Broker, CBS, CRS, GRI
25+ Years Experience
|By Bennett Hall
Everyone has a guilty secret. Here's mine: I like Chet.
If you're in the real estate business in this town, you know exactly who I'm talking about. No last name is necessary; like
Chet, like Madonna, like Fabio, the first name alone is sufficient.
For the uninitiated, let me explain. I'm talking about Chet
Whitsitt. A life member of Crye-Leike's Multi-Million Dollar Club,
Whitsitt sold more than $10 million worth of homes last year, and he's on a pace to do even better this year: $8.3 million so far. In July alone, he closed on $2.2 million worth of residential real estate.
Chet Whitsitt is one of the most successful real estate brokers in Memphis, but that's not all - he's also one of the most uninhibited self-promoters on the planet. He's the Crazy Eddie of Memphis real estate.
Like New York's legendary home electronics huckster, Whitsitt has built his business by getting his name and face before the public as much as humanly possible.
"I guess you've got to have an ego to be in this business," says Whitsitt, a 37-year-old Memphis native.
And he's right. Check the classified section of any newspaper and you'll find a portrait gallery of grinning real estate agents doing their level best to distinguish themselves from the herd. They have to-it's a survival mechanism.
As Whitsitt puts it, "I guess there's enough business for everybody, except I just can't get enough of it."
But that doesn't stop him from trying. In fact, Chet
Whitsitt is a one-man media barrage. In addition to running classified and display ads in the Memphis Business Journal, The Commercial Appeal, The Germantown News and the Shelby Sun Times, he works his 997-name list of former,
current, and potential clients every month. Prepared with the help of the Crye-Leike marketing department, each postcard features Whitsitt's photo, his phone number and his slogan: "Check with
Let the Passersby Beware
The mailing blitz doesn't stop there. Whitsitt asks all of his clients to fill out a form with information about family birthdays. And they all get a birthday card from Chet-parents, kids, even pets.
Why this ceaseless postal assault? "I don't want them to ever forget my name when they think real estate."
The personalized memo pads are another big item for Whitsitt. "Every place I go gets my scratch pads," he says. "If I go to the bank, it goes in the tube; if I go to the drive-through at McDonald's, they get one too." And why not? You never know when that kid working the takeout window is going to make assistant manager and start shopping for a cute little home.
In his quest for universal name recognition, Whitsitt has blazed new trails in self-promotion. Some time ago he came up with a metal plaque, designed to hang from the bottom of a standard real estate "for sale" sign, bearing not only his name and number but also his inescapable face. "I was the first person in the United States to do this," he says, "and I tried like hell to patent it." Chet's metal plaque signs are done in the same reflective paint as stop signs. With all the people driving
around at night I want it to be easy for them to get my number when its dark. Just think of the local employees that get off late at night. Also potential purchasers might like the way a certain property looks at night.
Unfortunately, he just wasn't able to establish his claim. Nor does he neglect his clients after a deal is closed; they're the mother lode for referrals. Once the sale goes through, Whitsitt's clients get a set of monogrammed iced tea or highball glasses-"because," he says, "people will remember where they came from."
He's also gotten a lot of mileage out of popcorn. Working through a local company called Metro-Pop, Whitsitt has bushel bags of popcorn, emblazoned with his grinning face and the slogan
"Chet's popping up everywhere," delivered to prospects and media types.
Putting Money Where His Face Is
But the gambit really paid off at WEGR, FM-102.7, and WMC, FM-99.7, both of which had a great time poking fun at Whitsitt on their morning drive programs after receiving bags of promotional
Whitsitt estimates that his monthly bill for printing and postage-which comes out of his pocket, not Crye-Leike's - averages around $1,000. But that's alright with him.
"It takes money to make money," he says. "My sales never did increase until I started putting money into my business."
And it really is his business. Like all the real estate agents at Crye-Leike, Whitsitt is an independent contractor working under the corporate umbrella. In exchange for a cut of their commission, Crye-Leike gives its agents office space, support services, and a recognizable business identity.
As autonomous as they are, however, the agents observe a sharply defined pecking order. Whitsitt's window office in Crye-Leike's gleaming five-story high hive on Quail Hollow Road is cramped by most standards, but here it's a mark of status. Most of the agents occupy desks in semi-private alcoves or large common areas.
Space is allocated on the basis of sales performance. all it takes is one bad year, and a charter member of the Million-Dollar Club could lose his office and find himself back in the bullpen.
There's Only One Chet
"This has got to be one of the most stressful business there is,"
Whitsitt acknowledges, but you can tell he thrives on it. And there's no denying his success. To qualify as a life member of the Multi-Million Dollar Club, as he has done, an agent must sell $2 million or 30 unit a year for five out of eight years. And Whitsitt's only been selling real estate full time since 1987.
So what's his secret? The relentless self-promotional onslaught, obviously, goes a long way toward answering that question. But lots of people have mounted similar campaigns with considerably less success.
What sets Chet Whitsitt apart is his style. There's nothing flashy or sophisticated about it. In fact, some people would call it downright hokey (you should have heard the groans around the office when I announced my intention to do this profile).
Let's face it, some of this stuff is real cornball. A few examples:
The business card with a photo of Chet posed near the goal line of an empty Liberty Bowl under the slogan, "Outstanding in his field." Get it?
The loud orange newspaper inserts with themes like Wanted (front and side views of Chet's head), What's a Whitsitt? (picture of a dictionary and definition billing Chet as a "top producer" and "type A") and It's 8:00 p.m.: Do you know where your Realtor is? (If your Realtor is Chet
Whitsitt, chances are he's still at work).
The direct-mail piece showing Chet with his hands to his head, his eyes bugged out, and his mouth distended in a wild hoot under the slogan "I am crazy about real estate!"
It's the kind of shameless "Look at me!" marketing tactic that could easily backfire, and the fact is that some people are put off by it. But for me, there's a certain loopy sincerity running through this stuff that raises Chet Whitsitt from huckster to media icon.
My favorite promotion, the one whose inspired lunacy has made it a Memphis tradition, is the Halloween card. Another of Whitsitt's orange-tinted newspaper inserts, this one features his photo not once but 15 times, his likeness transformed with marking pen into various goony caricatures. It's a costume contest, and the readers are asked to call in their votes for such
Whitsitt alter egos as Chet Presley,
Chetopatra, DollyWhitsitt, Fu Man Chet, and Gorbachet.
So just how far will this real estate machine go to make a sale?Whitsitt denies any involvement, but someone recently placed a "for sale" sign in front of Crye-Leike headquarters-with a
Chet's-head hanger on it.
Just think of the commission...