Meet a husband-and-wife team who have found business success by riding out the bust and boom of the area’s real estate market.
For Rick and Jean Davis, owners of Stateline Rental Properties in Rockford, the road to success has been a bumpy one. Yet they’ve navigated obstacles and forged a unique trail. The couple went from being “broke” to owning and managing a multi-million dollar company, in less than eight years.
Make no mistake: Rick wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He’s worked hard for his success.
“My parents had this thing,” he says. “If you used the word ‘can’t,’ you were grounded.” This prepared him well for his future role as a businessman.
The Davises grew up in Streator, Ill., and were high school sweethearts before they married and moved to Rockford. They didn’t start out in the property management and real estate business. Rick worked in route sales and Jean worked for a local hospital, but with three children to rear, expenses were quickly outpacing income. It was time for a change.
“Our daughters were playing club volleyball and our son was an avid golfer,” Rick says. “We started to think, ‘how can we fund all of this?’ So I started out flipping houses.”
He attended Midwest REA club meetings and was a fast learner, thanks in part to good mentors.
“Business was doing great, until the market tanked,” he says. Recalling a quote he’d once heard, Davis acted on his belief that “being ‘broke’ means a person has no money, but being ‘poor’ is just a state of mind.”
He thought about ways to make money without money.
“I decided I had to become a landlord,” he says. “I’d always wanted to own my own business.”
By doing research, he learned that he could work with investors to fix up and manage properties, then split the proceeds with them.
“An experienced gentlemen took me under his wing and I eventually became part owner of the [Midwest REA] club,” he says. “Deals started coming to me. We were buying so many properties that I decided to become a real estate agent, too.”
He established Stateline Rental Properties while working for the RE/MAX real estate company. He recalls advice he received at the beginning of his property management endeavors. A colleague told him, “If you want to do property management, go bang your head up against a pole three times. If you’re still interested, then I will help you.”
The Davises committed themselves to the challenge, but the first few years were rough, given the hole they’d fallen into when the economy tanked.
“I told Jean, ‘if we just hang on, property management will get us out of this hole,’” Rick says.
The Davises began to make money and build up their credit. They enjoyed the freedom that came with owning their own company. As the years passed, their business doubled, then tripled.
“Being honest, doing all things legally and carefully educating ourselves about what we were trying to accomplish are among the keys to success,” Rick says. It’s also essential to surround yourself with the right people.
After working for several years with RE/MAX, Rick took his company with him to Century 21, where he stayed until September 2012, when Stateline Rental Properties became independent. Stateline Realty – a new division of the company – opened in November 2013.
Jean says one of the key factors in the company’s success is that her husband is a great salesman who understands how to diversify according to the type of economy we’re in.
“His ability to be diverse in troubling times has made the company grow,” she says.
What are her hopes for the future of the business?
“I’d like us to get better at what we do now,” she says, noting that she and Rick work very well together and balance each other’s strengths. “I want us to be able to meet the needs of everyone and continue finding good relationships and good match-ups – knowing and meeting the needs of others and putting that first.”
It’s not a perfect world, and people shouldn’t expect things to be perfect, when it comes to owning a business, she adds.
“Mistakes happen. The important thing is to make sure they don’t happen again.”
In addition to launching Stateline Realty, Stateline Rental Properties has acquired a division of 5Points Property Management, one of its top competitors.
Just as mentors helped Davis to learn his business, he’s generous in his advice to others. First, he says, be acutely aware that starting a new business is hard work. Don’t expect to have much free time or take many vacations.
Next, resist the impulse to micromanage everything.
“If you want to grow, you have to let go. You can’t micromanage everything yourself,” he says. “You have to have other people help you get to the top. Most people spend too much time working in their business, rather than on their business.”
It’s also important to have great teachers and mentors, no matter what business you’re in. Surround yourself with the very best talent in your field of interest.
“You are who you hang out with,” he emphasizes. When you’ve identified a person you admire, “Take that person out to lunch. People let you know everything you want to know. When I need professional advice, I know I will have the best.”
Be the first person in the office and the last person to go home. Understand all aspects of your company and surround yourself with very good employees. Rick handpicks every person who works for him and couldn’t be happier with his choices. “I’ve been very blessed with the people I’ve hired,” he says.
Rick also encourages would-be entrepreneurs to take risks and to be well-rounded in their experiences.
“I’ve always had more than one job, my whole life,” he says. “Have a backup plan.”
It’s also important to have adequate money in a savings account. People thinking about leaving old jobs behind to start new businesses should have cash reserves equal to at least one year of wages – preferably two years.
But perhaps the most important advice of all is to pursue what you love to do.
“Every day is different, no two days are the same,” Rick says, when he reflects on what he most enjoys about being his own boss and managing his own business. “Time flies when you enjoy what you do. Everyone can work a job they hate, to make money. But they never will be successful.”