Vaughan Rising Blog: Expanding a Real Estate Brand During a Pandemic
You probably know that Vaughan is part of the Greater Toronto Area. You might not know that as of 2020, Toronto is the fastest growing city and metropolitan area in all the US and Canada.
We have a hot real estate market but when the COVID lockdown orders were issued in March, the market ground to a halt. Sellers pulled their listings, and buyers adopted a wait-and-see policy.
Finance Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) is Vaughan’s second largest industry, with real estate and leasing making up the bulk of it. How did our brokerages respond?
To get a perspective, the City of Vaughan talked to Matthew Ablakan, the Founder and Owner of Millennial’s Choice Group of Companies. In the last four years, Matthew quickly grew the Millennial’s Choice brand into a group of companies offering real estate, mortgages, life insurance, and financial literacy education.
The team was on an upward track and started 2020 with a clear game plan for developing the business. In mid-March, that plan went out the window and a new one was hatched.
Matthew had decided, “we’re not shutting down the business, we just have to now adapt to the changing environment.”
Six ways Millennial’s Choice kept growing during the pandemic
Here is what Matthew and his team did to keep Millennial’s Choice growing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Start with the clients that need you the most
Millennial’s Choice focused first and foremost on the clients that needed their immediate time and attention.
“It could have been speaking to a builder that a client purchased from and asking them to extend their deposits,” Matthew shares. “It could have been in the form of talking to the lenders that we work with and extending payments that are due or [arranging] mortgage deferrals… There were so many things. I looked at it from the point of view that I don’t control the economy or a pandemic, but I certainly can control the actions we take.”
2. Identify new needs as they emerge in the market – and provide
Once the fires were brought down to a slow burn, the team saw a new need emerging. The investment and real estate landscape was shifting beneath everyone’s feet and the pace of change was hard to keep up with. Millennial’s Choice stepped up with free, live webinars featuring lenders, developers, building institutions, and even the Mayor of Vaughan.
The webinars filled a gap but Matthew, a trained teacher, saw an even deeper problem they could help with: “One of the biggest things that was quite interesting to see is how many more people are now interested in their financial future and their financial security, and rightfully so. So many people have been laid off, are still laid off or still unemployed and people are wondering, especially with the stock market crash, were they making the right investments, were their investments solid enough.”
Matthew and his team decided to launch an online school called the MC Academy, using an online learning platform.
“Basically, the MC Academy houses a bunch of different topics that we’ve put into a webinar fashion. We’re talking about things like your RRSPs – how can you invest? What is pre-construction real estate? How to qualify for a mortgage in 2020 and beyond? We’re creating all kinds of content now and the cool thing is we actually do hire a professional videographer and editor,” Matthew explains.
“The platform itself is actually an e-learning platform that colleges use. The idea here is that we don’t want to just bring you something that you can Google or YouTube and find out yourself. This is actually stuff that is not available anywhere else.”
He notes, “We don’t expect those people that enroll in the online courses to then become our clients. There is actually no drip marketing campaign for that. The idea is just education. We still need to charge something, but they’re starting from $49.99. Nobody can say that a company with these types of licences and backgrounds are providing this sort of education for that kind of price. So, we’re really excited about that. We want everybody to be enrolled in these kinds of things and just learn – learn as much as you can.”
3. Experiment with bold new offerings
But the content development didn’t stop at education. During the pandemic, Millennial’s Choice launched a new YouTube channel. It will be anchored by a new communication product that will lay the company and the industry bare.
“Most of it is going to be our Vlog. That’s what I’m really excited about,” says Matthew. “That Vlog is going to give you a real insider look, like raw, authentic (obviously we’ve cut out some parts for privacy reasons), but you see everything – you see how we talk to people, how we meet with people, what we’re doing on a day to day basis.”
In contrast to the consistently positive things posted on social media, Matthew takes a different approach with the vlog. “I think when you’re talking about building a business that you need to show people some of the failures, some of the defeats, and some of the hard things you go through. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone to do that and show it to everybody. It’s real, it’s raw and it’s coming.”
4. Make the most of the silver linings
Millennial’s Choice took advantage of downtime at the beginning of the lockdown for strategic planning and taking on the YouTube channel, Vlog, and MC Academy.
Matthew confides, “You know, one of the honest reasons is that we had more time on our hands during COVID. You know, things slowed down for a bit. It’s kind of like the world stopped. And I was spending a lot of time up north [working] at my fiancee’s family’s cottage. And it was nice – the air was fresher up there… I had more time on my hands to do some of those things that were kind of put on the back burner.”
Meanwhile, Millennial’s Choice made another strategic move. While many companies have been anticipating a permanent shift to remote work and letting go of their office space, Millennial’s Choice saw an opportunity to double down on a collaborative work environment where staff and clients can come together.
Matthew tells the story, “We actually made an investment in a new office space sometime towards the end of April, beginning of May. This new office is a bigger space with basically zero office space, like for anybody to come in and get work done. I had looked at concepts from Europe, when I was in Europe last year. I had visited real estate offices and different kinds of businesses that were already embracing this open concept feel and people love it. So, I already had this idea and then when COVID happened, I actually stumbled across a very good opportunity and it worked out for us. So long term I think it was a really good decision.”
5. Create and follow a well-informed game plan
Matthew says the new products they developed have a well-informed plan behind them.
“If you see how we do things at Millennial’s Choice, we don’t just want to do something for the sake of doing it and we launch it and then there’s no consistency or there’s no game plan going forward. So, with all these initiatives, we have a game plan for all of them,” Matthew explains.
“For the education piece, we want to be able to offer licensing courses for different areas and categories like real estate or mortgages and insurance. On the YouTube side of things, we have a plan to grow that and that plan is literally tied in together with our education piece and entrepreneurship.”
Regarding the vlog, he says, “I want to be able to share what I know and lessons and experiences that I’ve learned, and the problem was I didn’t have time to dedicate to that. There were some other important aspects of our business that I have to always be on, and these things take time and they do take money and because of COVID slowing things down in a sense, I had more time to do that.”
6. Don’t be afraid to swim upstream
Millennial’s Choice was doing things differently before the pandemic and they’ve kept that philosophy during it.
Matthew offers this advice: “The natural reaction in situations like this is to contract, stop spending money on advertising, lay off people, whatever, just contract, save, save, save. We take the other approach and we recommend that to other brokerages: expand.
“While everybody is contracting, spend a little bit more money advertising online or wherever. Or come up with a new idea, like the online stuff, just become more valuable, capture some more market share. You could come out ahead if you don’t contract.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty, but you know where you can expand. You know where you can grow and where you can change … just work towards that.”
Millennial’s Choice will keep rising, as they pivot, innovate, and go above and beyond what it takes to get to the other side.
The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.
The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business. The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.