In 2012, Billy Duncan retired from Dow Chemicals after a decades-long career. Going from his corporate career to retirement felt like going from 75 mph to 0 mph—and he hated it.
After six months, he knew it was time to embark on something new for his own well-being, but part of his motivation was to create generational wealth for his three adult daughters; all of whom were working in their chosen professions.
BLACK ENTERPRISE sat down with Duncan and his youngest daughter, Tayla, to learn more about their Real Property Management franchise in Zachary, Louisiana, how they’ve become so successful in six years, and why working with family makes their bond stronger.
Black Enterprise: How did you decide that property management was the right business to go with?
Billy Duncan: When I first started exploring options, I was pretty open to a number of sectors. I knew I wanted to go with a franchise because the thought of starting from scratch with no existing systems in place was too overwhelming. So, I worked with a Franchise Consultant and we looked at ten to fifteen franchises. When Real Property Management, a Neighborly company, was presented and I learned that the rental market was expected to grow steadily for the next 30 years, it rose to the top. It also didn’t require a major investment, which enabled me to leverage my 401(k) to purchase the business and not have to take out a loan. Lastly, we already had a real estate investment company and it fit perfectly.
BE: How did Tayla come aboard?
Billy Duncan: After starting the business, I shared the opportunity with my daughters. One was happy with her career, but I was thrilled when Tayla said she wanted to join me it was the cherry on top!
Tayla Duncan: I had recently graduated from Baylor University and started working at Dow Chemicals. When my father presented the idea, I was really happy to hear it. I enjoyed Dow, but I was excited to create a legacy.
Black Enterprise: How did you acquire your first property?
Billy: The first couple of properties were our own. But once we started utilizing Real Property Management’s marketing and advertising platform and tools, things took off. We began getting contracts with people that owned property here but were living overseas. Some of them had property managers they were unhappy with; others were relocating out of the country and needed a property management company. And with an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau and 4.5/5.0 on Google, clients could see how reputable we were. Our role is to help property owners achieve their goals and ensure their tenants get a good experience.
What does a day in the life of a property management franchisee look like?
Billy: I concentrate on business development, focusing on growth and acquisition of new owners and new properties. The average tenancy is approximately 18 months, so in order to stay ahead of the churn, you have to maintain the relationships you have and build new ones. It’s not just about finding new clients, but also finding the right clients with the types of properties we want to manage. For us, it’s important that we feel good about the clients we bring on and that their properties meet our standards. But frankly, Tayla has the most challenging part of the businesses—the day-to-day operations.
Tayla: Yes. I handle all of the behind the scenes work for the business, which includes managing all phases of the property management life cycle. Including leasing, rent collection, bookkeeping, inspection, and maintenance. While it seems straightforward, there are a lot of moving parts to manage, which makes it challenging.
Is your business where you expected it to be with six years under your belt, in terms of revenue and growth?
Billy: It is! Currently, we manage over 200 residential properties. In addition to myself and Tayla, we have an office manager, property manager, leasing agent, handyman, accounting manager (my stepdaughter Veronica), and my wife Bessie is our finance manager. Once we reached 50 properties, we moved into a 1,700 sq ft suite and brought on the Office Manager. At 75 properties is when Tayla joined and we on-boarded the other resources as we continued to grow. As we continue to hit certain revenue thresholds, we will add on to the staff but keep the same property management structure. Meaning, hiring additional property managers, leasing agents, and handymen. Our goal is to capture 1% of our market—which is very achievable.
In terms of growth, I’m very happy with where we are, but it’s important to understand what your goals are. When we started, I made a conscious decision about our model and structure. You can choose to reach profitability quicker with an owner-operated model because your overhead cost of salaries is lower. I wanted to run it more as an executive model so that I could be more strategic, which will naturally take longer to reach profitability because you’re managing a team. Reaching profitability quickly wasn’t as important to me as building a strong, sustainable business long term. As a result of that strategy, we’ve grown the business to the point now where we have been able to purchase land to build a new 4,400 sq ft office building, where we will occupy 3,000 sq ft, and lease out the remaining 1,400 sq ft.
When you were profiled on Entreprenuer.com you talked about the importance of working with family and leaving a legacy. How has it been running a family business?
Billy: I’ve really enjoyed it. Like with all businesses, you have to be willing and ready to work hard. But with family businesses you also have to be able to separate business and family life. I love Tayla, but when we enter the ring, she gets no passes. My expectation is no different than if I had hired a stranger. If my mother worked for me but couldn’t do the job—she would get fired (laughing). You can’t let family slide because we’re competing with all other property management businesses. I’m probably a little harder on Tayla because I know her potential and we’re grooming her to be the leader of the business. In 3-5 years, I expect her to be in that corner, Executive office we’re building.
Tayla: I work really hard and am willing to put in the work. I’m able to separate business and family. I don’t take business personally and allow that to interfere with the business. I don’t expect any special treatment or favors. I want to be treated just like the rest of the team. Although my dad says he may be harder on me, I don’t feel that pressure. I think that speaks to his great management style.
What final piece of advice do you have for readers considering starting a franchise?
Billy: Know your market, make sure you have a great product and enough capital to grow and sustain the business.