Location: Bend, Oregon | Launched: 2008 | Number of agents: 95
Oregon brokerage blends up the perfect brand for booming Bend
Fred and Keeley Mannila got into real estate after 9/11.
Recently married and living in Portland, Ore., Keeley was working in public relations for corporate tech. Fred was working for a media startup company; the attacks happened while he was away on business in Texas. When his flight home was cancelled, he rented a car and drove the 2,000 miles back to Oregon. “Everyone went through their own journey that day,” he said.
When he arrived home, he learned his company had lost funding.
One year prior to this moment, in 2000, the Mannilas were buying their first home. “We didn’t know what we were doing, we were just along for the ride,” said Keeley. “It was apparent we were just a paycheck for our broker.”
That feeling stayed with them, and when Fred had to look for a new job in 2001, it became the inspiration that would eventually lead the Mannilas to Bend, Ore., to open their own brokerage.
Bend has been called the “boomtown” of the west in recent years. Nested among rocky peaks and white-water rivers in central Oregon’s high desert, it’s become one of the nation’s fastest growing cities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Fred and Keeley moved to Bend in the mid-2000s. The housing crash at the time had cut property values in the city nearly in half. When they launched Fred Real Estate independently in 2008, it was a leap of faith in the midst of economic uncertainty.
But taking that leap proved to be fruitful. Today, at 10 years old, Fred Real Estate has 95 agents and has sold more than 4,000 homes, making more than $1.5+ billion in sales. The brokerage is growing just as fast as the city it inhabits.
And there’s no sign of that growth subsiding: According to the city’s 10-year projections, it will need to add more than 16,000 homes to keep up with population growth.
The success of Fred Real Estate isn’t just from an influx of buyers; the Mannilas attribute their growth to the strength of the brand they’ve created.
Naming the brokerage didn’t come easy to Fred, the company’s namesake. “The name was my idea,” said Keeley. “You can’t forget the name ‘Fred’, it’s quirky and it pops,” she said. “That’s the whole point of a good brand—it’s memorable whether good or bad.”
Brand is Keeley’s arena. As the company’s Brand and Culture Builder, she’s passionate about keeping the brand strong in the community. “I want people to know what kind of service they’re going to get just by looking at our signs.”
The brand embraces the same culture that attracts people to Bend. The office is designated as a “no suit” zone, with a bean bag chair lounge and rotating beer on tap.
Their social content is heavy on video; Keeley employs a local film crew to shoot hype videos for each season, showing potential buyers eye candy shots of the skiing, rafting, hiking and beer-drinking you can do as a local in Bend’s rugged terrain.
Maintaining their brand is more important than growing their business, say Fred and Keeley. “We don’t like traditional methods of recruiting,” Keeley said. “You have to be intentional.” Whether bringing on brand new licensees or seasoned brokers, cultural fit is the highest priority. “We’re not a fit for everyone, and that’s okay.”
They learned early on that they didn’t want to have an “open door” hiring policy. “For a while we weren’t taking on any new brokers, because culture was so important to us,” said Fred.
They recently launched a training program specific to new licensees—the Accelerated Broker Program. “We’ve developed a curriculum for brokers that we’ve identified as a good fit for us,” Keeley said.
Ten years into running their brokerage, the Mannilas still haven’t forgotten the feeling they experienced as first-time buyers. And that feeling is still at the heart of their brand today. “We say we have a fresh approach,” said Fred. “We’re candid, we’re up front and we’re honest.”