We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen twice as much as you talk. Listening to your team, your customers, community and even your competitors. They will provide you with all the answers you need to take your company from good to great.
As part of my series about the “How to Take Your Company from Good to Great,”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Genevieve Toop.
With a passion for property, marketing and innovation, Genevieve Toop is building on a family tradition of excellence in the South Australian real estate industry.
Genevieve and her husband Bronte Manuel assumed ownership of Toop&Toop Real Estate in 2019, leading the award-winning Adelaide business into the next generation.
She heads up the sales and marketing divisions of Toop&Toop after being exposed to every aspect of the business — and the real estate industry — from her formative years.
It was commonplace during school holidays for Genevieve to help her parents Anthony and Sylvia with the business, from creating gift baskets to document filing and working at the front of house.
After completing a Bachelor of Business Marketing at Melbourne’s Monash University, she moved to London to pursue an advertising and marketing career.
During her time in London, Genevieve worked in real estate as a buyers’ agent while completing a post-graduate diploma in marketing at Imperial College. That helped her secure a role as an advertising executive at the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales.
Genevieve returned to Adelaide — and the family business — in 2012, taking on the role of General Manager of Toop&Toop’s sales and marketing departments.
Under Genevieve’s guidance, Toop&Toop has enjoyed unprecedented industry success at both local and national levels.
It was named Australia’s best property marketers in 2015, 2016, 2017 before earning a place in the national Hall of Fame in 2018. The business also won Australia’s №1 Agency award in 2017, 2018 and 2019, resulting in Hall of Fame induction in 2020.
Genevieve and Bronte see Toop&Toop as an extension of their own family. That’s reflected in the business’s commitment to providing a modern, enjoyable workplace for its team, with services such as an on-site wellness centre and creche.
Balancing work and home life, you will often see Genevieve hanging out with her sons Loxton and Archer in the Toop Creche or exploring properties for sale.
She also writes a regular lifestyle blog, ‘At Home in Adelaide’ (www.athome.toop.com.au).
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Toop&Toop is a second-generation family business started by my parents in their living room the year before I was born. From as far back as I can remember, I have been surrounded by the business, watching it grow from a humble start-up to one of the largest Independent real estate agencies in Australia.
I have always had a passion for real estate and the family business but it was important to me to make sure I could add real value to the business and not just assume a role out of a legacy.
After boarding at Geelong Grammar, I completed a Bachelor of Business at Monash University in Melbourne before moving to London to work as an advertising executive for two years.
In 2012 my father was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer, one of the most aggressive forms of cancer you can get. I was on the first flight home as soon as I found out.
From the day I landed back in Adelaide, I have been working in our family business and my husband Bronte and I officially took over ownership of the business last year.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I joined the business under extraordinary circumstances. My father had been diagnosed with cancer, so I returned from London to be close to him and help keep the business running while he was going through the aggressive treatments and surgery.
I was 26 and overnight went from the “daughter who lives in London” to the manager of a team of more than 60 people, many of whom were double my age and had been in the industry decades longer than me.
Given my age, it wasn’t easy to establish myself as a respected leader. Being a young, female leader in a male-dominated industry also presented some challenges.
For example, some old-school business owners tried to undermine us. There were attempts to poach staff and they tried to create uncertainty around our abilities and the future of the business.
It wasn’t easy in the early days but I never considered giving up. I have always been passionate about our business and proving there is huge opportunity in embracing new leadership styles and innovative thinking in the industry.
My dad’s illness also gave me a great sense of perspective. No matter how difficult my day was at work, my dad was working through the fight of his life. That made me realise that whatever I thought was hard wasn’t actually so difficult in the overall scheme of things. It was just an opportunity to become better or do things differently — or both.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I have very clear memories of my first charity auction, just a few weeks after returning from London. It was one of Adelaide’s largest charity events and the room was packed with influential business people. My role was to read out the descriptions of the auction items before the bidding started. A luxury local designer had donated a beautiful (and very expensive) dress and I managed to completely mispronounce the designer’s name. Every time I repeated the name of the designer, I could see the ladies at the nearby tables giggling. It was only once I got off stage and the MC started mimicking my pronunciation of the name that I realised my mistake. I was very lucky the designer had a sense of humour. The big lesson I took from this was to always be prepared. Even when you think you have done enough research, spend that little bit of extra time to make sure. You only have one chance to make a first impression.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Toop&Toop stands out for our innovation, not just in real estate but also in our broader approach to business.
Eight years ago we introduced a Wellness Centre and employed a full-time Wellness Coach to conduct gym classes and help the team with nutrition and mindset. We also introduced a creche in 2015, which has been very well-received and beneficial.
Adopting a holistic approach to our work environment has provided extraordinary benefits to both our team members and the business’s bottom line. It has given us the ability to attract the best candidates who are wanting more out of their workplace than an attractive salary.
Providing a flexible, inclusive workplace has been excellent for staff retention and our customer-service levels have reached an all-time high, with team members willing to assist our clients outside of traditional work hours if required.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
There’s an expectation within our industry that you need to be available 24/7. As a result, real estate has one of the highest burn-out rates of any industry. We can’t expect consumers’ needs to change, though. I regularly stress to our team the importance of staying mentally and physically fit. That’s a big reason why we created a Wellness Centre. I recommend our sales partners to team up with their colleagues to cover each other to help create some free time each week. I also encourage them to book non-refundable holidays with their family each year. When you are a commission-based employee there will always be a reason not to take a break. If you don’t lock in time for a break, you’ll often find an excuse not to have one.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
For me, joining YPO (Young Presidents Organisation) has been one of my best decisions as a young leader. Connecting with a global network of extremely successful and motivated business leaders has helped me take my leadership and our business to another level. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities and experiences YPO has provided me.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
I would define a good company as one that makes a consistent profit, has a loyal, long-standing team, offers great customer service, attracts repeat customers and gives back to the community.
I believe to be a great company, your business needs to stand for more than just profit. Great companies are pioneers in their industry. They invest in innovation and ways to drive their industry forward. They are embedded in their community and use their skills to make a difference. They are leaders of change and have clear purpose and vision. Great companies have an unbreakable culture with a fiercely loyal, driven and dedicated team who are proud of where they work and live by the same values as the business. They understand and connect with each other on a personal level. The momentum that creates for the business becomes very powerful.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- A quote I always keep front of mind is “Success can lead to complacency, and complacency is the greatest enemy of success.”
Having a culture that nurtures curiosity and questions our processes and why we do things a certain way helps you move quickly and stay ahead of your customers’ needs.
2. Be completely committed to your company culture. Ensure that every member of your team has values and beliefs that align with your business. Business has never been more personal. If the people in your business don’t share your core principles and beliefs, you will never achieve your vision.
3. Surround yourself with people smarter than you who have different points of view. I have always surrounded myself with intelligent people who challenge my thinking. Having team members who feel confident to express their opinion, regardless of their role, will help drive your business forward.
4. Take the time to create meaningful relationships with your team and your customers. People don’t always remember what you say but they remember the way you make them feel. Never underestimate the power of kindness and empathy.
5. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen twice as much as you talk. Listening to your team, your customers, community and even your competitors. They will provide you with all the answers you need to take your company from good to great.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
For a business to succeed and have sustainable growth in today’s era, I believe they need a greater purpose than purely making a profit.
The lines between work and home life have never been more blurred and expectations on businesses and team members has never been greater. People want to feel connected and a part of something that has more meaning than just making money for executives.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
It’s hard to restart the engines of an established business and recreate the energy that comes with a start-up that think it’s ready to take over the world. You’re often working with a team who are set in their ways and averse to change. It’s a completely different mindset to those who have joined a start-up business.
I think it is important to reconnect with your vision and purpose and involve your team in this journey.
At some point, you will need to make an honest assessment of your team and whether they share your vision and have the ability to help you achieve your goals.
We had to make some uncomfortable decisions when we made this transition at Toop&Toop. While a few of our long-standing team members were good performers in terms of revenue, we knew they did not align with our vision for the business. Having the courage to move these people on created new energy and cohesion within our team which in turn resulted in a level of growth that far surpassed what we would have experienced if we hadn’t made that change.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
We place a strong emphasis on keeping our team motivated and focused on the things they can control, regardless of the state of the economy.
We are lucky that we service one of the core human needs — shelter. People always need a place to live.
In a challenging economy, we break our processes into micro-activities to help us hit our sales targets. Focusing on daily actions that we can control helps maintain a growth mindset and achieve success, regardless of what’s happening around you.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
I believe empathy can be grossly undervalued in business. Having the ability to see things from the perspective of others is extremely important. It helps you to connect with your clients and build trust and loyalty. Once you have trusted and loyal clients, they become your advocates. The referral business they provide can be the biggest source of business growth, especially in the age of online reviews where word of mouth has become ‘world of mouth’ and can be accessed by not only that client’s network but also by potential customers from all over the globe.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Transparency creates trust. Businesses that provide real time, specific and valuable information to their customers build trust much more quickly than those businesses that keep this information close to their chest.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
I don’t believe there are any short cuts to building a trusted and beloved brand, because track record and consistency are some of the key foundations in building trust.
However, I think there are strategies that businesses can implement to make sure your customers are sharing their experiences in ways that can help grow your reputation within your community.
They include asking your clients for feedback at critical points of their experience with you, providing reviews on platforms like Google, LinkedIn or industry-specific portals, creating a company video with clients sharing their experiences, having a business blog to share real-life examples and providing free resources and insights to your customers can all add value and help build trust in your brand.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
I think it’s really important to make sure your entire team are doing the little things well.
Being polite, addressing your customers by name, returning calls promptly, smiling when you meet someone, saying hello to people and asking them how their day has been and showing genuine care in their answer.
It makes a huge difference if your team shows care in every interaction they have — whether that’s with clients, suppliers or colleagues. There’s enormous benefit if your team understands that their actions leave a lasting impression on your clients and their overall experience with our brand.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
There will be conversations about your brand across social media, whether your business is on it or not. I think it is critical to be a part of the conversations — the good, the bad or the ugly. Listening to your community is key. This is a fantastic way to connect and interact with the community on a level that previously wasn’t available to businesses.
Social media has become a tool where you can broadcast your messages directly to your customers, allowing them to connect and engage with your brand on a much deeper level than just a transaction.
Your social media channels bring your brand to life in real time to anyone in the world, which is why I believe it is critical to keep the management of this in-house. I believe these channels need to be controlled by those who understand the brand best, not a third-party advertising agency. I have access to all Toop&Toop’s social media platforms and often respond to our community’s comments and feedback.
It is also important for your business to have social media guidelines for your employees. If they can be identified as employees of your business, their personal social media can also become a reflection of your brand, so having everyone on the same page is critical.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Not understanding how difficult and expensive it is to change consumer behaviour.
I have seen businesses with fantastic products that fail because their leaders underestimated their target market’s motivation for change. Changing someone’s behaviour is extremely difficult and introducing change into a team if it is a B2B product is even harder.
It’s crucial that you understand your clients’ true motivation, why your product is worth the inconvenience of change, and how you will make this transition easy for them. This can help all businesses — not just those starting out — to unlock even more customers.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Being in real estate, we are passionate about how we can help play our part in reducing homelessness. Everybody should be able to have a safe space they can call home. In most cities there are empty buildings and vacant land just sitting there. With advances in technology, it might soon become possible to create cost-effective mobile homes that could utilise these spaces. If local governments and their business communities worked together and took an innovative approach to this long-standing problem, I believe there is a real chance to make a difference.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Can follow me on:
LinkedIn: Genevieve Toop
Business Website: www.toop.com.au
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!