Getting into Verticals: Real Estate

The real estate industry suffered more than most during the recent recession. But according to those who know it well, real estate is coming back—and with it, some great opportunities for commercial printers. But to profit from it, one needs to know it.

Real estate is “a different kind of business than traditional printing in terms of the expectations,” explains Christopher Burnley, CEO of Corefact Marketing Systems in Hayward, CA, whose patent-pending marketing systems help real estate clients generate leads, build relationships, and promote properties.

“Number one, everything is needed today, so there are very short turnaround times, typically,” he says. “An order is printed the same day and shipped off the same day. Often, if you’re talking about agents, they are typically small orders and you get a lot of them. So you really need a solid logistics system to be able to deliver this in a timely manner.” The company prints on Xerox equipment, specifically iGen4 and ColorPress.

What You Need to Know

Burnley sees the real estate market as “definitely improving” following the tempestuous period from 2007 to about 2011. “Now the market has recovered. There is a lot of strength—a lot of pent-up demand for homes—and that is driving a lot of print-related business.”

The downside, he continues, is that there is “a ton of competition in this business. Everybody is vying for this business, so if you go into it you better have some sort of differentiated product. If all you’re selling is ink on paper you are going to have a very challenging time.”

Among the major challenges in serving real estate firms, says Burnley:

• Short run, quick turnaround. “Most orders ship the same day; 100 flyers might be a typical order.”

• The need for a solid digital workflow to handle high quantities of small orders.

• The need for a dedicated customer service team that is knowledgeable of the real estate industry.

• Sales are typically one-to-one with each real estate agent. “Brokers often give access to agents, but agents are independent contractors and typically make the buying decisions, as well as pay for the orders themselves.”

• Direct mail orders are often time sensitive; for instance, an open house taking place on a given day. The printer “should have a solid grasp of the USPS system and logistics for tracking and confirm.”

Approaching the Market

Approximately 80 percent of Corefact’s business is in the real estate industry. Depending on the nature of the organization, printers can approach companies at the corporate, broker, or individual agent levels. The files come in all kinds of varieties and shapes, he adds, and often are generated by the customers themselves. “You can have all kinds of color issues and every other thing you can think of.”

Of the three, the agent side proves the most challenging for printers, Burnley insists, because they find themselves dealing with small-run orders and individuals. “You have to bill them all individually; you have to communicate with them through your customer service team individually. On the corporate or brokerage sides you may be doing business-card runs and have a huge order. It’s a much easier project to manage, whereas the individual agent orders are all small. It may be a $100 or even a $50 order.

Corefact works primarily with direct mail, and so has to deal with a lot of different mailing list types. “Everything we do is variable data, so we’re trying to streamline all of that and then educate a very non-print-educated buyer. They know what they want to do in the marketing, but they really don’t understand the print process or sometimes even the technology that goes into it.”

Thus, a customer service team that can effectively address those issues and help those clients is a major plus. “In our case we have a Web store,” he adds, “but it poses certain challenges to users who aren’t used to placing orders, loading up lists and things like that.”

The printing side itself remains relatively straightforward, Burnley says. “We don’t have any issues there.” The key ingredient is the customer service and education process that goes into allowing people to place orders.

Corefact educates clients through webinars—three or four each week—as well as online videos, outside reps who conduct training sessions at clients’ offices, and a toll-free customer service line that receives 300 to 400 calls a day about “ How do I do this or that?”

“It’s a lot of work,” Burnley concedes, “but if you do it right, it will pay off.”