While speaking with the members of the Greater Chattanooga Association of Realtors last month, Nobu Hata, the National Association of Realtors’ director of digital engagement, lamented the lack of innovative marketing among real estate agents. Everyone is marketing themselves the same way, Hata said, and it’s not working. He could have pointed to Keller Williams Commercial Realtor Heather Edmondson as an example of someone utilizing a unique and effective marketing strategy.
Edmondson is a long-time volunteer with the Chamber of Commerce. Her work for the organization currently includes serving as president-elect of the Hixson Council, which gives her a spot on the board of the Chattanooga Area Chamber. She’s also a Chamber ambassador, a boots-on-the-ground worker who seeks new members, encourages renewals, and checks on local businesses to see what they need.
Although Edmondson doesn’t openly market her real estate business through her volunteer work, she is promoting herself by virtue of being active in the area business community. “My involvement with the Chamber is a big part of my career. Through my work as an ambassador, I make connections,” she says. “Whether I’m out shaking hands, or at a council or board meeting, I’m in front of people.”
Edmondson says her priority as a volunteer is promoting the Chamber. Any business that comes out of that is a bonus. “It’s not about making the connections that will lead to a real estate deal, it’s about helping people with their businesses,” she says.
Still, being a part of the Chamber does open doors Edmondson might otherwise have a hard time cracking. “Many of the manufacturing companies I work with through the Chamber aren’t the kind a Realtor can simply walk into,” she says. “Working with the Chamber gets me past the guard shack. Then, if the company ever needs a Realtor, they already have a relationship with me.”
Edmondson’s ties to the Chamber are not just potentially beneficial to her; they can also help her real estate clients. “Let’s say a new staffing company is moving to town,” she says. “Through my work with the Chamber, I’ve gotten to know dozens of businesses, some of which might offer services the staffing company might need. Working with the Chamber allows me to be a better resource for my clients.”
It all boils down to connecting with people through networking opportunities she creates, Edmondson says. “I sell property, but I’m in a people business. I’m connecting people to each other.”
Edmondson encourages every business to at least consider joining the Chamber and experience the benefits first hand. “You’ll get out of it what you put into it,” she says.
Making connections through the Chamber has certainly paid off for Edmondson. Although she’s only in her second year as a Realtor, she’s working with several national tenants and is doing a lot of buyer and tenant representation. As a result, she’s completed several lease deals.
“People are learning the benefits of tenant representation,” she says. “Let’s say you don’t want your competitor to know you’re opening a second location. I can call a potential landlord on behalf of your company. It also helps to have someone pore through a lease contract to make sure nothing is missing. You can leave money on the table if you don’t know what to look for.”
Sitting in the Chattanooga Chamber’s community room following her first meeting as a board member, Edmondson looks and sounds the part of a commercial Realtor. She’s dressed in an impeccably pressed (or otherwise wrinkle-free) grey business suit, and is wearing a deep blue blouse that offsets the neutral color of her jacket and skirt and makes her blonde hair, which cascades in thick waves over her shoulders, pop. Her expression is typically friendly and relaxed, although it takes on a more business-like appearance as she talks shop. Her smile never fully disappears, though, and tends to return to full bloom rather quickly.
Yet Edmondson wasn’t always going to be a Realtor. The interest was there at a young age but took a back seat to her desire to become a physical therapist.
“When I was in high school, I job shadowed a physical therapist and a Realtor,” she says. “The Realtor said to always return phone calls, even when there’s one you might not want to make. She said it would take me far in sales, and she was right. It’s just a good way of doing business.”
Edmondson decided to pursue physical therapy, though, and left her childhood home of Sevier County, Tenn., to attend classes at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. By her senior year, she found it difficult to remain competitive while also working full-time, and turned her minor in Sociology into her major so she could graduate sooner and begin a career. “I was ready to make money,” she says.
Edmondson went to work for Executone, a telecommunications company that sold its products to other businesses. She then accepted a position doing similar work for Southeastern Communications. Through her work for these two companies and a stretch with Doctors Express, she learned she liked doing business to business sales.
Upon reaching this realization, Edmondson struck out on her own and became a full-time commercial Realtor. She quickly found that her experiences working with clients in a variety of industries ranging from medical, to industrial, to retail would serve her well as she built the foundation of her business.
The construction phase of her career is going well, with each new deal teaching her something new. Seasoned commercial agents with whom she’s spoken have told her this is par for the course. “Someone might be hesitant to work with me because I’m new,” she says. “But people who have been in the industry for 15 years laugh when I tell them that because every deal is different, and they’re still learning new things.”
During her spare time, Edmondson enjoys spending time with her husband and their four-month old son in their Hixson, Tenn., home. The three of them like doing “the usual,” she says, shrugging the blonde curls resting on her shoulders. “We’re not rock climbers. We enjoy being with family and friends.”
Edmondson also loves her job and volunteer work. “I like connecting people to each other, and I like matching a property with the right person or business” she says. “It’s rewarding.”
Given Edmondson’s innovative approach to marketing, which utilizes her mutually beneficial relationship with the Chamber, and her enthusiasm for her work, she can likely look forward to many more years of property matchmaking.
Nobu Hata would be proud.