As seen in the Orlando Sentinel on Sunday, November 1, 2015
Contrary to popular views about the critical role of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in business, Diana Gallup dedicates herself to building customer loyalty with flour, sugar and cinnamon.
Leading up to every holiday season since 1992, the real-estate agent’s wife has baked thousands of cinnamon rolls that her husband delivers to every person who has ever purchased a house from him. The homemade touch seems to resonate with even his millennial customers.
“With all the emphasis on Facebook, it is kind of the cheap alternative. Anybody can post something on Facebook,” said Oviedo homeowner Alex Nebel, 27. The Gallups of Longwood started delivering rolls to Nebel’s parents after a house sale 15 years ago. Two years ago, Nebel hired “the cinnamon-roll guy” to help him purchase his first home.
“You’ve got information overload going on, and if you’re getting bombarded in five different directions, what stands out is the hardworking nice guy who will come to your house and deliver cinnamon rolls that his wife made,” Nebel said.
The Gallups call Nebel and their other second-generation roll recipients “cinnamon roll babies.”
Other agents in the Orlando area have also worked to distinguish themselves at a time of mounting competition from a growing number of agents. Membership in Orlando Regional Realtors Association has climbed more than 30 percent in the past five years to reach 11,680.
Winter Park agent Brenda Cole said she makes jewelry and soap as gifts for clients. Cole has a staff member who specializes in social media, but the worker does double time by putting tags on the homemade soap bars.
“I just don’t think you can ever lose the personal touch,” she said. “I think there’s value in the face-to-face. People have to interact when it comes to real estate.”
And for more than seven years, to celebrate Independence Day, Coldwell Banker agents Alison and Frank Mosley have planted thousands of small American flags in virtually every front yard of neighborhoods they see as key to their success.
“We get more referrals from the flags than from Facebook,” Alison Mosley said. “When you do something that stands out these days, it impacts 10 times more than on social media.
“It’s extremely competitive now and hard to stand out and then stand out in a way you feel good about.”
Jessica Lautz, director of research for the National Association of Realtors, said social media have grown as a way to connect with clients, and there is no evidence yet that agents are seeing diminishing returns on their social-media investment — even as competition mounts for customers’ attention.
Beyond social media, the association has an array of professional-development and training opportunities, a spokesman said.
“We are seeing our members expand on social media and doing that to reach out to clients and build communities,” she said.
Few, though, have gone to the lengths of the Gallups to build their nondigital brand.
“The loyalty that we experience is really pretty remarkable,” said David Gallup of RE/MAX 200 Realty, wearing khakis and a pink dress shirt with a button-down collar. He credited the “cinnamon-roll effect” with helping boost his referral rates from past clients suggesting him to friends and family; 45 percent of his business is referrals. And more than half his business comes from repeat clients.
The National Association of Realtors surveyed members and found that a median of 20 percent of their business came from repeat customers, and about the same share came from referrals. New agents got little repeat business. But veteran agents with 16 or more years of experience credited repeat customers for 40 percent of their business.
Among other things, the group advises members to join “tweet chats” and become active in LinkedIn Groups as a way to become known in specific circles and possibly get leads on prospective buyers and sellers.
Sitting at his wooden kitchen table with a plate of cinnamon-roll crumbs in front of him, Gallup said he doesn’t focus as much on social media as he does organizing an annual dinner for former customers and delivering rolls at home closings and during the holidays.
After buying ingredients, mixing them, rolling dough, baking and glazing, Diana Gallup then packages her wares on plates wrapped in clear cellophane tied with a holiday ribbon. Initially, she started the process near Thanksgiving but quickly found it left her no time to prepare for the holidays. Now she starts in September, with plans to be finished by her birthday in mid-November.
David Gallup delivers the confections, always the day they are baked. In one night, he might put 100 miles on his car and drive to more than a dozen houses in such geographically disparate places as Ocoee and Celebration. He started out with around 400 rolls in 1992 and now delivers about 750 rolls.
“It is what keeps me going,” he said, glancing at his wife. “It keeps us both going.”
By the numbers
Some of the cinnamon-roll ingredients used by Diana Gallup during the past 24 years:
- 1,800: Pounds of flour
- 90: Gallons of milk
- 120 dozen: Eggs
- 1,800: Pounds of powdered sugar
- 720: Pounds of sugar
- 160: Pounds of brown sugar
- 45: Cups of cinnamon
- 90: Pounds of pecans