Think Small and Grow Big_old

Jan 16, 2005, 11:00pm CST Updated: Jan 13, 2005, 5:10pm CST

Ventures Profile

Think small and grow big

RHS Realty keeps small-company feel


V.P. Tony Ashworth said RHS focuses on its strength: residential sales in SW metro.

John Vomhof Jr.
Web reporter

When Tony Ashworth took over as vice president of RHS Realty in November 2000, the company had one office and nine agents. Four years later, RHS has four offices and close to 200 agents.

The Lakeville-based real estate agency, a subsidiary of River City Mortgage and Financial (No. 21 on The Business Journal's 2004 Growth 50), deals mostly in residential sales.

RHS has seen revenue grow from $633,555 in 1999 to $5.1 million last year. Ashworth estimates his 2004 revenue to be about $8 million.

River City Mortgage and Financial President Louis Olsen said RHS has grown because it offers an alternative to larger real estate firms.

"People are tired of working for the big companies that nickel and dime them to death, and we offer an honest, fair situation in the real estate industry," Olsen said. "Through that and the respect Tony has and River City Mortgage has, it helped us grow the company."

RHS does not actively recruit new agents, but rather grew as frustrated agents sought out an alternative to larger firms.

"We've grown by word of mouth and people calling us and people wanting to be a part of this," he said. "We've been pretty fortunate because a lot companies have a big recruiting expense to get people to come work for them, and we don't have that."

Ashworth said he carefully manages the company's growth, because he does not want to lose the small-company feel.

"People are leaving companies for a reason, and I don't ever want to become a company that they're leaving," he said. "So our goal is to provide the services of a large company and the technology and everything else, but not ever lose the personal touches of who we are."

George Karvel, a professor of real estate at the University of St. Thomas, said he is not familiar with RHS Realty, but added that it is unusual for real estate companies to grow so quickly.

"It is fairly rare for a company today to start with half a dozen agents and grow to 200 agents," Karvel said. "That's unusual. They must be doing something that is unique that allows them to recruit and retain agents and get that volume of business."

RHS is strongest in the southwest metro, Ashworth said, so the company will look to expand within that area before seeking new markets. He said he plans to add a new office within a year, either in the Prior Lake-Savage area or the Lake Elmo-Woodbury area.

"Some people look at growth like a dartboard: You throw a dart and that's where you put your next office," Ashworth said. "I'm going to go with where our momentum is. Our momentum is so strong down here in the southwest suburbs, so we're going to branch up from there instead of going to the northeast suburbs, where we don't have as strong of a presence."