Courtesy of Banker and Tradesman, Sept. 20 Edition:
Jack Conway At A Crossroads
North Shore Move Creates Room For Growth In Key Divisions
By Colleen M. Sullivan
Banker & Tradesman Staff Writer
It was a typical staff meeting at a real estate firm, and Al Becker, director of marketing for The Jack Conway & Co. realty firm, was about to wrap up his run-through of the company’s newly revamped website for staff of the brokerage’s newest office in Swampscott.
That’s when one of the agents wondered aloud whether their office was included on the listing of towns at the bottom of the page constituting what the company calls “Conway Country.”
“Thrill us,” said Sabrina Cassella, the newest agent to join the firm, urging Becker to make the change. So he obliged, adding Swampscott to the list of towns playing host to a Conway office. He also changed the front page blurb describing the company’s coverage – “from Cape Cod to Cape Ann” – to “from the North Shore, to Boston, Cape Cod and the South Coast.”
It was a small gesture, but one illustrative of the point at which Conway now finds itself: A firm small enough to be personally responsive to agent’s concerns, but also perfectly sized and positioned to stake out a place for its larger ambitions. Those ambitions include expanding its reach and range on the North Shore and growing into commercial brokerage.
And company executives say that may just be the beginning.
A Break With The Past
Even as other real estate brokerages have been retrenching during the downturn, Conway has expanded, acquiring two offices in Darmouth, reopening offices in New Bedford and North Attleboro, and adding Swampscott, for a total of 42 offices.
The move to Swampscott, in particular, represented a break with the past.
“My father had a great relationship with Dick Carlson [of Carlson Realty] for years,” said Carol Bulman, CEO of Conway and daughter of the company’s founder and namesake, Jack Conway. Carlson’s firm, at one time the largest independent realty company in the state and a mainstay on the North Shore, was acquired by GMAC in 1998. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, GMAC sold off its brokerages with several ex-Carlson branches eventually being acquired by Hammond Residential Real Estate. “And they had sort of a gentleman’s agreement: Dick didn’t come south, my father didn’t come north. My father always focused on the South Shore and Cape Cod, and that had obviously worked very well. When Tim called me a number of months ago, it opened our eyes.”
Tim is Tim Knowlton, a former manager for Carlson GMAC and current leader of Conway’s Swampscott office, who initially approached the firm with the idea of launching a North Shore office earlier this year.
Conway’s new digs are in space formerly occupied by a Coldwell Banker office, which closed in 2008 when Coldwell consolidated its North Shore holdings.
Since opening for business in May and celebrating is official grand opening in July, the firm has attracted nine agents to its Swampscott office – including some former local Coldwell Banker employees.
Marlene Badolato, who had worked for Coldwell in Swampscott for 14 years, called the jump to Conway a “no-brainer,” mentioning the company’s “generous” commission splits and smaller administrative expenses as a big reason for her move.
Knowlton said he felt Conway’s local ownership and size were an asset in attracting agents – agents which in turn attract clients.
“This business is all about connecting with people, and some of the chains that are out there just reach out too much, and distance themselves from their agents – paperwork after paperwork, you can’t get immediate answers, there’s no go-to person,” he explained.
Conway’s competitors acknowledged the strength of the company’s brand – and said they weren’t surprised by the firm’s geographic and business expansion.
“Theres very strong ‘brand equity’ in the Conway name – few residential firms have the history that they do,” said Mark Lippolt, senior vice president of operations for Hammond Residential Real Estate.
But having a more personal touch doesn’t mean the company is without leverage. One of the reasons for the North Shore expansion was to give the firm room into which it could grow its other corporate divisions.
Conway has subsidiaries which specialize in relocation and senior services, and also has an association with Wells Fargo’s mortgage division. With the Cape and South Shore market thoroughly covered, continued growth for those divisions will entail expanding the firm’s footprint into a larger market area.
“That’s really our goal, to get a little bigger piece of the pie,” Bulman said. “And the only way we can do it is by working smarter, getting new people – great people.”
“The goal right now is to get Swampscott up, running and populated,” said Knowlton. But after that, “Our eyes are open.”