Her voice is all enthusiasm. Even seemingly small things get her excited.
"We found this at the florist on the corner on Friday," said Deborah Brooks, owner and broker at Eulalie Salley & Co. Realtors, referring to the pineapple plant on a side table in her office. "It was so cool!"
The pineapple has become a well-recognized symbol for the Aiken-based residential and commercial real estate brokerage Mrs. Brooks took over eight years ago. Around town, one might even find her wearing jewelry fashioned after the friendly fruit.
"It's nice when I go to a party and someone sees my little pineapple. They say, `You must work at Eulalie Salley,' and I say, `Yes! it worked."'
Mrs. Brooks has definitely put her own stamp on the business - the oldest real estate company in South Carolina - yet she faithfully maintains her link to the past.
The memory of Eulalie Salley is well kept around the premises of the company's Laurens Street headquarters. When one walks through the front door, poems and histories tell the story of the businesswoman and suffragette who broke new ground.
Mrs. Salley became the state's, and possibly the nation's, first female real estate broker in 1916. Her initial motivation was to finance her political cause, but in time the venture grew into a full-time business.
The real estate matriarch understood key marketing concepts that many businessmen didn't appreciate at the time, concepts such as "relationship marketing" and "full service." Mrs. Salley would even have servants in place and a meal on the table when her wealthy clients moved into their new homes.
These days, although her customers have a wider range of incomes, Mrs. Brooks retains Mrs. Salley's motto: "We do everything but brush your teeth." In fact, she hands out white toothbrushes to almost everyone she meets as a reminder. Her goal is to offer every service a client could want or need.
Most of her company's business is residential, while 20 percent of the properties she brokers are commercial.
Mrs. Brooks said a mortgage division - a service she attempted once before - will be in place again in January as a client option. "We found in the year we didn't have it, the consumer really wants it," she said.
She said even if all customers don't use the service, they will take comfort in knowing their pre-qualifying status. Other options offered by the real estate agency include home insurance and concierge service.
Concierge service in particular goes above and beyond a client's normal expectations. "That's where you help them find a plumber, help them find a painter, help them find the right dog-sitter ..."
Mrs. Brooks has sold real estate in other states, co-owned a temporary employment service and even taught first-graders - the latter being "the kindest thing the universe ever did for me," she said.
So when she left her job at Aiken's Security Federal Bank as a mortgage loan originator to take the helm at the then-struggling realty company, she knew she was making a potentially risky move. What if the business failed?
But it didn't; it grew. Mrs. Brooks already had a reputation as a top producer from when she sold real estate in McLean, Va. Although the Aiken County market was, and still is, more diverse in its housing needs, she already had established a number of important connections.
With the cyclical nature of the housing market on the upswing, she added to her staff of agents. She's proud of the fact that "no one has ever left."
The real estate company's listings have risen from 5 percent of the market to 34 percent since Mrs. Brooks took over. Last year, Eulalie Salley conducted about $35 million in real estate transactions.
The business has thrived once again, partly because of Mrs. Brooks' vision and knowledge, and partly because it just had to work.
"How could I be the one person who let Eulalie Salley fold?" Mrs. Brooks asked.
Reach Eric Williamson at (706) 828-3904.
Name: Deborah Brooks
Born: Aug. 10, 1948, Binghamton, N.Y.
Family: Married to Patrick, two daughters
Title: Owner and broker of Eulalie Salley & Co.
School: University of Puerto Rico, bachelor's degree in sociology
History: Co-owned a temporary employment service and was a real estate agent in Washington, D.C., before moving to Aiken.
Civic: Board member of Salvation Army, Aiken Community Playhouse, Green Boundary Club, Aiken Downtown Development Association, Aiken Board of Realtors, United Way, Advisory Board of Wachovia Bank; chairwoman of the Advisory Board of USC Aiken's Business School
She also serves with the Aiken Rotary Club and the Aiken Corporation's Housing Committee.
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