It's time for another edition of our Innovation Spotlight! This week, we're thrilled to talk with Steve Rozenberg, the Co-Founder of Empire Industries Property Management.
Steve talks with Blais and Heather about his experience with RentBridge and automating the rent collection for his company. Steve and his team found that automating and systemizing their rent collection process increased efficiency, revenue, and morale for the company. Plus, when they collect and deliver rent on time, their owners are much happier, too!
Watch or Read More from Blais, Heather, and Steve!
Blais: For our innovation spotlight today, we have Steve Rozenberg from Empire. We have been working with Steve and his team since about April of 2019. They came to us, and they wanted to automate their business. We started with their biggest pain point, which was their late rent collections.
Steve, what have you seen with the rent collection? Where are we with that, and how is your team responding?
Steve: Yeah, so it definitely was the biggest pain point, and it was the biggest employee time suck. It was one of those things that you know the first of the month, our staff members, our virtual assistants, and even onsite staff—all they were doing was making phone calls, trying to get the money that was owed to us. We all know that's how our business operates.
Once we started implementing your system with our ideas and your ideas, it was great because we could collaborate. It wasn’t us buying into a box on how you guys wanted it. It was curtailed to how we wanted it to work. It has been fantastic.
Our collections are up. We are definitely collecting more revenue with less staff time. I think we have cut two staff members' hours needed for that role. We have been able to re-dispatch them to do other proactive work, like giving a call to owners because everything is so automated.
It's just the tip of the iceberg of the things that you guys were able to implement for us—automated emails, automated text messages, automated phone calls. Again, all of these things take minutes, but when you do them over hundreds and hundreds of properties—that turns hours into days. We know it's working because our collections are up higher than they have ever been. The stress level of the teams are down because they are not doing things that we know they could be automated, but we didn't know how to do them before.
Blais: What he is keying off of here is everyone is doing collections. You make five to six phone calls, and then that first phone call calls you back. You had to stop your whole day to go talk to tenant number one. And then you go, "Where was I with tenant number seven? Was I in the middle of typing that email? Was I in the middle of putting together a ledger?" It falls apart quickly.
The system that is put into place allows you guys to continue moving through that pipeline and nothing gets dropped. It doesn't matter if it was tenant number one or tenant number 130. Everything is moving along, and it's automated. We are pulling it from your software, plugging in, and the email is out, the text message is out, the phone call is out, so your staff is focusing on contacting the owner with updates about collecting rent.
That is the other side of the business. Your owner is calling you, "Why am I not getting paid? What is going on?" If you are stuck on the phone trying to chase rent money, now your person who has the home that you are managing is getting upset that there is no money coming to them.
Steve: What I have learned is for every five-minute phone call, there are twenty-three minutes of interruption. All that takes time, and it is valuable time because you are reactionary and you are reacting to a call, not proactive to what you are doing. Just like you said, we do all these things behind the scenes. All the owner knows is, "These people are not collecting my rent. They're no good."
The reality is that is all we are trying to do. So, to be able to have that automation, that is where things are going, and that's where the future is going. We are seeing that just from the first pipeline. And obviously, we are all into having all of our operations this way.
Again, to me, it's all about being a proactive company—not just reactionary—for when an owner calls and says, “Where is my money?” We are already reaching out to them know this is what is going on. This is what we are doing, and this is how we are handling it.
On top of that, we have gotten more revenue brought in because your automation is huge. That is a big problem. If you do not collect the rent from the tenants and get that to the owners, you’re not going to have the owners very long. You’re going to lose business. That goes into the whole acquisition per client and churn rate. You guys are able to take maybe the industry's churn rates, maybe the companies' churn rates, and bring them down to things that are livable, as opposed to them skyrocketing because you don't have enough staff.
Heather: That is one of the things we have found to be the most valuable as a whole. Not only are you able to be proactive like you have mentioned, but you are able to show the value. So, if your owners are coming back to you asking, "What are you doing to collect their rent? It's the 10th, and I can’t pay the mortgage." You are able to show them all the phone calls, emails, and text messages. We can see if the tenants are opening them. We can see whether or not they are responding. You can show the owners—tangibly—what you have been doing the entire time.
Steve: Not only that, but this is an emotional time for an owner. When an owner is not getting rent, they are emotional. Doesn't mean they are illogical, but they are emotional and rightfully so because they have bills due. The best part about your system is we can show them this is what we did, this what we are doing, and these are the next steps in the process.
If you can show that to someone, you are taking the emotions out of it, and you are putting logical steps in place that they are going to understand. They are going to respect that as opposed to, "I can call them again if you want me to."
They just want to make sure you have a plan. They have hired you because you said you have a plan, and you are doing what you said you were going to do. We have a systemized plan—because of you guys [RentBridge]—to be able to show an investor and even show tenants; these are the next steps that are going to happen.
Heather: Collections are no fun for anyone—the tenants, the staff, the owners. Tell me about your team's response about how this is working for them and their overall mentality.
Steve: Well, you know, any team when you introduce automation their first reaction is, “Am I going to lose my job? Am I going to be replaced by a computer?” The reality is no, no; they're not.
We’re trying to take away low-level, low-impact tasks that they don't need to do. We want them to be more proactive, and we want them reaching out and doing proactive, positive things. We get so used to fighting fires. Once you tell them we’re going to be able to hang out for a little while, and this a fun job, we want it to be a fun job, and we want it to be relaxing—it's a different mindset.
You have to retrain the team to understand that all of these automated things that are happening are not to replace your job, it's to enhance your job so you can do your role even better.
Once we implemented the things you guys [RentBridge] do, they realized that they do have time, that they could start to breathe a little bit, and they could give that extra care to a tenant when they call with a problem. So, now they are starting to look at and understand that technology is a tool, not a replacement.
One thing we’ve seen is that there are forty thousand things going on. A lot of teams, when they come into this, they get kind of scared that I am going to lose my job. It's not that we are trying to work someone out of a job. There are so many things happening; property management is a juggling act.
The three of us have all been property managers. You know off the top of your head the five to ten things that you are going to do every day. When you ask your staff, "What did you do today?" and they respond with "I was just busy." But, they can't really tell you exactly what they did because they can only handle a few items.
We are able to put a system into place for anyone, and every task is there. It's not getting dropped. It's not getting swept under the rug. We see the teams as we get into this realize that this is just going to help them continue steamrolling this project. It's all there built into the system and keeps you moving forward.
Putting the "Pro" into Proactive Property Management
Steve: There are two things that you guys do that I think people need to realize. Number one, you are turning things into a more proactive industry. This is a hugely reactive industry. The only time our phone rings is when someone is pissed or when someone is going to fire us. That’s it. No one ever calls us to tell us we’re doing a good job. It's always when they have a problem, and we are the receptor of that problem. Which means by default, we react. So, what you guys are doing is allowing people to be proactive, not reactive in their job.
But also more importantly, what we are seeing too is we're able to track and see who’s really working, and who is not working. We’re able to see, "Do we have an employee problem? Or do we have a system problem?" With your [RentBridge] system, we are able to look and see if we have someone who is not doing what they should be doing. We have great team members, but you start to realize who are top performers and who could use some more coaching. Or are they just in the wrong seat, or what is their challenge? Maybe they are not right for your company.
[In] this industry, everyone likes all the apps. They like all the add-ins, like Property Meld and Citizen Home Solutions, Filter EZ, Propertyware, and all the things those guys do. But they don't know how to tie them all together and automate it. That is what we love about you guys [RentBridge]. When we were talking to you guys, you were able to show us how you could take all of these things and make them talk to each other and automate them.
All of a sudden, you’re just busy running around, but you’re really not doing anything, and your customer service level is going down because you have all these tools, but you are not putting them in the right order to correctly deliver the level of service you want to give—because it's not automated. The fact that you guys can streamline them all in a line and automate them and systematize them—it's going to help a lot of people.
Heather: And that’s something, as an industry, we have always struggled with: utilization rates. That’s exactly what you are describing. Who’s doing what? Who’s at capacity? Who’s under capacity? Who is over capacity?
We always looked at it in the perspective of door count to headcount ratios, and at the end of the day, how do you know what that is actually going to be? How do actually know what that ratio should be or currently is? At the "currently is" point, are you calculating VA’s or are you not calculating VA’s? Are they adding to the pool or not?
Utilization rate has been next to impossible to calculate until now. Looking at the system the way we built it and the way we suggest people use it, you’re able to finally see the difference between busy and productive. Now you can know how many hours in a day they are busy and they are productive. You can now be able to predict for your budgetary reasons when that next hire needs to take place, not just count on your staff to tell you, “Hey, I really think we need help.” What does that mean?
Steve: We’re able to go from a very high level, fifty-percentile of the payroll of revenue, and we were able to take that down to the mid-thirty-percentile rate because of virtual assistants. Now we think we can get that number even lower because we can grow even more without having to add staff—and still provide a better level of customer service because it's automated—than we've ever been able to before.
We tell our team that we are not wanting to cut their jobs. We are wanting to grow without having to add more staff. We don't want to have to staff up every time. We all know that in this industry, it's the staff cost that kills you.
Not only that, but what I have learned every time there is human interaction, and something has to be handed over to another person, that is when mistakes happen. With this, once we know a tenant is delinquent and is going into collections, it's all automated. We don't have to worry about "I forgot to send a notice to vacate," or "I was busy yesterday, and I did not send those emails out."
The fact that you guys [Ren Bridge] are doing this is great. You are bringing something to an industry that will really level-up the playing field of all the operators to give that level of service, in my opinion.
Blais: And that is our goal. Our goal is to deliver a product that allows any size property manger to grow without having to staff up. Once you start adding staff, it gets complicated. I need to bring in 300 doors to cover my payroll. But, I really need to add five more staff members, so that means 350 doors. Every time you add doors, the more headaches you get.
Steve: The problem is you’re only making money when your property managers are at X-number of doors. Well, when they are at the x-number of doors, there is a profit point there. For most standard companies, it's about 120 to 170 doors. Well, that is the point that a property manager is the most maxed, so they are the most stressed. So, it is an inverse growth pattern.
As a property manager, you are not making money until your number one rock star employee is maxed to the limit and they are redlined. And what happens then? They say they are out of there, "I am gone; I cannot take this anymore." And they take all the secrets of the properties they were working with them because you know what is going on.
And then what do you do? You react. "Let me just hire someone." What happens is you are now in a vicious cycle of being scared all of the time. "Man, I just have to keep the employee."
What is nice is with this all being in HubSpot, it's all tracked. They can leave, but we still have all the data. We know exactly what happened with that client or that tenant or that contractor, so we don't have to comb through emails to see what did this person say or what happened.
Blais: You nailed that. This system eliminates that. If you have an employee that needs to be let go or even if they are sick for a couple of days, all of the data is there. It's living, it's live, and if it's in an automated process, then you really don't have to worry about it.
Steve: I’ve always been told "If that person gets hit by a bus tomorrow, can your company keep going?" If the answer is "no," there is a fault somewhere that you need to fix. If you had everything tracked and all the data and the systems are in place, and someone leaves, you can tell them it sucks, but I hope you have a good career wherever you go.
Heather: The system as a whole has a lot of different components that you can tackle in whatever order you choose, depending on your pain point. We just finished your rent collections. What are you looking forward to working on next?
Steve: Well, I know we are looking at a lot of different things with you guys. We are like kids in the candy store. We want everything, and we want it now.
I will say anyone looking into it, and I think you guys will agree that our success is that we dedicated a person to this. It is not an afterthought; it is a priority. We have meetings on it. What do we want? What does the team want? And we also talk to you guys and ask which one ties in easiest. We may say we want the marketing piece, but you guys will say that doesn't really tie in.
It goes from collection to maybe move-out because when you evict someone, you have to move them out. Then the next step is the application and leasing process. So, the flow of what you guys do is great, and we are excited about all of the options, to be honest. It really is a matter of what makes the most sense, and that is where we rely on you guys to tell us that this is the next flow that makes sense.
Heather: We do recommend following the life cycle of a property. We started with collections with you guys because that was a pain point. Some of our clients come in, and they want to start with renewals because they have a high level of leases on a month-to-month, and they want to get out of that. We’re able to put you in a position to lead much less stressful lives with a much more profitable business.
Steve: I agree. If anyone wants to learn more and want to reach out to us, we would be happy to give them our experience and what we've seen.
Look, if you want to scale your business to the next level without stressing your team, without maxing everyone out, without having people jump ship, you have to find out ways to systematize and automate your company.
We had the right idea; we just had the wrong formula. When you guys came in, you helped us fix that formula and put the right pieces of the puzzle together, which is helping us give better service.
Heather: We hear that a lot, just throwing bodies at a problem. Thank you, Steve, so much for your time today. We can’t thank you enough. This has been a huge help for us. Hearing from the mouth of a client that is experiencing it on their end is a big difference.
If you have any questions about how RentBridge can help automate your rent collection and other systems, let's chat! Contact us for a free consultation on how we can make workflow automation a reality for your business.