Realtor Jon Guenther sits down at a table outside the Starbucks on Hixson and produces three business cards, all of which are designed to promote his fledgling real estate venture.
On one, Guenther, 72, provides just the facts, like he’s being grilled by Sgt. Joe Friday on “Dragnet.” A quick glance reveals his phone number, email address and affiliation with RE/MAX Real Estate Center in Fort Oglethorpe.
On another, Guenther has added a slogan: “With you all the way.” As he’s a new agent who’s not yet listed a property, the motto is more of an aspiration than a tried-and-true tenet.
The third has the potential to be a conversation starter. Located below Guenther’s business information is the phrase, “Go White Sox.” If anyone wonders if he’s expressing his fandom of a local school’s athletic teams, a glance at the Chicago White Sox baseball hat on his crown would set them straight.
“They’re this year’s champion,” he says with a convincing amount of conviction. “They haven’t won the World Series since 2005, but they have a young team, so we’re expecting good things.”
As a Windy City baseball fan, Guenther loves the White Sox. He also appreciates a good Chicago hot dog and a steaming Chicago pizza. But he didn’t like the weather, so he and his wife moved to Tennessee last year.
“Chicago truly is the Windy City. The wind will whip off Lake Michigan, slice down the Chicago River, hit what used to be the IBM building and blast downward,” Guenther, a former IT person who worked in downtown Chicago for decades, says. “In the winter, they placed ropes through the doors of the building, and you’d have to hold on to one to avoid slipping on the snow and ice and get inside.”
As Guenther is telling this story, a less stout Chattanooga breeze blows one of his business cards off the table. “That’s OK,” he says. “I have more.”
Does he ever. But Guenther needs them because he hands them out like candy.
“I went to the [Tri-State Home Show], introduced myself and handed out business cards,” he says. “I also walk up and down Hixson Pike leaving my card at all the businesses. If someone is standing next to me as I’m giving the clerk a card, they get one, too.”
Basically, Guenther adds, if someone looks at him, they get a card.
Guenther says his grassroots – and decidedly old school – marketing efforts are challenging for him because he’s an introvert.
“If I go to a party where I don’t know anyone, when I leave, I still won’t know anyone,” he says, sounding like he’s only half-joking.
Regardless, Guenther says he’s better at making connections with people than he was in the early days of running his own IT business in Chicago.
“When I first started programming, I didn’t have to network. IBM would sell its hardware to someone and then connect us,” he recalls. “As the industry changed, I realized my business partner was more introverted than me, so I forced myself to go meet people and talk with them.”
Even though Guenther is now more comfortable with networking, he’s still relieved at how people in the Chattanooga area have responded to his promotional efforts.
“No one has told me to go to hell,” he says. “They’ve all thanked me and taken a card. I don’t know what they do with it when I walk away, but everyone has been friendly.”
Guenther is doing more than handing out business cards as he lays the foundation of what he hopes will be a brisk business in home sales. In addition to offering to fill in for agents at their open houses, he’s claiming as much floor time at the office as possible and is building a website.
The latter will feature a different slogan than his business card – the alliterative “Go with Guenther.” Clients who connect with him through his website will still get the full treatment his card promises, he adds.
At this point, Guenther is simply hoping he gets the opportunity to make good on his word. After he earned his license a few months ago, he says fellow agents told him landing his first client would take time.
He then realized it would take a lot of time, he says. But he’s not sweating yet.
“I don’t know anyone in this area, so I’m starting from scratch. Once I get my name out there, things will pick up.”
The market also needs more houses to meet the high demand – a cold, hard fact Guenther confesses to not knowing when he decided to become a Realtor.
“I didn’t know better. I was looking for a part-time job, and a friend suggested real estate,” he says. “But I’ve done my homework since then, and there’s a lot of land in Hixson. That’s going to translate into a lot of houses.”
Guenther also did his homework before moving to Tennessee. As he reached the end of a lifelong career in IT and his patience with Chicago’s brutal winters, he began to cast his gaze elsewhere.
He and his wife moved west first. Unfortunately, they landed there in the midst of a flurry of wildfires and decided they’d chosen poorly. The couple then looked east and made several visits to cities in Tennessee.
As Guenther rode a bike along Chattanooga’s Riverwalk, he was sold on the city.
A former triathlon competitor, Guenther says Chattanooga and its outdoor amenities are a good fit for him – as is the fitness center where he works out every morning.
The surrounding mountains are especially captivating to him. He says he might build a cabin on one someday to escape the “hustle and bustle” of Chattanooga and host get-togethers with his three adult children.
If Guenther builds his mountain cabin, it will be close enough to the city to buy groceries, work out and spend time with friends, he says.
And, of course, to hand out business cards.