When Gail Richards started Key 2 Sale in the rural South Australian city of Mount Gambier, she knew what kind of agency she didn’t want to create.
At the time, Gail was a real estate professional with about 14 years of experience, and she’s the first to say she felt a little disillusioned by the churn and burn nature of the industry.
Going out on her own, Gail didn’t want to create an agency where her team were like hamsters on a wheel, continually running for their next deal and not stopping to enjoy it.
She didn’t want to create an environment where agents viewed others in the team as the enemy rather than a counterpart.
And she didn’t want to run an agency where numbers were more important than people.
“I’d worked in workplaces where the culture and the environment were very toxic,” Gail recalls.
“I’d worked for a company where it really felt like you were competing against the people in your own office, instead of working in a way that you can work together.
“That has always been something I really didn’t enjoy about the first part of my real estate career.
“Unfortunately, sometimes it takes working in some bad environments to know what you don’t want in your own business.”
That meant when Gail started Key 2 Sale in 2016, she also knew what she did want to create in her agency.
Gail envisioned an agency with a culture you enjoy going to work to be a part of.
She wanted to create an environment that was supportive and caring, where the team worked hard but also understood the value of recharging their batteries and performed better because of it.
Key 2 Sale was to be an agency where people, health and wellbeing came first, and numbers came second.
“I knew that real estate was an industry that needed a big shakeup in relation to wellness,” Gail explains.
“We wear that ‘busy’ slogan and exhaustion like a badge of honour because there’s this mentality that if you’re not busy in real estate, then you must not be selling.
“We’ve always put so much focus on numbers and not enough focus on people.”
And while Gail says she and the Key 2 Sale team are far from finished when it comes to championing change in the industry, they’re clearly on the right path, having taken out the inaugural Annual REA Excellence Award for Wellbeing Initiative of the Year.
The award, in which the REA Group partnered with health experts Benny Button, recognises companies who have introduced wellbeing initiatives in the workplace to support their teams at work and in their personal lives.
Gail says the wellbeing program at Key 2 Sale started when the agency did, and not in response to the introduction of the award. Still, she saw it as a positive way to influence change in the industry and celebrate a small business doing big things.
Those initiatives include monthly one-on-one mentoring for every team member, wellness Wednesdays, soup Mondays, and creating a staff zen room.
Then there are the smaller things like reminders to drink water, a healthy snacks station and the development of an office healthy recipe book.
There are also things they don’t do for themselves but for others – specifically their Key 2 Kindness charity initiatives.
“We’re a small business, but we’re doing good things with our staff,” Gail says.
“We have had a 100 per cent staff retention rate in the past 18 months, and I think that’s a good gauge that you’re doing the right thing.
“Wellness is at the forefront of everything we do because our people are our business.”
When Gail decided to start her own agency after an eight-month career break, she did so with the help of business development manager Ali Villani, who mentored her along the way.
She found the support so valuable she decided to introduce it for her team a bit over a year ago.
As well as keeping the office stats up-to-date, along with the action plans for each sales agent, Ali helps each team member with their work and life goals.
Once a month, Ali touches base with each team member, usually via Zoom as she’s based interstate, but sometimes in person, to talk about their work targets and what’s happening in life outside the office.
“It’s like sport really; you have to have a good coach to improve and get better,” Gail says.
“That’s what this mentoring is all about. It’s someone that sees potential in you that you don’t see in yourself.”
Gail says it’s critical that Ali’s mentoring is holistic as what’s happening in someone’s personal life can have a big impact, both positively and negatively, on their happiness and performance at work.
“The team has really embraced the mentoring,” she says.
“It’s nice to have someone to bounce ideas off, and if they’re going through a tough time, it means they’ve got a safe place to talk about that.”
Key 2 Sale Client Services Manager Carolyn Gazzard says she loves all of the agency’s wellness initiatives but, if she had to pick a favourite, it’s her sessions with Ali.
As someone with a tendency to focus all of her energy on work, Carolyn says Ali has helped her invest in things outside of work that bring her joy.
“My work and home life balance were completely out of kilter,” she says.
“Ali has helped me think about and set challenges for myself outside of work. I have started with a personal trainer and set some fitness and strength goals.
“We also set work goals, but a lot of my time with Ali has looked at things outside of work, including financial, spiritual and relationships.”
More recently, Carolyn says Ali has helped her focus on work, rest and recovery, highlighting the need and benefits of recharging her batteries.
“I think there are ways to be delivering superior service to our clients and, at the same time, to be looking after ourselves,” Carolyn notes.
“It’s made all of us better at work. We’re better at what we do because of it.”
The zen room
One of the team’s other favourite initiatives came in the form of a gift from Gail and Key 2 Sale Director Al Lamond, who also happens to be Gail’s uncle.
When the team moved into its new Sturt St office, Gail unveiled a surprise for the team in the form of a zen room.
“We bought a building and renovated it, and when we moved in in March last year, I had someone come in secretly to do this room,” she says.
“The team knew everything that was happening within the building, but they didn’t know about this room, and it was a really lovely surprise to say to them, ‘this is your space’.
“It’s a space where you can leave your phone on your desk and go and eat lunch uninterrupted. You can shut the door, do some meditation and just get away from everything and take a break.’”
The zen room is also the ideal location to host the team’s weekly Monday lunches.
Initially, the Monday lunch saw a team member bring in soup for everyone to share as it was winter, but it has since involved cooking and sharing whatever dish takes your fancy that week.
“It’s really lovely because everyone eats different things, and some great recipes have been shared along the way,” Gail says.
“It’s also been really great for bringing the team together and camaraderie. We have a very trusting work relationship amongst all of the staff.
“I think that comes down to all of the things that we do that don’t seem work-related, but they are actually a very good step in the right direction when it comes to creating a great culture.
“And that great culture helps to harness good wellbeing. It’s circular.”
The idea of having wellness initiatives throughout the working week has seen the Key 2 Sale team introduce a short exercise/wellness session on ‘hump day’ once a month.
Gail says the sessions have involved meditation, going for a walk, playing cards, personal training sessions and Wim Hof breathing sessions.
“We come into work a little bit earlier on a Wednesday, and for 15 to 20 minutes, we complete a session together,” she explains.
“It’s a great way to start the day, bond as a team, and learn a little bit about each other through the activities we choose.”
Gail says all of the wellness initiatives the team does helps them lead a more balanced life and cope with the stresses of real estate.
“We’re probably the only type of sales job where you have to go out and sell yourself in order to get the stock to sell,” she notes.
“We can’t just order a product and say, ‘We’ll have six houses this month’. It just doesn’t work like that.
“In real estate, you have to be resilient because you’re going to get knocked back, and you’re going to have to get back up when you miss out on a listing.”
Gail says that while the real estate market has been running hot in South Australia in the past couple of years, there’s a misconception that things have been easy.
But rather, she says there’s been a “different set of pressures”.
“The number of buyers you’re dealing with on every listing has risen a lot, so there’s that increase in workload,” Gail says.
“But, perhaps what makes it more difficult is that you have to ring 10 people to say, ‘You’ve missed out on the property’.
“There’s a lot of dealing with the emotional fallout from those buyers and ensuring that you treat them in a way that ensures they’ll want to deal with you again.”
Key 2 kindness
Assisting others is another priority for the agency, and while it’s not a direct ‘wellness initiative’, Gail says helping community groups certainly does offer a lot of feel-good moments for the team and those they assist.
The Key 2 Kindness initiative sees $100 from every sale donated to a different recipient each month.
“We’ve donated to ac.care, Foodbank, Lifeline and smaller organisations like the Mount Gambier Community Garden,” Gail says.
“We also recently had a charity ball, which we organised, and raised just over $33,000 for the palliative care unit at the Mount Gambier Hospital.”
The team’s support also extends beyond just handing over a cheque, with representatives from all of the groups the agency supports invited in for a morning tea to talk about the work they do.
“It helps instil in your staff to look out for people that are going through a tough time and how doing something that might seem small can actually be something big to them,” Gail says.
Gail says it was an “incredible honour” to win the AREA for Wellness Initiative of the Year, but she stresses Key 2 Sale is not about to rest on its laurels.
The agency is currently focusing on a rest, play and recovery model to ensure the team takes a holistic approach to their wellness.
“It’s about ensuring that our sales team has one weekend completely off each month,” Gail explains.
“It’s also about ensuring people are doing and making time for their interests outside of work. We’re really focusing this year on encouraging the team to do other things.
“It might be learning an instrument or taking up a sport.”
Other initiatives for 2022 include a monthly value meeting where the team reflects on what’s important to them at work and in life, as well as prioritising their ‘keep, stop, start’ ethos when refining their goals.
Gail says the real estate industry needs to change and place more emphasis on wellbeing and work-life balance, and for this to happen, leaders need to step up.
She says leading by example is the most important thing, and one of her non-negotiables is not making appointments on a Thursday night so that she can take her children to their sports training.
“It has to start with leaders because if you’ve got salespeople going, ‘I don’t want to work that day’ but the leader is saying, ‘Here are your stats, here’s your KPIs, and you need to work Sundays if you’re going to meet this month’s targets’, it’s really hard to fight against that,” Gail says.
“We need a mindset shift in our industry. We have to start realising that we’re not machines and that it’s okay to have a day off during the week because you worked on Saturday.
“Success always seems to be about measuring numbers, but I think we have to start measuring people’s happiness.”