(TheNicheReport) -- The Niche Report asks Eric Tishaw, the Chief Operating Officer of Hometown Lenders, what it takes to be successful and grow in a time when most are closing their doors.
First, tell us a little about Hometown Lenders.
We started out over 12 years ago as just a small group of friends who wanted to originate loans together and have fun doing it. Over the years our small company grew, mostly by referrals from our AE’s and other employees, and pretty soon we had branches all over our state with some really great people who are still here with us today. It didn’t take long before we grew to be the largest lender in our state, and then one of the largest lenders in the Southeast. As we grew, we invested in our company and in technology, and we also got very good at supporting all of our branches that were spread out all over the South.
When we made the decision to become a retail branching operation, it was a logical growth progression as well as a natural extension of our abilities and expertise. We were able to scale up our systems to meet the requirements of operating a high number of retail branches in multiple states. During our growth, we never lost sight of the fact that we’ve always been a family-oriented business and that our people are what’s most important to us; any of our partners will tell you that. We know what it’s like to have to generate business by beating the streets for referrals and watching marketing costs like a hawk. We work very hard to provide the best platform possible for our people to be as successful as they want to be, and we make them look like champions to their customers and referral partners.
How has Hometown Lenders been able to thrive in a time when most of its competitors have closed up shop?
Well, we started out with a unique philosophy that wasn’t popular or shared by anyone else in the industry at the time….we were very selective about who we hired. For most companies, it was just a big volume grab, and they were hiring anyone who could bring them additional production. The problem turned out to be that a few bad apples spoiled their bunch, so in order to protect the company they had to overcompensate by implementing policies and restrictions that effectively put training wheels on the good folks. Some major companies got shut down because of the poor quality of the loans being produced by some of the bad hires they made.
We took a different approach, and it paid off. I personally travelled to meet everyone we hired (or didn’t hire) in person to see if they were a good fit with us, and to get a gut feeling regarding the quality of their loan production and personal character. Our position was that we would much rather have a branch that does less volume but fits well within our culture, so that we didn’t lose sleep at night over their loans, rather than have big shops that might originate questionable loans. The outcome for us was that we were able to grow at a consistent, measured pace with both big and small branches and achieve a level of success that was based on a solid foundation of top-quality branches and producers. From there we were able to invest in and support our branches, and then let them do what they do best – close loans.
We’ve noticed your company is growing at a remarkable rate – what’s your secret to success?
We strongly believe that it’s not enough to recruit good branches and then just hope they work out. We firmly believe that recruiting AND retaining is our top mission. This market is way too competitive to be good at recruiting only. If you don’t have a strong value proposition, your good people won’t stick around long, and your turnover costs will go through the roof. We are good at recruiting, but we genuinely enjoy developing and growing great branches. We developed this strategy years ago, and it has been very successful for our branches, so naturally we are very proud of that. We have been able to be a catalyst for some significant growth, and we have uncovered some amazing talent.
We’ve seen some other companies trying to copy our approach recently, but we really enjoy the process – and I think that is the real difference. We don’t do it because it sells well, we do it because we are good at it and we enjoy helping our branches grow. We’re helping them become champions, and they are helping grow their company to a whole new level. We have several different models for success in this industry, and we work with our branches to apply the one that makes the most sense for them. We have taken branches that were doing five loans per month and turned them into production powerhouses that close over 200 loans a month.
What’s your outlook on the industry?
We are very optimistic about the future and the continued turnaround of our industry. We would love to see government regulators take a step back and let the free market pick the winners and the losers. We’ve seen a few signs that they may be easing up a bit, and we are particularly encouraged by the recent barriers to entry that have been put into place, such as licensing regulations, compliance measures, and higher net worth requirements. Overall, we are very confident that the industry is heading in the right direction, and we feel that Hometown Lenders is well positioned to emerge as one of the industry’s new leaders in retail branching.
What else is Hometown doing that other companies are not?
Well, I don’t know that no one else is doing this, but one thing we feel very strongly about is our company-sponsored mission to help selected villages in Guatemala. Mission Firefly (www.missionfirefly.org) is a 501C that we created to fulfill what we believe is our greater calling in life. We enjoy giving back, and our people enjoy the opportunity to be a part of a great mission. Everyone in our company is welcome to go on trips with us, and it gives us a chance to break away from business now and then to focus on what’s really important in life. That’s probably not the answer you were looking for, but I think it ties in with what really sets us apart from our competitors – we believe that it’s our people that make us different. It sounds cheesy but its true – no other company has our people, and they are what makes Hometown Lenders great.
Eric Tishaw is the Chief Operating Officer of Hometown Lenders. Recognized as a leader in the mortgage industry, Mr. Tishaw was recently included in National Mortgage Professionals "Top 40 under 40" list. With over 12 successful years in the business, an MBA, and a lifetime of working in and around the mortgage business, Eric understands exactly what it takes to be successful in this industry. Eric Tishaw is committed to helping the Loan Originators and Mortgage Branch Managers at Hometown Lenders realize their fullest potential by utilizing and sharing the skills he has learned and the best practices he has observed throughout his career.