Bert Lyles | Crain's Pittsburgh

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Bert Lyles


Launched in 1986, Showhomes carved out a niche in the real estate industry as the country's largest home-staging provider. A management team headquartered in Nashville oversees a nationwide network of franchises that have staged and assisted in the sales of more than 25,000 homes with a total value topping $8 billion.

The Mistake:

I believe that I am never through making mistakes and never through learning.

I was coming from a career where I was investment-oriented rather than people-oriented. So when I got my hands on Showhomes, it took awhile to learn the importance of the power of your organization's culture to really help drive performance and to create a cohesive, mutually supportive group of franchisees.

When I first bought Showhomes, we came in with more of a typical corporate attitude: We tell you how to run the business, and your responsibility is to run the business exactly how we tell you to. Legally, that's what the documents say. But that did not work. I spent the first couple of years looking at franchisees that were just arms crossed and shaking their heads.

Early on, the franchisor was really not providing support to the franchisees. It was family-owned, and they were too busy running an individual market to staff up for the franchisees. Everyone called themselves Showhomes, but everyone did it their own way and set their own expectations. I bought it with the idea that with proper support from the home office, we could tremendously increase our revenues.

It would be foolish to expect that the home office is the only one that can come up with good ideas.

The Lesson:

It was only when we started communicating more and I started involving the franchisees that things started working. And even then, I learned I could not push it. What works far better is if I could get a couple of allies who would be early-adopters of some new technique or service. If I could get these early-adopters to test it out and validate it, then they could communicate to their peers what's working for them. That peer influence ended up being far more powerful than anything I could command from the home office.

A lot of ideas come bottom up, and it would be foolish to expect that the home office is the only one that can come up with good ideas to improve the system.

A few years ago, we started doing client loyalty surveys, and I have been really proud of the results that have come out of that. Franchisees did not like it at first, and thought I was just checking up on them trying to find a problem. Instead, I was letting them know that everybody in our organization needs to own the customer experience. When they started getting raving customer reviews and paying more attention to what people liked, we improved greatly. We rank very high on our satisfaction scores.

We basically have a standard process now. We identify an idea and invite people who would like to be part of a beta test group. We don't push it on anyone as we want people to be receptive. We ask them to go through the learning curve with us, collaborate and find out together how to improve it so it's something that can benefit the rest of the system.

That approach has worked extremely well. For example, we are now beta testing an app. It's beneficial because we have staff working remotely doing different staging jobs, and they can clock in to this app and it will geo-stamp where they are. Now, we don't have to show up to check on them. I know when they're there and how long they're there, and I can hold people accountable.

Showhomes is on Twitter at @ShowhomesCorp.

Photo courtesy of Bert Lyles.

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