Jake Wagner | Crain's Dallas

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jake Wagner

Background:  

Republic Property Group is building some of the biggest master planned communities in North Texas from Light Farms in Celina to Walsh Ranch in Fort Worth. These projects have thousands of homes and take decades to build out and Jake Wagner plans to be there for the duration. The communities are filled with common areas and amenities, schools and neighborhood retail spots to serve the residents. Wagner joined co-CEO Tony Ruggeri in 2006 and has acquired 3,700 acres of raw land for development in those 11 years.

The Mistake:

Building a master planned community is like building a small city. We put in the roads, install utilities and market the property while also planning out the community spaces, parks, trails and swimming pools.

We make our money by selling lots to homebuilders. They're our customers. But, in this industry, there can be a disconnect between the developer and the actual homeowner. 

Being so far removed from the homeowners, it's easy to just start building homes and communities in a vacuum. I've fallen into that trap before and I've seen my employees do the same. 

We are business to business, not business to consumer. It’s a constant challenge for my team to stay focused on what the homeowner wants in a community.

We try to get better at it every day even though they don’t provide the direct revenue to our company. Buying a home is the single biggest investment most people make. It’s where people choose to raise their families.

It’s critically important for decisions about amenities to be based on feedback from residents rather than isolated in a board room.

The Lesson:

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos famously leaves a seat empty at meetings to represent the customer, the most important person in the room. This lesson is even more important for residential developers, who are often out of touch with the end user, the homeowner.

Developers who don’t listen to the homeowners, who actually buy their projects, will not be successful. [Especially] If they focus [only] on the bottom line and just getting the project finished so they can move on. It’s critically important for decisions about amenities to be based on feedback from residents rather than isolated in a board room.

Our strategic decision to listen to what today's homeowners want has led to us becoming one of the leaders in building master-planned communities in North Texas. 

Communities should be living and breathing things that take on the personality of the people who live there. We host meetings with our residents once a month to see what’s working, what’s not working and to understand their needs. If a group is engaged you can learn a lot. Happy homeowners will evangelize for you, giving you word of mouth and free marketing.

 

Photo courtesy of Jake Wagner. 

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