Advisory Series 1-On-1 With Kim Elliott

Lori Halley 16 July 2014 0 comments

About our “1-On-1” Interview Series

This is the first in what will become a regular feature on the Wild Apricot Blog. The Advisory Series 1-On-1 posts will chronicle one member from Wild Apricot’s Small Membership Advisory Community in detail. Through our group sessions, we’ve met some incredible, passionate and dedicated individuals and have come to realize that our readers can gain a lot from these inspiring community leaders. The 1-on-1 posts will focus on sharing key insights, best practices, mistakes to avoid, lessons learned and successful strategies identified by these individuals through our 1-on-1 interviews.

Kim Elliott, President of the Klamath Falls Rental Housing Association

Our first 1-On-1 interview (led by Shiv Narayanan, Magnetic Apricot) was with Kim Elliott who is president of the Klamath Rental Owners Association in Oregon. The association serves the rental housing industry in Klamath County by providing Oregon state specific rental forms, a voice in Salem, advice and help to owners and property managers. Read more about the association here.

Here are the highlights from our 1-On-1 session with Kim Elliott:

Shiv Narayanan (Magnetic Apricot): Can you describe your organization’s biggest challenge?

Kim Elliott: Our biggest challenge when I took over was that we were in decline. The association had been neglected. They weren’t actively recruiting and there wasn’t a lot of motivation within the landlord community for joining. We were at a point where it was either disband, or get busy.  

My biggest challenge – and my biggest success – has been increasing membership. We have almost tripled our membership in the last year and a half. But we’re also looking at pretty small numbers to start with. We started at 48. We’re now at 120.

How did you find new potential members? How did you communicate with them?

One of our benefits is having state-specific rental forms available. The association had subbed the sales of those forms out to another business in town, who was not actively promoting the association. When I took over, I got the association to take the chance of opening their own physical office so that everyone could come in to buy those forms from us instead. We used the forms as a draw, which we leveraged to sell the association.

The physical location, do you think that was the main driver behind the growth, or were there other factors?

I think having the physical location was probably the catalyst for it. Rather than being perceived as something that might be fly-by-night because we were operating out of somebody’s garage, we now have a physical location in a well-known office building that helps the association  appear more professional and offers us credibility.

Let’s say someone finds your office and comes to your physical location for the rental forms. What do you offer them, or show them, or hand out, or discuss to highlight the benefits of your organization?

My first question is generally, “Are you having a problem?” Because that’s one of the ways that people find us. For example, if they’ve been a landlord for 20 years, this is the first time they’ve ever had to go through the eviction process and they need some advice. So I ask them what the problem is and how the association can help them, which gives me the opportunity to go into some of the benefits of being a member of the landlord’s association. I use a brochure that I designed and print with the office printer here that’s 10,000 percent better than the Xeroxed application form that they’ve been using for 20 years. Again, it’s all about raising the level of professionalism.

Do you have any other ways of promoting the forms?

Since we created the website, it has been our primary source of advertising.  It’s a very small association with a very small budget and so we have tried to create some word-of-mouth. We did a couple of seminars last year, which helped. We got a lot of free advertising for doing that.

Are you getting a lot of people finding you from your website? And are they sometimes people in other communities that may or may not be members?

Yes. I get quite a few phone calls, even from people that are out of state. One of the things that we did when we created the website was we got a virtual 800 number. It’s really super inexpensive and forwards directly to my cell phone. So I talk to quite a few of those people. And again, if they have a house that they’re renting out in Klamath Falls, and even if they live out of state, I'm promoting. I'm always promoting. It’s a real personal hands-on role - promote, promote, promote.

What are some of the ways in which you create member value?

One of the things that we’ve done is use part of our members-only space to have a searchable database of the evictions in the area. That’s a huge thing to a landlord, being able to know if the person that just applied for an apartment just got thrown out of their old one. We’ve always had the list, but it was printed and went out in the newsletter and it was not searchable that way. If you wanted to look at everybody over past year, you had to go through 12 issues of the newsletter with 50 or 60 names on each page and it was easy to miss things. So that’s one of the benefits that I'm always touting to the membership at our meetings. That’s what it’s there for. If you had a recent experience with a contractor, good, bad, or otherwise, post it on the forum. That part has been a little slow to get picked up, but it kind of runs in little flurries.

Another offer/perk we noticed you offer are law books that you have on sale. Can you explain what that is about?

The law books are actually from our state organization. There are 15 local landlord associations in the state of Oregon and we are all part of the state organization. The state organization has been putting the law book out for many years and it’s not just the legal language of the Oregon landlord and tenant law. It’s been interpreted and commented on by a long-time attorney landlord. It’s a really valuable resource in that a new landlord can find the section that they’ve got a question about and have it interpreted in English and have their questions answered. They put out a new law book every other year, and I can tell you that I'm going to have to reorder later this week because I'm down to one copy. Our members love them.

What are some of the ways you engage members?

One of the ways that I have begun to really engage my members is doing a lot of online surveys. I'm always trying to get their feedback on where to go next. What do we want to do at the picnic? Do we want to have a picnic? I send out surveys at least once a month and I'm seeing much more response to those surveys. In the beginning, I had to pull teeth to get ten people to answer a survey. These days, I look at my email tracking, which I absolutely love on Wild Apricot, and if I send out 102 emails, half are getting at least opened, and probably half of that are clicking on link the first time out. And getting a 25 per cent response rate to a survey is pretty significant.

I noticed that you’re doing a Rental Housing Survey as well – how is that survey different?

This is the first time that we have done a rental housing survey and it’s something that I had in the back of my mind for a long time. The bottom line of the rental housing survey is how many units are vacant. What’s the percentage of vacancy in this particular area? And that number obviously is going to give us great insights into whether or not we need more housing, whether our rents are in line etc. We got about a hundred responses to that survey, but it was open to everyone so that non-members could participate in the housing survey too.

Final word and key lessons learned

Do you have a best practice or one or two key lessons that you can pass on to an organization that’s looking to turn itself around and get to where you are now? 

For us, I really see the turn-around key as having a physical location. I realize in a lot of places that can be a very, very expensive proposition, but for us, that was the key that made the turnaround possible. It gave us an image of professionalism and credibility that we did not have before.

We'd like to thank Kim Elliott for taking the time to speak with Wild Apricot and offer insight to her membership peers. Stay tuned to this blog for more 1-On-1 Advisory Series posts in future!

Image source:  Business-man-brainstorming - courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Wednesday, 16 July 2014 at 9:37 AM

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