Together we grow: the First National formula for success

When a First National Real Estate office in Brisbane was inundated with water during the 2010 floods, you’d be forgiven for thinking they closed the doors and headed home.

Only that’s not what happened.

Rather, First National Real Estate’s teams from surrounding offices came to their rescue, banding together to do everything, from setting up a makeshift first aid station for the community in a First National tent, to sorting out more than 500 sets of keys.

Property managers from various offices united to assess which rental properties were underwater and those that had been spared. 

In total, 27 families were relocated to new homes within three days and the Oxley office was up, running and open within 12 hours of the flood waters subsiding.

Spirit of collaboration

According to First National National Experience Manager Suzi Cowperthwaite, it’s this spirit of collaboration that underpins everything the national network does and stands for.

“During the 2010 Brisbane floods, three of our offices were completely inundated and our surrounding offices pulled together to support their business continuity and, most importantly, the re-homing of tenants who had lost their homes,” she says.

“We’ll never forget images of Dorothy Hamilton, from the Palm Beach office, and Beverley Healan, from the Rochedale office, pushing shopping trolleys of water bottles through the streets, to the homes of tenants, up to their knees in mud.”

There’s other examples too, with Suzi recalling what happened when a new First National office in Port Stephens was having tech difficulties not long after opening.

“The principal and her team needed some assistance with upskilling on software systems and the team from our Maitland office jumped in their cars and spent the day in Port Stephens, helping them get up to speed,” she says.

“The strength of bonds built by this degree of collegiate support is a marked difference of First National Real Estate.”

In the beginning

And it was with this ethos of cooperation that First National Real Estate was established in 1981, after a small group of independent, rural real estate agents in Victoria met to establish an association that offered an alternate way of doing business.

Back then, in the pre-internet era, four core elements formed the association’s values, including developing top marketing techniques and professional training to ensure top outcomes for clients, providing its members with a national and international referral network, allowing member offices to retain their independence so they could provide their clients with local expertise and seeking membership from only the best agents.

It was a model that worked back then and, according to First National Chief Operations Officer Ed Atkinson, it’s a model that works now.

“The key to our product offering is that we listen to our members and provide solutions to their needs,” he says.

“The clear understanding is that everything that we do, and all the services that we provide, are with the same solution in mind, ‘How can we make our members’ and our agents’ lives a little easier today and more profitable tomorrow’.

“We never rest on our laurels and we are always looking for ‘What’s next’.”

Telephone line to the top

First National Real Estate Chief Communications Officer Stewart Bunn says the national network’s governance structure is what underpins its spirit of collaboration, with even the smallest of rural offices having a direct line of communication to those in charge at a national level.

Local groups of offices work together and feed their ideas, interests, concerns and suggestions into a regional council, at state level.

The chairperson of each regional council also has a seat on the board of directors at a national level.

“The people that step up and participate in our governance structure have something to say and have a belief in the brand,” Stewart says.

“They want to see the brand succeed and they stick their oar in the water to make sure that it does.”

However, it’s what happens at a micro, local office level, that’s perhaps even more special. 

Stewart says offices can and do collaborate and fuel each other with knowledge and support for both their successes and their challenges.

“They do pick up the phone and talk to each other and I think the degree of comfort they all draw from being able to ring the First National office down the road, in the next suburb, or even interstate, is enormous,” he notes.

“They know they can say, ‘I’ve got this issue and it’s quite complex, have you ever experienced it’?

“With day-to-day things there’s more collaboration than competition.”

Return on their investment

As well as supporting each other, First National offices also receive immense support from the network when it comes to training, products and services. 

First National Head of Growth for Australia and New Zealand, Matthew Harvey, says the network’s not-for-profit status means members get a greater return on every dollar they invest through their monthly membership fees. 

“Our goal is not to generate profit for shareholders, but instead to serve the needs and interest of our members through training, resources and services,” he says.

“It stands to reason that when you don’t have to share any of that fee with shareholders, substantially more benefits are returned to your business directly.

“Membership fees at First National provide a raft of benefits targeted at enhancing business growth and success.”

Matthew says every office principal and their team has access to a dedicated business growth manager and a national performance manager who is focused on enhancing their business profitability and their staffs’ skills.

This combines with the network’s Profit Planner system, which is a piece of software that helps unlock hidden revenue in members’ businesses.

Other support includes access to a free online HR system, which can save offices, particularly smaller businesses, the need to hire a HR team or employee, while a marketing design hub, powered by Canva, features more than 1100 branding templates to help members design everything from business cards to signboards, simply and easily.

There’s also a state-of-the-art social media system for managing office social media channels.

“Our social media platform actually posts for you,” Ed notes.

“Using smart technology, the system pulls key data out of your CRM and will post things like new listings and OFIs without you having to do anything.

“That’s just the start of what the platform can do for you. 

“We also have a ‘unique to First National’ hyperlocal product that will market to key audience demographics, which have been selected using AI.

“As an example, that might be ‘People that have shown an interest in selling real estate in your postcode and are looking for an agent’.”

First National team members enjoying their personal development training.

Training for tomorrow

But National Growth Manager, Stacey Kelly, says it’s the training that First National provides its members that she’s most proud of.

A significant portion of membership fees are invested into personal development at every level – local, regional, state and national – with Stacey’s team of eight business growth managers regularly feeding back to her what’s needed.

Training is also provided in a variety of ways, from face-to-face roundtable discussions to webinars and conferences at state and national level.

“We are in the trenches helping the members, so we know what they want and need,” Stacey notes.

“Our BGMs then talk to our training centre in Melbourne and we identify with them what our members want.

“We really personalise all our training and our services to our members.”

Stewart also highlights that as well as local face-to-face training with big name coaches, such as Lee Woodward, Tom Panos, Martin Millard and others, sales teams attend the national convention.

But that doesn’t mean property management is forgotten. Quite the opposite actually.

“We put a lot of effort into making sure our property managers are really well supported,” Stewart notes.

“We conduct local, state and national property management training events.”

This includes domestic violence-specific training at their Investor Relations Days, which occur twice a year in every state and help educate property managers on domestic violence warning signs and how to deal with potential victims, while prioritising their safety.

Younger members of the First National Real Estate network are also catered for, with Ed noting the FNSquad program connects team members at a state and national level.

Stacey also notes that the tyranny of distance isn’t a problem for regional and rural members when it comes to training either, with First National judiciously covering travel and accommodation costs for those looking to attend a training session, where possible.

“We help with accommodation and flights so people can attend and have the same experience as everyone else,” she says. 

“We want everyone to feel like they are a part of the network – because they are.”

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Editor at Elite Agent.

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