Carter Clark is the Owner/Broker of Weichert Realtors - The Griffin Company. In addition to playing on the Razorback men's basketball team, he graduated from the Walton College in 2001 with a degree in Finance and Small Business Entrepreneurship. Carter's interest in real estate began in college, where he started a Christmas light hanging business and began buying rental properties.
00:05 Matt Waller: Hi. I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be EPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality, and what those values mean in business education in your life today. I have with me today, Carter Clark, who graduated from the Walton College in 2003 with degrees in small business and entrepreneurship and finance. He is now broker/owner of Weichert Realtors, The Griffin Company, and co-owner and operating manager of Advantage Title and Escrow. Carter, thanks for joining me today, I really appreciate it.
00:50 Carter Clark: Absolutely, thank you so much for having me. It's an honor to be here.
00:53 Matt Waller: And one of the reasons I wanted to have you is because, one, you're an entrepreneur and that's one of the strategic endeavors of the college. But two, you have a really interesting path you've followed in a short period of time, especially for your age. One, I would like to start with is an interesting story about you being told that you could never play collegiate basketball, and you did. You walked onto the Razorback basketball team and played from 1999 to 2001 for Coach Nolan Richardson. Would you mind telling me just a little bit about that story?
01:33 Carter Clark: Absolutely. Well, "play" is definitely a generous term but I'll take it. I was on the team, and I knew my role, and I loved the time there. I was a... In high school, I was just a role player. I was a rebounder, defensive guy, I wasn't a scorer, I was not the star of the team by any stretch of the imagination. And so I did get a opportunity to play a little NAIA school in Kansas City, called Avila College. It wasn't the college experience... I was from Springfield, Missouri and always wanted to go to the University of Arkansas and be a Razorback and... So I came down that summer, my high school basketball coach had always worked summer camps and all that sorta things for Coach Richardson. And so I called him and asked him if I could come work camps with him. So my dad had a rule in college that we could only spend one summer at home, so I wasn't gonna do it my first one. And so I was on the road, and...
02:27 Carter Clark: So I came down here, started working summer camps with Coach Richardson, Coach Dalic, Coach Anderson, got to know those guys. And I'd work camps all day and then at the end of the day, the team would play pick-up, and all the campers would sit around and watch. And I just slowly worked my way into playing in those games with the guys and got to know the coaches through that summer camp experience. So then when I came down to college, I pledged Sigma Kappa Fraternity and I was... The week of Midnight Madness so that whole... Leading up till the first practice I had gone down and just worked my way into playing in some pick-up games, and getting to know the guys, and getting to know the coaches and all that. And when walk-on tryouts came up, it was the Monday following Midnight Madness.
03:12 Carter Clark: And so, that weekend, I had gone with some of my fraternity brothers, and we went down to do Dumas to go dove hunting. And I got a call right when we pulled into Dumas, and it was from Coach Dalic, and he said, "Hey Carter, you wanna be a Razorback?" And I was like, "Well, yes, sir, I would love to and I'll be at walk-on tryouts on Monday." And he said, "No, you've shown us through the summer and through the first part of this year that you got what it takes to be a Razorback. You've shown up, you've worked hard without anybody asking, and you've done all the things that we're looking for in a walk-on, and you got a spot if you want it.
03:43 Carter Clark: I said, "Well Coach, that's an absolute honor, but I just pulled into Dumas, Arkansas," and I was planning on being back Monday. He said, "Well, can you drop everybody off and get back up here?" And I said, "Yes, sir." So I dropped the other three guys off at a gas station on the side of the road in Dumas, told 'em to figure out how to get home. And I turned around and high-tailed it back up to Fayetteville, and made it right in time for Midnight Madness. And I didn't get to practice that day but I did the next, so it was a lot of fun.
04:11 Matt Waller: What an experience, you'll remember that for the rest of your life.
04:14 Carter Clark: Oh, it was unbelievable. It was a dream come true.
04:16 Matt Waller: Now, while you were in school, while you were playing basketball and going to college, you didn't make life any easier for yourself. During a Thanksgiving break in 2000, you and your friend started a Christmas light-hanging business, is that right?
04:33 Carter Clark: Yes, sir. So it was interesting, it was probably still my favorite business that we ever had. So Blake Gross was my roommate, and during the Thanksgiving break all the students go home, and as an athlete, I didn't get to go home. And so I talked Blake into coming over and hanging out with me for a couple of days during Thanksgiving break. We were sitting around trying to figure out how we can make a buck and we thought up hanging Christmas lights. So the way it began, literally, was we went to Hobby Lobby, got some construction paper and wrote, "Christmas lights installed." and our cellphone numbers on it and some packing tape, and went and put in front of all the prominent neighborhoods in Northwest Arkansas. We probably put out six signs, it was just a mediocre effort but by that first year, we hung 15 houses.
05:17 Matt Waller: Wow.
05:17 Carter Clark: And we wound up, as we grew through the years, by the year we graduated we hung 120 houses over that. It's basically from Halloween till the first week of December. I had rearranged my class schedule, where I just went to class on Tuesdays and Thursdays during that first semester.
05:38 Matt Waller: And the rest of the time you were hanging lights?
05:40 Carter Clark: Or playing basketball. So I'd go to class all day Tuesday and Thursday, we both had our schedules set. So at 3:00 o'clock, I'd go to basketball.
05:48 Matt Waller: Oh my goodness.
05:49 Carter Clark: We'd hang lights all night at businesses. We'd hang 'em all during the day at houses. And then we'd hang Friday, Saturday, we'd usually have a basketball game on Saturday.
06:00 Matt Waller: You really are a motivated person.
06:03 Carter Clark: But I enjoyed it, I enjoyed them.
06:06 Matt Waller: Now, your friend continued in business in Tulsa, is that right?
06:12 Carter Clark: Right, so when we... So he had started a landscape company in Tulsa when he was in high school, and he had grown it to a point that his dad stopped what he was doing and took over the landscape company whenever he came to college. And then I started in the real estate business right outta college. And so I kept doing what we were doing here, and he had taken the Christmas light idea and did it back in Tulsa, and he's still doing it today. He's got 17 crews, he hangs a unbelievable amount of lights. I think he'll do $650,000-$700,000 worth of Christmas lights...
06:44 Matt Waller: Just in a few weeks?
06:45 Carter Clark: In a month, basically.
06:47 Matt Waller: Well, on top of this, while you were in college, you were also buying rental properties, is that right?
06:54 Carter Clark: So when I was in college, I talked my mom into co-signing on a loan for a house. And so I bought a house with my now business partner and... So I bought a house and rented it to my roommates, that was my junior year of college.
07:11 Matt Waller: How did you even know to do that?
07:13 Carter Clark: I really don't know, I... Somebody asked me that the other day, and I just... We were friends and he was in real estate, he's 10 years older than me, and I was always interested in... I was more interested in how to make money, I think, than anything, and we were spending money on rent, going nowhere, and my grandfather had had rental properties, and I think it was just interesting to me. And so instead of paying somebody else, I figured why not pay myself and get some roommates to help and... So I did that my junior year and Brandon and I started working together at Maxine's, when I turned 21. And I would... So we started buying rental properties together. And we bought first, a little duplex, and then we bought some townhouses, and then we bought a six-plex, and then we bought a four-plex. And so when I graduated college, we had 13 or 14 rental units by the time I graduated in '03. And so that's what got me interested in the real estate world, was just that experience in college, and Brandon and I buying rental properties together kinda what got me going in it.
08:30 Matt Waller: Now, I know later, several years later, you purchased the Weichert Realtors franchise and you grew it to about 75 agents by 2009 just in a couple of years, I wanna talk about that. And then you merged with The Griffin Company, which is now Weichert Realtors-The Griffin Company. Would you tell me that story?
08:56 Carter Clark: Sure, so the way I got into real estate is, obviously, got a degree in small business and entrepreneurship, and I'm an entrepreneur by nature. And so I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to have my own business but I didn't really know what I wanted to do. And so Brandon was working at a large independent real estate company in town. His mother had owned a real estate company for 40 years, so he had grown up around it. He had his real estate license and so I just thought, "I don't know what I wanna do outta college, why don't I go get my real estate license and we'll keep buying investment properties, and I'd enjoy it until I figure out what I wanna do with my life."
09:41 Carter Clark: So I went to where he was working at the time, and I told him I wanna... I spoke with the manager and I told him I wanted to get my real estate license, and I wanted to see if they had a spot that I could come work there. When I did, I went in there and they told me I was too young, didn't know enough people and would never make it in this business. And then I said, "Okay." So I called Brandon and I said, "We're gonna start a real estate company." He said, "Why? Just come over here and let's just... " So I told them what they said, and he knew we're gonna start a real estate company. And so we started, just the two of us, Clark, Long & Associates in 2003, didn't... We opened the business about two weeks before I actually got my real estate license. We had a real estate business and didn't even have a license yet. Yet looking back, it was crazy to think about it now because when we started it, we had a business plan... We each put in $19,000 and I had a business plan that we could be open for a month or a year and there's no way, now looking at it, that it was a feasible business, but I think we... Failure wasn't an option, we were gonna put our head down and we were gonna go to work every day, and we were gonna figure out what it took to be successful. And I think his company that he was at... Saying that just gave me that much more motivation to try to figure out how to do it and how to do it well.
11:05 Carter Clark: And so we started hiring some people the second year, so we waited a year to see if we could figure it out and make it, learn the business a little bit. '05 we started growing a little bit, we had probably 10 agents. I was doing a lot of production, Brandon was doing a lot of production, and then the crash hit. And so mid-crash we knew we needed more tools, more systems, more ways to recruit, train, grow our business. So we started looking at different franchise opportunities, and that's when we found Weichert. So Weichert had just started franchising in 2003, but we bought the franchise in 2007. We were the second franchise in the state of Arkansas. And when we did that we just bought in, we took everything that he had and we started trying to duplicate it. So he had a real estate school to start bringing in new agents, we started a real estate school.
11:55 Carter Clark: He had a referral business, where agents that wanted to retire or get outta real estate, but they wanted to keep their license active, could have a place to have their license and still refer business in from their sphere of influence. We started a referral company. And then we just started all these things, just following the model that he had, not obviously to the scale, but we bought in 100% to what he was doing. And knew that we needed it. At that time, we didn't have any money at all. I mean, we had cashed out two credit cards to pay our franchise fee. We were doing everything it took to survive, and Gary Griffin and Philip Taldo had been in business since '79 with The Griffin Company, a large independent, probably the third-largest independent in the state.
12:38 Carter Clark: And so right after I come back from Weichert, we hadn't been doing it for six months. When I walked into Gary's office and I said, "Hey, Gary, I just wanna let you know we just bought this Weichert franchise. If you guys ever think about doing anything, let me know." So he just brushed me off, shooed me out of the office. And that year, we grew up to about 80 agents, and they went from about, I don't know, 100 agents down to about 80 agents. And so a year later I called him back up and we started talking, and that's how we merged in December of 2009. So 10 years ago, we merged and started the Griffin company.
13:12 Matt Waller: And so currently, you all are the number two... Well, the Weichert Franchise Company's number two in the nation. How many agents do you all have right now?
13:21 Carter Clark: Right now, we have 220 agents. We have offices in Fort Smith, Fayetteville, Springdale, and Bentonville. And yeah, we were the number two Weichert Franchise Company in the nation. There's one in Orlando that has 20 offices that's beaten us, but we're hot on their trail. We're gonna catch them.
13:38 Matt Waller: What do you think has been the key to growing that business?
13:43 Carter Clark: I think a lot of it is the professionalism. We're a Christian-based organization. We believe in Christian principles, and we treat everybody with honesty and integrity and treat them fairly, and we believe... We do the same thing with our agents and our customers, and I believe that that's helped us more than anything. We got faith in what we're doing, and we're working at it every day, and we're treating people right, and we're giving them the tools it takes to be successful. It's unique in the real estate business, believe it or not, the amount of training that we do to get them up to speed. We've started a couple of programs that are pretty unique in real estate. We started one back in about 2012. We tried a salaried agent program, and it's been talked about in real state business forever and ever and ever, and nobody's found a way to make it successful.
14:35 Carter Clark: And so, we had a guy that was gonna leave us and go work on a car lot, and everyday I'd walk in the office and there was a truck brokerage firm upstairs, and they're making a salary, a small salary for the most part, and they're just booking truckloads all day. And I'm sitting here thinking, "Why can't we do a similar thing in real estate, where you get people in the habit of being successful doing the activities, and create a culture of activities?" And so we started this salaried agent program, where basically we had somebody on salary that was a newer agent, and we just did all the activities it takes to be successful. So I had 'em make so many phone calls and to talk to so many people there, so many open houses, do all these activities. And it was a six-month program, basically get them in the habit of doing it, then they were all off as an independent contractor.
15:23 Matt Waller: And how did you come up with that idea? Was it just through your...
15:25 Carter Clark: Just walking in the office and not having anybody there. The other thing is the average age of real estate agents is growing, and the average age of buyers is shrinking. So you have this larger gap between buyers and the agents they're working with. And the majority of people in America need a paycheck every two weeks, and the idea of jumping into a commission-only business is so scary for so many people. Even if they got the belief that they can do it and they'd be successful in it, the idea of going to commission-only when they're used to a paycheck every two weeks is almost overwhelming. And so I just felt like there was a ton of sales-potential people out there that weren't getting in our industry because of the scary factor of getting into a commission-based job.
16:18 Carter Clark: And so it was a way to overcome that and it was also a way to overcome the age gap, where if you're coming out of college you need a paycheck. You need something to get you going until you figure it out to where you can do it, and a six-month reserve isn't available to your average 25, 29, even 35-year-old sometimes. And so it fills that gap to where they can have the confidence knowing that, "I have the tools, I have the resources to be successful, and I'm gonna go forward with it."
16:50 Matt Waller: Now in 2012, you started Advantage Title & Escrow. Tell me a little bit about that.
16:58 Carter Clark: That's another thing that Mr. Weichert has. He's got a title business, and we were approached by some people to get in the title business. And part of what we do as a real state company is all customer-centric. And so we talked about it, and the way that you can control the best customer experiences the more pieces of the experience that you can control. And so we got into the title business, and it was another start-up, it was just... Dan Gott, who's our president, we had one closer, we had a little tiny office over in Johnson. He's sweeping out rolly pollies everyday before customers came in. We've grown that business organically, and with just good people, the same mindset that we have in the real estate business is creating an environment to where people wanna work. It's a good place to grow, that there's opportunities.
17:55 Carter Clark: It's interesting. I was downstairs reading around the walls, Sam Waltons 10 rules of Business, and so many of those... Not that I got 'em written on my wall in my office or anything, but just thinking through 'em, how much I learned from being here in the Walton College, and seeing those downstairs, and how many times I've walked by 'em in the hall, and how a lot of that's come to fruition through the businesses that I'm part of now, and how that was instilled in college, that you don't even realize it. Just talking through the entrepreneurial aspect of what Sam Walton did and the way he treated people, and the way he grew Walmart from Five & Dime to what it is today, I think, has a lot of impact. But our title business, we've grown from just that one office in Johnson to... We have six offices now, so they're Hot Springs, Hot Springs Village, Fort Smith, Fayetteville, Springdale, and Bentonville.
18:56 Matt Waller: On top of that, you are on the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation board, Cancer Challenge board, so you're still extremely busy in all kinds of things.
18:56 Carter Clark: Yes, sir, and I'm married and have two kids.
18:56 Carter Clark: That probably keeps me busier than anything.
18:56 Matt Waller: And I know you... Earlier, you were on the Dean's alumni advisory counsel, so what advice do you have for our students?
18:56 Carter Clark: For most of the students that I talk to now, that come in to my office, whether it says, "interested in a career in real estate" or I've been working with some as a mentor and some different things. The biggest thing is, I think, don't be afraid, don't be fearful of what the future holds. And I think there's so many... And it might be an entrepreneurial mindset of... I have less fear of failure, and I'm not afraid to go out and fail if I'm going at it hard and believing what I'm doing. And I think that a lot of people coming out of college just have a fear of failure, and I would say, "Put that to the side and just go win. Go figure out how to overcome it. Go figure out how to jump past any hurdles that you have, and you go get what you want instead of sitting back and waiting for somebody to hand it to you, 'cause it's not gonna happen. Everybody doesn't get a trophy in real life."
20:25 Matt Waller: Well, one thing that's very clear from your experience. You did never sit back and wait for someone to give you something.
20:32 Carter Clark: The biggest thing is just don't be fearful of going into it, and be ready to overcome and not just sit back and wait for it to come to you.
20:40 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of the Be EPIC Podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcast. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching beEPICpodcast, one word, that's beEPICpodcast podcast. And now be epic.