At Chantel Ray Real Estate's Virginia Beach office, you'll see cubicles, file cabinets and many staff members on the grind. But you'll also find a treadmill, a salad bar, a juicer, a large vanity counter and a spray tan machine - all of which employees can use free of charge.
"That machine right there is from Rodeo Drive," said founder Chantel Ray about the spray tan machine. "If you go to Rodeo Drive and get your spray tan with that machine, it's $85 per session."
Ray was a real estate broker for William E. Wood At The Mall for seven years until 2012. During that time, she gradually became independent and saved half of her earnings for her own business. Last summer, she opened Chantel Ray Real Estate with an office on Republic Road. She poured about $300,000 into it and has constantly updated it with her employees in mind.
The stocked kitchen, where employees can make salads, soups and paninis, came about as a convenient way for time-pressed employees to get a quick lunch. The vanity mirror came after a rainy day marred the hair and makeup of some real estate agents, for whom appearance is paramount.
Since the female employees got the spray tan machine as well, Ray said, the male employees asked for something they liked.
"'I said 'Well, what do you want?'" Ray said, "and they said, 'a ping-pong table.'"
While employees can play pingpong or cornhole, leisure is the exception at this office, not the rule. Agents are constantly on the move in an industry that can be highly stressful at times.
"They say that buying and selling a house goes up there with death and divorce," Ray said about emotional life events for consumers.
So the creature comforts around the office help. But Ray has gone a step further by allowing her agents to focus on a few tasks. Traditionally, real estate agents have to find interested sellers, market the property, sell it and handle everything in between. Chantel Ray has administrative staff members responsible for posting listings, cultivating leads and other duties.
"We're able to do our jobs better and serve our clients - nurture that relationship better - because of all the people we have in the background working so hard," said Missy Owens, an agent who entered real estate two years ago after teaching school and raising her children.
"We're not running ourselves into the ground doing busy work."
Ray's agents keep less of a cut than agents at other real estate firms because of her management model, but they're more efficient, she said.
"The average real estate agent in Hampton Roads sells three to six homes per year," Ray said. "Our agents sell three to six homes per month."
One agent sold eight houses and made $29,000 in a recent month, Ray said.
The interior of the 5,000-square- foot office has more glass walls than solid walls, and artwork adorns most spaces. The cubicles sit low in the high-ceiling facility, and there are no assigned seats: Workers set up shop with their laptops and miniature, wheeled file cabinets and clean up when they're done.
"I don't even have my own office," Ray said. "I have my own cubby just like everybody else."
The turnover rate is low here, Ray said, and one job applicant sent cupcakes in a plea to work there.
Several employees said they enjoy the events the company throws and many, including Owens, said they appreciate the values written on a wall. One of the favorites is "Address issues head on," which speaks to the no-gossip policy at the office.
Short-sale negotiator Dave Forsyth said he appreciated the fact that his colleagues - a dynamic group with a lot of personality, he said - threw him a party in advance of his wedding. Forsyth said that would have never happened at the national bank he used to work for.
"It was a bottom-line business I was in for a while," the 42-year-old said. "It was fine. It provided a living, but you're a number. Here you're not a number; you're actually part of a family."nib
- Jared Council
About the company
Chantel Ray Real Estate handles residential real estate, property management and commercial real estate.
Address 1833 Republic Road, Suite 103, Virginia Beach 23454
Top executive Chantel Ray
Number of employees 35 full-time employees, two part-time employees
* Free access to a full salad, soup and panini bar.
* Spray tanning machine from Rodeo Drive.
* Commercial-grade juicer and healthy snack bar.
Fun factor Pingpong tables, cornhole boards, Wii video game and movie area.
Community service Employees give 10 percent of every dollar that comes in the door back to the community. They agreed to donate the funds to the local PIN (People in Need) ministry.
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