For a complete list of this year's SBC 50 businesses, see 'The SBC 50,' December 2001 SBC.
Sussex & Reilly
Principals: Sean Conlon and Frank Parkinson
Business: Residential real estate
Tech: Agents use handhelds to coordinate scheduling and provide clients with feedback from potential buyers.
In 1990, when Sean Conlon immigrated to the United States from Ireland, he first found work as a janitor. Ten years later, Conlon and Frank Parkinson co-founded the Chicago-based real-estate brokerage Sussex & Reilly, and today Conlon is the leading seller of residential real estate in the city.
In addition to its two offices in the Lakeview and Lincoln Park neighborhoods of Chicago, S&R recently opened a new office in the southwest Michigan community of Saugutuck and plans on expanding to Chicago's North Shore and Western suburbs soon. Considering what they have accomplished in less than two years, few people would bet against their growth.
From its inception, S&R has dedicated itself to embracing technology that offers both buyers and sellers greater access to agents, information, and tools. S&R's 20 agents are each equipped with laptops and Palm VII handhelds. The handhelds provide the agents with e-mail and scheduling applications. More important, however, is what the handhelds provide clients.
Steve Bohn, S&R's chief technology officer, developed a custom Palm application that allows agents to compile feedback from potential buyers. While they walk through a property, agents use the handheld to record the potential buyer's opinion on the price, the fit and finish of the house, the paint, and any general comments. When the showing is complete, the agent clicks the send button, and all the information gets posted to the S&R Web site. The seller can then log on to a private area to find all comments from potential buyers.
Bohn says that this unique application allows sellers to be a fly on the wall during showings. 'One of the biggest complaints from sellers is that they don't get any feedback,' he says. 'If I'm a realtor, and I call and tell you that I don't like the yellow paint in this room, you might get defensive. But if you see that others agree, you might think, Gosh, I ought to do something about this.''
Bohn says that while not every seller uses the Web site to access the feedback, anyone who is comfortable with using the Web will probably take advantage. It's all part of what Bohn calls 'a smarter approach to real estate.' He says, 'Part of that smarter approach is outfitting our agents with technology that helps them do their jobs more efficiently and provides a better level of service to our clients.'