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Empire builders: The Stone Sisters’ masterclass in leadership

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A big thank you to Tamara and Shannon Stone. After our original March feature fell through, the Stone Sisters — who we were going to feature later in the year — agreed to move up their interview and accommodate us at the last minute. That’s why our March feature and Backstage Pass Q&A for March is coming in early April. 

Ultimately, the story of the Stone Sisters in Kelowna is the story of innovation, adaption, trust in family and relentless focus. Tamara and Shannon Stone have turned their business into a Kelowna household name built on the power of relationships. 

Let’s dive into their story.

 

The early days — laying the foundation

 

“29 years. I got my license in 1995,” Tamara reminisced about her start in the industry. Both her mom and dad were already successful realtors. They didn’t want Tamara riding their coattails, so they made her a deal. She could shadow them for six months and then she was on her own.

She started shadowing them and doing what they told her for six months. It went by so fast that she didn’t even realize that six months had already passed. “I showed up as I had for the prior six months, dressed in my business suit, and I said, ‘Okay, so what are we doing today?’ and my dad said, ‘Your mom and I are going golfing. I don’t know what you’re doing but you’re on your own.’ I had no idea what to do. It took me five months to get a deal and I was literally starving.”

She started doing open houses every single weekend. “I would do two on Saturday, two on Sunday. And I did that every weekend, with the odd exception, for two to three years because that’s how you met people.” 

Between her network and open houses, she started to build a nice business for herself. For the first 10 years of her career, Tamara built a business on her own, separate from her parents. That’s when, in 2005, her sister Shannon decided to get licensed.

 

Trial-by-fire

 

Tamara made Shannon the same deal she got from her parents: get trained for six months and then you’re on your own. She’d learn the ins and outs of the business. After the six months though, Tamara wanted to take the month of August off, thinking she could leave her sister in charge of her business during one of the slowest sales months of the year.

As the old cliche goes, “If you want to get busy, book a vacation.” That month, with Tamara gone, Shannon did almost 40 transactions — more than one a day. There was no question that Shannon’s ability to handle a month like that after only six months in the business meant she’d be an invaluable asset.

So, they took a Tamara-led “Stone Team” and formed the “Stone Sisters.”

 

Adapt to thrive

 

From even the early days, the pair has focused on leading when changes are happening.

“The big thing I did when I started that was revolutionary and wild was get a website. It was the first real estate website in town and it was shocking to many, and cutting edge. We still own the original domain name, too,” recalls Tamara. 

With a renewed energy for the business, the sisters continued innovating and adapting. Shannon’s marketing background brought a lot of ideas to both marketing and client engagement.

Spend time talking to the Stone Sisters about the evolution of their business, and you realize quickly they’re proactive about change. They’re looking ahead to see what challenges are coming and they’re getting ready.

 

See change coming, come up with a plan, execute with purpose

 

In British Columbia, you’re no longer allowed to double-end a transaction, a change that was hinted at for a couple of years before it came into effect. If implemented, they realized this would have a massive impact on running a team where you often have a buyer’s agent sell the team’s listings.

They looked at what that might mean and they came up with a plan. Shannon got her broker’s license. When the change happened, they completely shifted their entire model, going from being the Stone Sisters at Re/Max Kelowna to forming their own sub-brokerage, Re/Max Kelowna Stone Sisters. 

Now, instead of a traditional team model, Shannon and Tamara run the brokerage and the agents run their own business, with the Stone Sisters providing services and coaching along the way. This way, they act as the designated agents for their clients.

The sisters were able to completely shift the model and not miss a beat. They don’t sit back and complain when change is coming — instead, they see it coming, come up with a plan and execute with purpose. 

 

Marketing that works

 

Shannon had a background in marketing when she joined and, with that, brought fresh ideas and promotional efforts. With Tamara’s experience and her sister’s background, they came up with regular ideas that brought real business. Things that few others were doing.

For example, in Kelowna, where many properties are sold to people from out of town, the team tracks not only the percentage of properties sold to out-of-town buyers but also where they came from. This informs their next steps when it comes to marketing.

This tactic worked well during a big Alberta oil boom when the pair noticed a lot of business coming from buyers in Fort McMurray. They had some connections there and set up a learning seminar about buying property in the Okanagan. 

They flew into Edmonton, got this little rental car and made the drive up to Fort McMurray. A client that worked up there told them, “Don’t show up in your white suits and be fancy to people. Jeans, beer and pizza.” 

So, they rented the back room of a Boston Pizza, bought pizza, wings and beer for everyone, and started promoting the Okanagan. Little did they know, due to the big boom and undersupply of housing in Fort McMurray, there weren’t even hotel rooms available. They had to make the drive back to Edmonton at 3:00 am.

But it was worth it. The sisters sold a tonne of properties to people there until the downturn in the oil industry.

Today, they go to cities like Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto because that’s where a lot of their buyers come from. They do group seminars and 1:1 consults with potential clients to promote their book on the Okanagan. 

Social media advertising plays a big role in making trips to cities where they don’t have brand recognition a success. The sisters invest in it and see a great return. In a market where almost 50 per cent of buyers come from out of town, the Stone Sisters regularly see over 70 per cent of their buyers come from elsewhere — a testament to the success of their marketing strategies. 

 

What you measure, grows

 

Nothing happens by accident at the Stone Sisters. Much like tracking where buyers come from, the team tracks everything in their business. They look at where leads originate to evaluate the success of each marketing channel they try, and then what percentage turn into clients. They monitor the volume of phone calls, emails, social media messages and every other way that people reach out to the team.

Aside from the volume and nature of inquiries, the number of showings, traffic to and time on the website, social engagement and everything else that helps inform their marketing and get a pulse of what’s happening is tracked.

And no fancy dashboards needed — the team tracks it all across simple Excel spreadsheets. They can tell you at any time exactly what’s happening in their business and where the trends are going.

At the volume of deals the Stone Sisters are doing (300+ annually), their business metrics can say a lot about the greater Kelowna real estate market trends as well. 

 

The white suits

 

Since my earliest days in real estate, I’ve known the Stone Sisters. They were presenting at a conference on negotiation the first time I saw them. At that conference and to this day, they often stand out by wearing white suits. In fact, their entire team wears all white — it’s their uniform.

I asked them about this because they do stand out when you meet them. It went back to a Re/Max conference they attended in Las Vegas. There were so many agents there, they wanted to find a way to stand out from the crowd. A way to make them more memorable.

The sisters went with white suits. Now, the entire team does and it’s become a signature look. If anyone on the team, and now at their sub-brokerage, goes out in the community for their business, they wear white. This has become an integral part of their branding. 

 

The ‘Buyer Book’

 

Early on, Tamara and Shannon created what they call the “Buyer Book” for their business. When they got leads, they’d print out the email, hole punch it and put it into a binder. Any time things were either quiet or they had some downtime, they’d open up the binder to where they left off and “shake the tree.” 

The sisters would call everyone in the book. When they finished, they’d start over, back at the beginning. They made handwritten notes to send by snail mail to people they had good conversations with, a practice they still do to this day. There were people in that book for 3-5 years before they ended up doing a deal with the Stone Sisters — a testament to their consistency.

Today, the team follows a very similar practice, leveraging Follow Up Boss as their CRM. With organic buyer leads coming in, they convert them at a rate of 23.5 per cent. (During our interview, without having asked them ahead of time to be ready with anything, they had all the data at their fingertips. Like I said, they track and monitor their numbers.)

The most impressive stat? They convert 94 per cent of the website contact forms for a home evaluation to in-person appointments. As of our interview on March 20, 2024, the team had received 78 home evaluation requests and had done 74 in-person appointments as a result. 

That’s how strongly they’re seen as experts. Tamara mentioned that early on in her career they tried a series of TV commercials. “They were light and fluffy, like Cinderella, the Stone Sisters. It wasn’t us doing it; it was someone else’s perception of us. It gave the impression of, ‘It’s so cute they dress the same.’ Now, we have a much more serious reputation.” 

 

A little bit ‘hardass’

 

The sisters admit they’re known for being a little bit “hardass” at times, as they put it. They’re serious about the business and they get the job done. They’re not afraid to tell their clients what they don’t want to hear, and they won’t take a listing if the client is unrealistic about the price.

This brand they’ve built since 1995 is a huge factor in their conversation rates. On top of that, they work the phones, send out automated emails and encourage everyone at their brokerage to make as many phone calls as possible.

They find that even young people, who are often derided for not wanting to be on the phone, regularly have great phone conversations with their team. And when things get slow or quiet for a time? Everyone is encouraged to “shake the tree” as they do with the Buyer Book but with people in their Follow Up Boss database.

 

Systemized success

 

Like our previous monthly features this year, Mark Faris and Alex Wilson, it’s no surprise after talking to them why the Stone Sisters are so successful. They’ve built the systems, they follow them and they keep their agents accountable. 

The sisters are looking ahead at what’s coming and getting ready to adapt. They’re closely watching the commission lawsuits with NAR in the U.S. and Canadian equivalents. Despite verdicts likely being a ways out, they’re ready in case of changes. 

No matter what happens, one thing is certain: they won’t be caught unprepared. 

Want to watch the two-hour interview we did with the Stone Sisters for this article or attend a live Q&A and ask them questions? We dove a lot deeper into the specifics of how they marketed early on and how they market today. REM Backstage Pass members get access to both. Get your Backstage Pass today.


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