to a real estate school and you work for a real estate company. And the company I worked for back then, happened to be Engel & Völkers. And I can tell you, it was kind of an interesting experience. You know, I was set up to become an agent, but I realized fairly quickly that the agent stint is not a very high stint in Germany, so it’s not very interesting. So I moved fairly quickly into the franchise route.
TIFFANY: Oh, okay, great. So how did that apprenticeship shape your career?
OLIVER: Well, you know the apprenticeship was a great program, because you look into every aspect of the company. From, you know, we just started franchising back then in Hamburg, Germany. We got to see sales, residential, commercials. We learnt, pretty much, every aspect of a professional real estate company. And what was always great about Engel & Völkers, Christian Völkers always had the mindset and spirit of growth, created a stellar brand, back then already. And it really shaped me in that regard and I really learnt how to create a great brand. And that was a good experience back then. I really have to say.
TIFFANY: And you know, here in the States, we do have apprentices but it’s more like, you know, plumbers or electricians, you know, things like that. And quite often you hear real estate agents, in the US, complain because they get their license and then they don’t know what to do. So, it seems like that path, the apprentice path, would really empower agents with some knowledge before they really got out there running.
OLIVER: Correct, I mean, if you look at the process here in the United States, you know, we go to real estate school, you get your license and you really don’t learn about the business at the real estate school. And that apprenticeship is really a form where you learn the business with the basics, pretty much. So, it’s a great concept, for sure.
TIFFANY: Well one thing I really like, I know you and Timo really support your license partners and overall growth as a brand and you really speak into the issues that they’re having. Can you talk a little bit about your team and the overall company structure?
OLIVER: Yeah, so we have a great structure, in that regard. And it’s a very supportive structure. You know, we have as a backbone, the global head office in Hamburg Germany. We have our America’s head office in Manhattan on Park Avenue. We have a huge support team who just focus on developing tools and systems and tech and, you know, advancing the brand, advancing the global network for our franchises and offices. And then we have a local support team, here in Florida. We have about a dozen people working for us here in our team in Naples, Florida. And we are really on the ground and making sure that our offices become successful. But it’s again, it’s multilayer approach, with corporate head office in Hamburg, New York and us here. So, you get a lot of support as a franchisee of Engel & Völkers.
TIFFANY: And I know anyone listening to this has probably heard several Engel & Völkers agents, just in this season, which is just a coincidence, kind of, but I think in one sense, I’ve really enjoyed how open your advisors are. And your, you know, license partners. But it just seems like, somehow you guys are creating this culture of openness and, you know, trying things. Because a lot of times agents come in and they’re just jaded, and they’re like, “Ah, everybody’s trying to “tell me to do things.” But somehow, do you see that as well in your company?
OLIVER: Yes, for sure its a very supportive culture. You know, its about recruiting numbers but it’s not about, you know, hiring 200 more agents or 500 more agents. And we’ve selective about the advisors, we call them advisors, we hire in our organization. And we are always working on a very supportive culture. So, we like teamwork, we like our agents to help each other. And you will see that when you travel as an Engel & Völkers advisor and if you walk into any office, worldwide, be it in Paris or in Spain or in Hong Kong. And you knock at their door and you walk into that office and you say, “Hey, can I use your conference room, “I have a business which I need to deal with “at home or here?” They always have open arms for you and they are very supportive around the world. And, you know, for most of the time I worked for Engel & Völkers, and that’s something which I always hear, it’s very unusual for our brand, that supportive culture. And that’s extremely beneficial for everyone involved.
TIFFANY: Well and too, one thing I know I’ve been working with your office, leading up to this interview. And one thing I’m always really sensitive of, like this isn’t an Engel & Völkers advertisement nor is it, you know, like, not that I want all your competitors to be doing better, but I feel like, it’s like we read books or things like that. And I think that what you do is so inspiring and there’s just so much that people can get from it that I just feel like we need more of it. Like what you’re doing, I just feel like, you know, if more real estate agents could experience that, whether it’s in the office they’re in now or here’s an option where that is the culture. You know, and there’s a lot of ways that work but just to know that it exists, I think, is just of great value.
OLIVER: I think in overall it’s about creating win-win situations. And I always aim to create win-win situations, whether it’s with our team members, with our franchisees, with our advisors. I think that always works best for everyone involved, right.
OLIVER: And if you look at our industry, in many ways, the cutthroat industry and we really are putting the focus on avoiding that in our company, our organization. Again, supportive and, you know, a lot of team play in our.
TIFFANY: Yeah, well, I mean, the truth is, I mean, there’s enough for everybody to go around, you know. Especially of the working real estate agents and the right thing is always the right thing, right.
OLIVER: Absolutely, agree.
TIFFANY: Well great, well you guys do a lot too to help your agents or your advisors, you guys call your agents and brokers, who are in production, advisors. There’s a lot that you do to support their marketing. What are a couple of the things that, both your licensed partners at that level that you feel right now should really be focused on when it comes to marketing? But then also could you share a little bit and speak to advisors and what, maybe, they could be doing?
OLIVER: You know, I think in these days, you know, with the competition, with the 100% morals and so on, it’s all about providing service. And for us it’s about providing service or opportunities for our franchisees, it’s providing service to their agents and advisors. And for the advisors it’s providing that stellar service for the consumer. And at the end of the day, the entire organization only works if the service to the consumer is the right one, right?
OLIVER: If we don’t provide the team with the tools and the systems and the tech and the brand and the international network to our advisors, and they are not able to go out there and provide a stellar service to their consumer then our organization would not go anywhere, right. It’s really about focusing on the service you provide.
TIFFANY: And it just made me wonder, is there something that you see an advisor or a franchisee doing right now that in the area of marketing that has, kind of, impressed you, that they’ve, kind of, gone one step further and got your attention?
OLIVER: Yeah, I think it’s overall our sub-market specialization and focus as an advisor on a certain sub-market, and to list everywhere in town and, you know, you have a listing here, a listing there. It’s really to become a local expert within the local market. And our competition, if you look at the industry where it’s going to, every client can get access to a huge data set, online, pretty much. But it’s really about the local knowledge and you cannot replace that, that easily with online information. That’s where really the local market expert comes into play, right, And I think that’s one of the core things I see as a base of our success amongst our advisors.
TIFFANY: You know it’s funny my husband and I got into real estate in the early ’90s and I built one of the early home search websites, in our region at the time, and we were getting clients who, you know, were from, you know, London and, you know, just all over the US but also in our local market. And I think, now, watching where it is now, I’ve just always been 100% for the client having information. Because if that’s not the value that your advisors provide, you know, I mean, they can do it and they can narrow it down however the hugest amount of value comes with that advising, right. That guidance and getting them to the finish line, you know.
OLIVER: And you have to keep in mind, you know, we are a very international brand. Very, very strong dominating in Europe and many other parts of the world. And if you have an international buyer, they don’t necessarily know Zillow. You know, Zillow is a household name in the United States but when you talk to international buyer, they have no idea what Zillow is. Or they don’t necessarily know where to get certain information online. Especially when it comes to the international exposure where we can help our international clients to find the right property in the local market, here in Florida, I think that’s also, very much, important. Because not every client has the same information, right.
TIFFANY: Right, absolutely. So, what are some other ways that the real estate business differs in Europe versus in the United States?
OLIVER: Well, first of all there’s the cultural difference. And I can talk a lot about Germany because I, you know, that’s where I grew up and that’s where I was born. But I was also, I traveled to other countries and was involved, somehow, in real estate in other countries. But, let me give you one example, if you talk to a German home seller and you tell that seller that there’s gonna be a lockbox at his front door and I don’t know, how many, hundreds of agents have access to their front door and can you take clients into their house, that’s a no go, right. They would say, “Are you crazy, I’m not gonna do that.” So it’s a cultural difference. Another huge difference is that people, they don’t release the purchase price or the sales price of a house. It’s very often, especially when it comes to high priced or high-end properties that you have to call the agent in order to know how much the house is. So, it’s very much a secret for how much the house was sold or is actually offered because the owners don’t want their neighbors to know for how much they sell their property, right. So, it’s a cultural difference. And then, on the advisor level, I think the biggest difference is, there is no in Europe. I think one of the biggest differences to the United States.
OLIVER: And that’s what we’re always saying when we talk to potential franchisees here. We were founded in the country, in the country of Germany, and, pretty much, knew in the very beginning only in Europe before we came to the United States, where you had to list the property in order to sell it. You know, you could not just serve buyers, you had to list something in order to sell it because they is no deal sharing. I mean, there is a deal sharing but not to the extent we have here with the MLS. So, we were always focused as a brand, on the listing. To get the best listings in the market in order to be able to have a portfolio of properties, we could offer to our clients, right. So, that’s a big difference. Another big difference on the agent side is, the agent split is significantly lower in Europe, which is good for the broker owner but not very intriguing for an agent. So, that’s the huge difference with other consequences behind it. Yeah, I’m gonna say that those are the main differences between the real state market. In general, it’s the same, you know, the seller wants to sell, the buyer wants to buy. We need to find that medium ground in terms of pricing. So, the basics are the same. It’s just the systems and tools, I think.
TIFFANY: So, I have to ask, how does it work if there’s a house that’s listed, and let’s say I wanna go buy a house and you mentioned there is dealing sharing but there isn’t deal sharing. I mean, can you be a buyer’s agent, at all? I guess, I’m not understanding. What’s the dynamic, how does that work?
OLIVER: So, you know, I don’t know about every part in Europe but again, I can talk mostly about Germany. When you have a client who is a buyer’s client, knows the buyer, if you’re looking for a property, you could technically contact another brokerage, another advisor of another brokerage and say, “Hey, I saw that you have a property, “I have a client for that.” So, that could technically work. But it’s not as organized as it is in the United States with the MLS, so. And that happens, very little. I’ve seen that happening very little, actually.
TIFFANY: So, as the buyer, how do I find houses? Like, do I just drive around. I mean, if there’s no Zillow. I mean, is there an equivalent to Zillow? Or how do people find a house?
OLIVER: We just did property products where you can set up certain alerts. Where, you know, you can identify certain properties. And there are a few big ones in Europe. In Germany there are two, three bigger ones. And that’s usually where you sign up and everything else is your connections to the local real estate brokerages. And it’s a challenge, you know, it’s not as transparent as it is, here in the United States.
TIFFANY: Right. There’s one question that I’m a little bit weirded out to ask but my daughter is 22 and she is an agent LA and I asked her to share and she’s not with Engel & Völkers which I’m so sorry. You can’t make your kids do things, sometimes. But I asked her, you know, as an agent who was trying to level up her business, knowing that I would be speaking with you, what would be a question that would be useful to her. And she asked, could you share about an agent that you either seen or had to let go yourself, because usually agents just leave, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it’s like, “This isn’t working.” So, can you share a little bit about that. I think it speaks too, to understanding some things that, you know, maybe some of us can, you know, pitfalls to watch out for?
OLIVER: You mean for an agent not to get fired?
TIFFANY: Yes, or not to suck at your job maybe?
OLIVER: See, our offices are independently all operated. So, they make their own decisions, who they hire and fire. But, obviously, you know, I hear things. And our franchisees they tell me about things that happened. And it’s usually about fitting into the, the office culture into the supportive, you know, team playing culture. And, as I said before, there are some agents out there who are cutthroat. And it’s all about me, me, me, me, me. And, you know, we had agents in our organization who were even highly productive but were just, cancer in the office. And then our recommendation, as in the franchisor is always, you know, you have to separate yourself from that agent and that agent needs to leave the company, you know. We would never sacrifice on that. We lose 10 other agents over that agent just because that agent is not a team player, right.
TIFFANY: Right, right. So, with culture, that’s really common to hear, it’s not a culture fit. So, specifically, would you say, it’s more, like you were saying, just, kind of, a selfish attitude and not really a team player, as far as working together with other, more of that cutthroat that you’re talking about?
OLIVER: That’s what it is. Culture is obviously also cutthroat to say, because we like diversity, you know. Agents can come from all kinds of different backgrounds, countries we really like that and enjoy that. As, you know, workers, we are very open minded, in that regards. And it’s more that the team play, right. It doesn’t mean to be always the same cultural background, I’m not saying that, not at all. Again, it’s a diverse organization. But it’s really about the team play. And someone who is only thinking about himself or herself. And just has a cutthroat mentality. And that’s what we just don’t support, right.
TIFFANY: Absolutely, absolutely. Well, that’s really good. I totally agree. It’s like, when you keep one person on and it’s making 10 of your best, you know, people miserable, it’s really a disservice to everybody. So, it’s gotta happen sometimes, I guess.
TIFFANY: Okay, well, what is something, like looking back on your career, what’s something that you would tell your rookie self, today?
OLIVER: I would say, you know, we have a German saying, it says, I will say it in German, . And it, pretty much, says, everyone is cooking with water. So, I think, as a young person and I see that sometimes with the interns we have in our company, you know, early 20s, sometimes they have a lack of confidence because they think that the person who is 20 years older or 30 years older has a lot of experience, is so much better than they are. But again, everyone is cooking with water, everyone started at some point, somewhere. And I think, you know, having a certain confidence in yourself is always very important, right.
TIFFANY: Is that something you struggled with when you were first starting out?
OLIVER: No, I think when I was in early 20s, you know, you see all these big shots in their 40s, 50s and you are a little bit, well, I was a little bit intimidated, right. And, but again, you have to always tell yourself, “They started at one point at zero “and worked their way up “and again, everyone is cooking with water.”
TIFFANY: You know, I’m gonna have to go look that up because I’ve really never heard that expression before. And I think it’s really good. It’s very simple and makes a lot of sense. And it’s absolutely true.
OLIVER: Absolutely, yeah.
TIFFANY: That’s great. Oh, and I like too that, your company, I know you and Timo, you guys are so committed to growth. And you know your franchisees are, every time I talk to an advisor. One or two things that you struggle with today, when it comes to expansion?
OLIVER: You know, we always have that saying, you know, in our company, whenever we talk to a new potential franchisee, we always say, “If they would know what we know.” You know, I have such a history with the brand. When I came over here, 11 years ago, I already knew the success, the tremendous success we had back then already, in Europe. And I always had that confidence. And I knew what the company could do. And sometimes it’s tough to convey that to a prospect in, let’s say, a two or three hour meeting. You know, I would like sometimes to forward the time to, let’s say in 10 years, I know that we will be a household name in the United States in every aspect. You know, when I first started to work for Engel & Völkers, 20 years ago and I told my friends, “I’m working for Engel & Völkers now.” Some of my friends said, “I don’t know that company, “who is that?” You know, if you drop the name Engel & Völkers now, in Europe, everyone knows, immediately. It’s always associated with high-end properties, with chateaus, with castles, because that’s what we do, you know. We do a lot of high-end properties. We also do a lot of bread and butter but the brand due to the positioning is always associated with high-end properties. And that sometimes, I think, where we struggle is to convey that message, right.
OLIVER: And sometimes we joke, you know, let’s meet in 10 years again. And that person might have passed on the opportunity, might have said, “You know what, I’m not interested, “I’m doing something else.” wait 10 years when there is no open territory anymore with Engel & Völkers in many parts of the United States then the opportunity is gone, right.
TIFFANY: It’s interesting. I mean, number one, it’s always hard, right. If you’re starting something, and you aren’t just starting, but as you expand in the United States and build that awareness, right, brand awareness. It sounds like that’s your, probably, your biggest struggle right now, it’s your expansion. Is that what I’m hearing?
OLIVER: Yeah, I mean, that’s always a challenge and that can only be solved through growth, right.
TIFFANY: That’s right, well, you guys are doing it. So, that’s good. Is there anything else that you guys struggle with when it comes to that, or comes to growth and expansion?
OLIVER: I would say it’s also identifying the right partner.
OLIVER: Because the success of an office is related to what we provide as a franchisor. You know, the systems, the tools, the marketing, the international brands. But it’s also very much connected to the local leadership. So, I give you one example, we sold Jacksonville Beach, last year to Corey Hasting. And Corey Hasting is a stellar leader. And is recruited close to 200 million in volume with multiple agents within, pretty much, one year. Little over a year. And that’s due to what we provide as a brand but it’s also due to the leadership. His leadership skills and his ability as a leader. He’s a absolutely amazing leader. And that’s also a challenge to identify that person, to find that person. I would say, that’s a challenge.
TIFFANY: Yeah, well, having someone like that, to have such a model of that, probably, helps too. And that you’re able to, kinda, see, you know similarities in people that probably remind you of things that Corey does well.
OLIVER: Absolutely, yes.
TIFFANY: Yeah, yeah, yeah, definitely his story has been really fun to watch, so. Okay, I’m trying to imagine, like, you have a lot going on, right. So, would you call your day, very busy?
OLIVER: Yes, yeah.
TIFFANY: Okay, okay, okay, so, with that, I know, I’m always fascinated by, you know, you need a certain mindset and you need a certain energy level to not just, you know, get through the day but kill it, right. To just really excel at what you’re doing, like you are. Do you have any, like, daily rituals or anything that you feel like really set you up to just have a powerful day?
OLIVER: I get up early, I exercise in the morning and then I have a big picture of my kids, in my office. And I always look at the picture, that’s my why, it drives me everyday.
TIFFANY: So, how old are they?
OLIVER: They’re close to three, close to six and eight.
TIFFANY: Oh my goodness, that’s awesome. Well, very good.
OLIVER: And I think, when they were born, it changed my life, it accelerated my drives, you know.
TIFFANY: That’s fantastic. Well, good, good. Okay, is there anything, as we come to the end, I have one more question. But before I do, is there anything that maybe I didn’t ask that I should have. Or anything else that you would like to share?
OLIVER: What I would like to share and I think that’s important for agents out there, you know, there are a lot of agents who make a lot of money. But many agents tend to spend it all. And for, you know, lavish lifestyle, new cars, every year new car. And I think it is very important to build and asset, of value, certain value. And, as we all know, as an agent if you get hit by a bus tomorrow, your income drops to zero from one day to another. If you decide to stop working, your income goes to zero. So, I think for an agent in these days it’s so important to invest into something and, you know, that could be to open your own brokerage ideally under a strong franchise. Or, what we also always say, invest in something you know, and that’s real estate. And try to create passive income that is . Whether it’s by owning your own brokerage or owning rental properties or investing into something which generates passive income. So, at one point you’re not depending, so much anymore, on your daily work as an agent.
TIFFANY: I think that’s excellent advice.
OLIVER: I would like to share.
TIFFANY: Yeah, no, that’s very, very good advice. So, that’s really true and I think it’s just really important to keep in mind, not just your day to day, “Yay, I made enough.” I mean, everyday you have to go out and redo it and redo it. Where you’re right, if you’re able to create passive income, you can be on vacation and make, you know, make money too. So, really it also helps you, you know, take more vacations and, you know.
OLIVER: Absolutely, whether you want to do that, taking more vacations or not, some people, you know, work, work, work, that’s all fine. But I think it gives you peace of mind when you know it’s not always depending on you. Because sometimes, life happens and you never know what happens.
TIFFANY: That’s true, that’s true. Okay, so, last question. I am a huge foodie, I am a little bit, like, I wish I interviewed you before because I was just in Naples. But next time I’m in Naples, this will help me. What is your favorite dish and where do you get it?
OLIVER: So, my favorite dish is, you know, Florida is a very international place. I get all my German food here in Naples, pretty much, which is nice. But there’s something which is those little shrimps from the North Sea in Germany. And they exist in the United States, not in Florida, right. It’s called in german. And they sometimes come in a sandwich. It’s called .
OLIVER: It’s a difficult word to pronounce, I guess. And that’s really, it’s my favorite dish and it’s really something I miss. Every time we go back to visit Germany, I make sure, as soon as I get off the plane, I have enough .
TIFFANY: Okay, so, is there anywhere in Florida that you can get it? Or is it a trip to Germany that you have to have it?
OLIVER: I have to fly to Germany to get this.
TIFFANY: Okay, what’s your favorite restaurant there where you get it?
OLIVER: It’s, pretty much, a food truck.
TIFFANY: Oh, okay.
OLIVER: Yeah, it’s nothing, you know, special in that regard. You get it at a food truck.
TIFFANY: So, it’s like a street taco in Mexico.
OLIVER: In Northern Germany, yes.
TIFFANY: Very good, oh, I love it. Well, Oliver, thank you, so much, for being here. I really appreciate you taking the time out to share all this with us today.
OLIVER: Thank you for having me Tiffany. I really enjoyed it.
TIFFANY: Good, good, well, you are so welcome. It’s been really fun. And I also fell like you gave some really good takeaways. I think it’s good for agents to understand, kind of, the big picture because we’re all really part of a team and especially these days where especially the younger crowd, they’re wanting to be a part of something, right. And, so, understanding that they can look for it, you know, they can look to be a part of something that everybody’s trying to work together but yet succeed, as well. So, I really appreciate the insight you had about the different things that you do and features and outcomes that you’re helping with your, both your franchisees and your advisors get to.
OLIVER: Thanks Tiffany.
TIFFANY: Yeah, and thanks, so much, again, to everyone who’s listening. And remember the best is yet to come.