Franchisees Are Key to Success
Based in Dallas, Texas, HomeVestors of America, Inc. also known as We Buy Ugly Houses, is a privately-owned U.S. nationwide real estate investing franchise with independently owned and operated franchisees. They buy homes in need of repair and homes that owners need to sell more quickly than usually can be done through a realtor. Since the company’s inception, franchisees have purchased over 95,000 houses to renovate, sell or rent.
AdChat DFW had the opportunity to chat with David Hicks, HomeVestor’s CEO and President to learn more about the company’s marketing strategy and how they become ranked 30 out of 40 companies in this year’s Entrepreneur Magazine.
Adchat DFW: Tell us about HomeVestors and We Buy Ugly Houses.
David Hicks: We are a franchise company and have over about 1100 franchises all over the US. People don’t know us as HomeVestors, but they know our trademark, “We Buy Ugly Houses” and our franchises do just that. They buy ugly houses. We bought the “We Buy Ugly Houses” Trademark and the advertising is mostly done under that name.
Adchat DFW: Tell us about HomeVestors and We Buy Ugly Houses.
David Hicks: We are a franchise company and have over 1,100 franchises all over the U.S. People don’t know us as HomeVestors, but they know our trademark, “We Buy Ugly Houses,” and our franchises do just that. We improve neighborhoods one house at a time, buying the ugliest house, and making it the prettiest house in the neighborhood.
Adchat DFW: Why did you decide to create this franchise idea and how has your marketing strategy changed over the years?
David Hicks: It was started by our founder, Ken D’ Angelo who started selling franchises in 1996. He was a realtor and had a woman who asked him to sell her house. She said, “You don’t understand. I need to sell my house today.” So, he bought it and resold it. And that was the beginning of the idea. It was based on those houses that needed repair.
At first, he operated the company under the name “We Buy Houses”, but then came up with the idea in 1999 to add the word “ugly” to it. Many marketing people recommended he not use ugly because it was negative advertising, but Ken believed the concept would work.
Adchat DFW: So the in the beginning , was your marketing strategy to put the word “ugly” in it so people knew you were in the market no matter what the house condition?
David Hicks: Before we added “ugly”, people wanted to take that commission off and then buy it for that price. But that’s not what we do. When you add the “ugly” to it, people understand we’re looking for those houses that need repair, or maybe the thirty to forty-year old ones that did need updating and repair. “We Buy Ugly Houses” lets people know that we are not a realtor, and we aren’t competing with realtors. If someone has a house that’s brand new and they’re not in a hurry, they should sell it through a realtor. If they have a house that needs repairs or updating and need to sell it very quickly for cash, then we can absolutely help them in those situations.
Adchat DFW: How did it grow from one house to 1100 franchises in 23 years?
David Hicks: There is a lot of interest now in real estate, and our brand is set to help people capitalize on that interest. We’re in 47 states, and 170 different cities all over the country.
AdChat DFW: Your ad agency is Calise Partners and they use their patented technology AdScience® for your company. Can you speak to how AdScience® helped “We Buy Ugly Houses” expand?
David Hicks: Absolutely. Calise has been our agency, and they just acquired Imaginuity. They have really helped us a lot because knowing the inner workings between direct mail, billboards, TV and pay-per-click, and understanding the source of the actual lead has helped our franchises do better at spending the money efficiently. We started out mainly with billboards and direct mail.
Now, whatever kind of marketing you could imagine, our franchises do it. AdScience® has helped them spend their marketing budget more productively. We’re a little bit different. Our advertising is not focused on generating brand awareness, but to get leads on people that really do want to sell their house. AdScience® has helped to identify those houses and people who are most likely to sell to us.
AdChat DFW: Can they recommend based on their research, that specific channels will do better, such as social will work in one market and radio better in another?
David Hicks: It’s all based on history, and AdScience® helps us track what works and what doesn’t. Markets are similar, and even areas are similar. So when we find something that works in a similar type market, then that helps with the beginnings of what will work in another market. We have a different strategy in higher priced markets than we do in lower priced ones.
AdChat DFW: Do you do any television?
David Hicks: We do a lot of television, and it works very well when combined with our other media types.
AdChat DFW: Do you time advertising around natural disasters when many homes are damaged and in need of repair?
David Hicks: We sometimes do that based on the time of the year, after real bad weather in the Northeast, for example. And even after the hurricane in Houston, franchises did different billboards there.
AdChat DFW: You recently ranked 30th out of 40 companies in the 40th edition for Entrepreneur magazine. What factors do you think contributed to your rapid growth?
David Hicks: There’s probably a combination of things. One is just because our franchises do so well. In fact, over half the new franchisees that come into our system are referred to us by other franchisees. When a franchise does well, they refer other people to us.
Secondly, right now a lot of people are wanting to get into real estate. There are a lot of seminars and gurus trying to teach people about how to go into the business of real estate, and that’s a positive thing. But, the problem is they leave those seminars and they say, now go find houses, but the people that took their advice no idea how to find them.
AdChat DFW: How is “We Buy Ugly Houses” different?
David Hicks: What our system provides is not only the “how to go do it” along with the systems and tools, but also the way to advertise and generate the leads to buy the houses. That’s the real difference. People come into our system for the training and the tools, but stay because of the leads the advertising generates and because of the networking they get from other franchises on how to do well. Honestly, part of it is just knowing what price you can buy a house for that allows you can make a profit on it.
AdChat DFW: Do you have fun story about your marketing success?
David Hicks: One thing we do that creates a lot of press each year is “The Ugliest House of the Year” contest that our franchises nominate from their inventory. They create some great before and after pictures and it’s a great public relations generator. We have a fun business with a lot of exciting people who bring a team mentality that helps us all be successful. It’s fun to be a part of company that has such a positive culture.