VOL. 11 | NO. 15 | Saturday, April 14, 2018
EMPHASIS: Residential Real Estate
150-Year-Old Marx-Bensdorf Cites Culture as Key to Firm's Longevity
By K. DENISE JENNINGS
Memphis real estate firm Marx-Bensdorf Realtors is celebrating a storied 150 years of business this year and looking back at the core values that have contributed to their longevity in an ever-changing industry.
David Tester, left, and Jimmy Reed are the co-owners of Marx-Bensdorf Realtors, which has been in business for 150 years. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)
The city’s oldest real estate firm and one of its oldest companies of any kind, Marx-Bensdorf was founded by German Jewish immigrants Max Marx and Herman Bensdorf in 1868. The original charter entitled the business to offer real estate as well as savings and loan services, and eventually it added insurance, but since the 1980s the focus of the firm has been strictly on residential real estate.
David Tester and Jimmy Reed, co-owners of Marx-Bensdorf, believe what sets the firm apart from others is the longevity of the company and most of its agents, as well as their intimate knowledge of all parts of the city.
The company is a Memphis fixture, but it’s also made a name for itself globally through its established corporate relocation services and its membership in the select community of 565 independent real estate firms that make up the Leading Real Estate Companies of the World.
“The culture is really key,” Tester said. “Within the walls, we are very cooperative with each other. It’s a noncompetitive environment within the firm.”
Marx-Bensdorf is full of agents that specialize in certain parts of the city and are intimately knowledgeable about the history and evolution of neighborhoods along with the nuances involved in home valuations in each area, Tester said. Agents frequently refer their clients who want to move within the city to colleagues who specialize in the parts of town where they have interest, he said.
“I wanted to come to Marx-Bensdorf 20 years ago because the firm had a wonderful reputation, but each of their agents had an identity of their own and a presence in the community,” Tester said. “That balance is so important to each of our agents being successful.”
Marx-Bensdorf currently employs 45 agents, and Tester said that 50 would probably be the max because he doesn’t believe the firm could maintain its culture and character if it were much larger.
Reed agrees the firm’s identity is its secret weapon.
“This is a carefully crafted culture,” Reed said, “and it takes a lot of effort and brainpower to maintain it.”
WEATHERING THE STORMS IN REAL ESTATE
In a century and a half, Marx-Bensdorf has seen many ups and downs in the real estate industry, from the Great Depression, to high interest rates in the 1970s to the housing market crash in 2007. The latest crash caused widespread consolidation within the industry and loss of market share for some firms, but it was actually a growth period for Marx-Bensdorf.
“When the bust happened, we moved, increased our office space and added folks, which is a testament to the quality and stature of the group,” Reed said. “When times get tough, a lot of agents leave. I don’t think we lost anybody, and although the market contracted, our market share increased.”
Tester added the changes amid the crash were a “conscious process.”
“We hadn’t had to fundamentally change in good times, but we rebranded and developed a new initiative,” Tester said. “We asked for input during that time from all of our agents, and we got a mandate to lead and change from the people in the firm. At the time we didn’t know it would be a six- to nine-year process (for the market) to come back. We doubled our office space and upgraded our technology, work and support spaces.”
A CULTURE OF SERVICE
The company’s website has been redesigned twice since 2007, most recently working with Memphis-based Speak Creative, and earlier this year the 150-year-old firm was awarded Website Quality Certification, a distinction recognizing excellence in website design, contact, interactivity, customer service and mobile responsiveness given to select members of the Leading Real Estate Companies of the World (LeadingRE).
LeadingRE also honored Marx-Bensdorf with The Pinnacle Award for being among the firms with the highest outgoing broker-to-broker closed referrals throughout the network, and an Outgoing Sales Production Award, given to the member firm that has introduced clients to other affiliates within the network, resulting in the highest number of closed transactions per sales associate within their company-size category.
“It is an honor to receive these awards,” said Eileen Cherny, Marx-Bensdorf’s senior vice president of relocation and client services, who herself won a Hall of Fame Award for her leadership and contributions to the LeadingRE. “We are proud of our agents’ diligent efforts and professionalism which resulted in these nominations and recognitions.”
Cherny leads the firm’s extensive relocation services, which have deeply established relationships with a lot of major corporations and small companies.
“They trust us to introduce their new employees to Memphis because they know they will be well taken care of.”
Melanie Blakeney, CEO of the Memphis Area Association of Realtors, said the firm’s longevity speaks to its ability to shift.
“An organization that has been around for 150 years demonstrates a willingness to adapt as needed,” Blakeney said. “That kind of staying power shows a long track record of Realtors successfully serving the Memphis community.”
Meanwhile, Marx-Bensdorf agent Lauren Wiuff is serving as the 2018 president of MAAR’s board of directors.
“She is smart, passionate and doing an excellent job,” Blakeney said of Wiuff.
In addition to a passion for serving customers, internal agents and employees, and within professional associations, Marx-Bensdorf’s culture includes a passion for serving the Memphis community. Many of the firm’s agents have causes that are close to their hearts, and the firm as a whole focuses on community involvement as well, Tester said.
The company has a long-term relationship with Brewster Elementary in which they provide items like backpacks filled with school supplies or school uniforms.
“Education is fundamental to our future and it’s fundamental to these children,” Tester said. “It’s a little thing, but it helps us stay connected and grounded.”
Marx-Bensdorf is also involved with the West Cancer Center, the Memphis Literacy Council and the Children’s Museum of Memphis.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
“There is still great business to be done by the best agents in the city,” Reed said. “There’s always some new slant or a new business that could cause us to lose some business, but if we maintain our culture and hyper-emphasize the interpersonal service and relationships we’ve built, we’ll be fine. There will always be folks that understand the value of working with professional Realtors. Things can go wrong in transactions. It’s a big responsibility.”
Tester emphasized the importance of the word “trust.”
“The public today has a tremendous amount of data, and they need someone they can trust with insight and the ability to apply the data,” he said. “We want to partner with people in this.”
One of Marx-Bensdorf’s underlying principles, Tester added, is that the firm isn’t focused on numbers, but rather on client service, integrity, community service and doing things correctly.
“Our core values are the basis of our success,” he said. “We have many agents who are working with the second or third generation of clients within a family, and that’s a testament to our values and commitment to service.”