Originally created 01/08/01

Owner reviews fine points of company



Staff Writer Eric Williamson sat down recently with Deborah Brooks, owner and broker of Eulalie Salley & Co. Realtors, to talk about her company's rich history, ways to market a realty company and the latest trends in real estate.

Q: OK, so what's with the pineapple?

A: Well, when I first bought this about eight years ago, we needed a logo. A pineapple is always the symbol for welcome. It's an old welcome, hospitality symbol. Do you know the story of pineapples? When the sea captains would come home from sailing, having brought, theoretically, lots of produce back with them, they would stick a pineapple on the gate post to tell people that they were home. So that is where it comes from.

We've really turned the pineapple into an art form, let me tell you. One year we had the pineapple bake-off for all of our clients. It has really become sort of an identification, I think.

Q: It seems you have a lot of effective advertising devices. Who does your advertising?

A: Thank you. We've spent a lot of money on it. We use the services of a number of people in Aiken. KC Productions does our radio advertising. (Recall the spots where a child pronounces it U-ku-le-le Salley.) Andrew Clemmons is now helping us. Liz Victor does our PR. We just have a lot of good people.

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:

"You're not going to have trouble finding people to say good things about Deborah. She's very energetic, good spirit, very positive. ... I've been on several boards with her. She speaks right up and really contributes."

- Toni Jerome, owner of Artists' Parlor and vice president of the Aiken Downtown Development Board

"Fine, fine individual. Very enthusiastic. She has worked very hard with our Aiken Corporation, that's our economic development arm with the city, in helping with our housing, especially downtown. She supports numerous agencies throughout the community."

- Aiken City Manager Roger LeDuc

We believe in marketing. This whole business is about effective marketing and contract sales.

Q: Are you using the Internet as a marketing tool?

A: We probably sell two houses a month from the Internet. We've had two people in the last six months buy houses sight unseen. That is fascinating.

Q: As owner, do you take an active role in the business or simply oversee its progress?

A: I manage the brokerage. The way that real estate is structured throughout this country, there is a broker in charge. Which means that any mistake an agent makes, that broker is responsible for. So my real job is to train our agents, to make sure they are trained.

Q: So you have some pretty experienced people here?

A: We do, but we try to bring in new people, too, because they have fresh ideas and a fresh approach. Did you know the average age of a Realtor in the U.S. is 50? There are a lot of reasons for that. We work on a strictly commission basis, and a lot of people can't afford that. You also need a great depth of knowledge. Not only about real estate transactions, but also people.

Q: What is the history of Eulalie Salley? Tell me about the late founder's legacy and how you came to take the name.

A: We celebrate Eulalie Salley's birthday (each year). This was the 117th birthday (in 1999). ... The company started in 1916. Mrs. Salley was an unusual woman for her time. She is listed among the 12 most important women in the state of South Carolina. She was a suffragette. Her husband was an attorney, probably like most guys just trying to get through the day and hoping he had clean socks. You know what I mean? Just a regular kind of guy. And he was not interested in sponsoring her suffragette activities. So she went to the licensing office at the city and asked what licenses were available. ... They said, "Well, I don't know, how about insurance and real estate. Nobody's got that."

She said, "OK," and she became literally the first woman Realtor in South Carolina and probably in the United States. This is the oldest real estate company in South Carolina.

She was a very strong and fascinating woman about whom two books have been written on that I know of.

The business passed to her daughter, and then to a close friend and co-worker (of the Salleys), and then to that friend's daughter who decided to try other things. So, in 1993, probably four of the key agents who worked here were facing having to go work somewhere else. And they knew that I had a real estate broker license in both South Carolina and Virginia.

My husband (Patrick) had just gone through a miraculous recovery from cancer - he had a less than 10 percent chance to live - and went to M.D. Anderson (Hospital) in Texas where he stayed for about five months undergoing what now has become protocol, but what then was considered experimental therapy. Literally, through God's grace and good medicine, he lived.

So, I was sort of sitting around thinking, "What am I going to do next?" So, when this came up, Patrick said, "Deborah, go do it."

At that point, the company really had no business. We just worked real hard and people have joined us, and I'm happy to say no one has ever left.

Q: How hard do you think it was for Mrs. Salley starting her business at the time she did?

A: She was certainly a determined person. She was from a well-connected family, which is not to say that was how she did it. Her husband was an attorney, so it was a professional family. Her family's home is the one that's the administrative building at University of South Carolina Aiken. (The building was relocated to the campus.) Her family had some importance in the state of South Carolina.

But where she really directed her interests was the Winter Colony, which started coming here in the 1880s. ... She would sell these people a home, maintain it in the winter when they weren't there, and when they came, she would have the servants in place, the furniture uncovered. ... She went over and above service, and that's how she really did it.

Q: Do you think you do the same?

A: We certainly try to.

Q: Women are commonplace in real estate jobs these days, perhaps even the majority, it seems. Why do you think that is?

A: When I graduated from college in 1970, I had friends who wanted to go to medical school and couldn't get in because they were women. They were told, "You're just going to have babies, and ... really." I had a hard time getting an American Express card - and I am a working professional woman all my life - until the mid-'70s, because there was this unspoken rule that unless it was tied to your husband's name, it didn't look like you had a long credit history. The supposition was still there, that you would work for a year and go on to raise a family. A lot has changed in 30 years.

This industry saw a great influx of women really in the early '80s. ... Commercial real estate is still primarily a male-dominated field. I think women have gotten into real estate because there are a lot of well-educated professional women who are looking for an outlet and a place to use their talents and still be able to raise a family. In all, the idea of real estate being an incredibly flexible business, it really isn't that flexible. You are working on your client's timetable.

(But) you still have the opportunity to not work for two weeks, or on Thursdays, or whatever it is that you want to do and still make a very good income.


EULALIE SALLEY & CO.

Company: Eulalie Salley & Co.

Owner: Deborah Brooks

Employees: 27 agents and five support staff members

Sales: $35 million a year

History: Founded in 1916 by Eulalie Salley, making it the oldest real estate company in South Carolina. Ownership was passed to Mrs. Salley's daughter, Eulalie Rutledge. She sold the company to Doris Chesser, a friend and employee. Ms. Chesser turned over ownership to her daughter Lisa Hosang, who sold Mrs. Brooks the business in 1993.

Q: What is the average income?

A: The average income for our Realtors here is probably $45-50,000 a year. We have some people who make $200,000, and we have some people who are content with, and don't work any harder than, making $22(000) or so. That's their option. It's perfectly fine.

Q: And usually the average doesn't happen in the first year?

A: It takes about three years is what I've figured.

Q: How much of the market does the company own?

A: Last month, 34 percent of all the listings sold were ours.

Q: Any interesting, well-known properties that are up for sale?

A: Well, we just sold Ridgely Hall. It's a landmark in Aiken on Berrie Road and the home in which the Rutherfurds (who were family friends of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt) lived.

We just sold Mrs. (Adele) Paxson's Stable. Mrs. Paxson was a well-respected horsewoman. (The senior citizen recently relocated from the area.)

Q: Are you able to leave work at the office?

A: I don't think so. I really like my job. It's fun. I have a lot of hobbies. I go to Columbia once a week and study tai chi with a tai chi master. ... It's not like you're at work, but you are calling new ideas. This is a people business. Seeing people spurs on other ideas.

Q: What tricks do you use to balance a busy schedule?

A: We have an excellent support staff. I'm not kidding - we probably have the best support staff in town. ... I also rely on a laptop, a PDA (personal data assistant) - you know, it's between a palm and a laptop - and a computer at home.

Q: What are the latest trends in real estate?

A: The trends are pretty basic but very clear. The consumer wants one-stop shopping. The consumer wants to be able to shop using technology. But they still want their Realtor to gently take them by the elbow after the decision is made and help them get through the whole process.

So do I think Realtors are gone with the wind? They are not.