Occupation: Realtor & Owner, Jay Brown Realtors
Family: Wife Aspen, children Scout (7) and Huckleberry (4)
You grew up right next door in Statesville and started working in the auto industry there. How did that come about?
After high school, I tried a small stint in community college, Mitchell Community College in Statesville. I wasn't sure what direction I wanted to go to from there. I thought about the military, very briefly, and decided that I should probably get a job until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I ended up working for Paramount Volkswagen in Statesville as a car salesman just before I turned 19 years old.
What was it like working in that high pressure environment at that age?
I was very young. I was very educated in a book sense, but uneducated in a business sense. It was more about doing something to create income so I wouldn't have to go to my parents for gas money.
It ended up being something that I started to enjoy and I started to get very good at. By the time I figured I didn't want to do that as a career, I'd started meeting people in the business who were using sales as a bridge between an education that they had gotten and paid for and something that was putting food on their table. I realized that maybe this was something I could make work as a career.
It took me a solid two to four years to realize that this was probably a good direction for me as a career, as a grown adult job. At that point, I started to get a little bit more serious about it.
I realized that if I was going to be in the car business, I wanted to sell vehicles I was excited about. I liked BMWs at the time, and Paramount had a BMW dealership here in Hickory. I'd always heard good things about Hickory, so at the age of 21, I decided to move to Hickory to work there. I wanted to make a career out of a sales job.
When did the switch get flipped from just going with the flow to realizing you wanted to be the best you could at sales?
When I realized it was going to be a career, I wanted to progress as quickly through the ranks and make it an opportunity to really maximize the potential in sales, because it was unlimited. I started diving into books and videos and YouTube and anything I could get my hands on as far as sales and self- improvement – anything that gave me some sort of edge to control my abilities and the gifts I felt I had
That started in my mid-twenties. From there, it was just a hunger to move into a management position in the car business that would allow me lots of choices before I got to my thirties.
When did real estate enter the picture for you?
When I was working at the BMW store, a few realtors came through and purchased cars from us. They had a similar job description and a similar skill set that I was, at the time, very new to. I was very curious about the possibility of maybe taking a skill set from a small car business and moving it up to the significance of someone's home or property. It really just kind of lit a fire back then. I thought to myself, “If I ever do anything different or get to a position where I could get into real estate, I think that would be something that I would enjoy.”
We took a leap of faith, with my wife's blessing, and I got real estate license in 2012. I joined Weichert in the summer of 2012, and by the end of the year I had won the Rookie of the Year award for the Carolina area. It was more on paper than in terms of monetary success, but it was just enough to open a door to realize that I double down and put my time into it, this is something I can make work.
What made you decide to go out on your own? That's a big decision.
The idea started with the opportunity to take something and really own it. My wife and I kicked around the possibility of trying something on our own, just so we would have the ability to put our own flavor to it, to really maximize the time and energy we wanted to spend on our own brand. Soon after that conversation happened, doors started opening. It was very apparent that it was the time to move forward and go in a direction we probably would have ended up at some point later on anyway.
It came as an idea, and then it just happened. It felt like it was just one of those things that was in the stars or beyond our control.
People ask me all the time, was it a good decision? I think for us, it was the only decision.
And I think it was 100% the best thing we've decided to do. Not only because you get to appreciate having and working toward something that's yours, but also because we were in a community that I felt needed it. There's a lot of young growth here, and a lot of young companies. If you go back in time to 2015-16, a lot was happening in this community then. There's been a lot of growth, and it's happened not only in real estate, but in every other career choice out there as far as bakeries, martial arts, photography, you name it.
Hickory is incubating a whole lot of new growth, including us, which is really a cool thing. It's cool to be part of that.
What is your approach to how you work with people in the community?
I'm not a sales person. If you go down to my core, I feel like I got into sales as a way to get by and it turned into a career. At this point it feels like who I am, but if you go back to the start, a lot of that was very unnatural for me.
I love people and I love connections. One-on-one connections. The true, below the surface, deep connections. And I think that that's truly who I am as a person. When we put our own flavor to that with the real estate company, we’re wanting to pull back the corporate feel and the formality of a transaction and go back to the drive behind that. When most people come to us as a buyer or a seller, we try to reduce it down to the very, very simple, the beginning parts of why they need us or how we can help them. This has turned into part of our slogan, “Who can we help?”
When we look at it from that standpoint, we are coming to people one on one and asking what we can do to help them accomplish whatever it is they’re seeking. When people are buying or selling a home, it's a big deal. Sometimes they’re doing it for reasons that are necessary for job placement or a growing family. Sometimes it’s a desire to have a bigger home or a pool or a bigger yard, or for their kids to go to a certain school.
That connection to me is where I feel I'm the best at what I do, because that, to me, is not selling. It’s simply connecting. It’s also the flavor of what we do as a company, a person-to-person company that connects with people to figure out a problem or overcome a need.
I'm terrible at interviews and public speaking and the whole spotlight thing. On a one-to-one basis, that's where it becomes real to me. I want to do more of that.
For the most part, most of our business comes from referrals. We do very little advertising in the traditional sense. Most of our clients come from past clients or people that we know one-on-one. It’s very important to me to know how people come to us, because it's about that connection and about making sure that we understand that if we take really good care of somebody, there's a good chance that not only will they send someone to us to do business, but they will also send similar people to us. That allows us to continually grow a family through our business, where people are not only connected just because they've done business with you, but also through friendships and relationships and businesses they're all invested in. And that, to me, is our secret sauce.
How hard is it for you to sell Hickory?
Not at all. I love it here. I don't just say that, I really do. I love Hickory, and I'm not a world traveler by any means. I haven’t seen every part of this planet and I would love to see more of it, but I've never left Hickory or this area. I'm a big J.R.R. Tolkien fan, and in Lord of the Rings they always go back to the Shire. For me, this is like the Shire. This is the equivalent of home. Not only is it home, but it's green, it's blue skies, it's water, it's life, it's families. It's pretty much the storybook setting for a really good life. It's home on the prairie, if you will, for me. And I know those are very silly things to compare to Tolkein, but it really is.
I think home is what you make it. Home is as good or as bad as you perceive it to be. Our location, even on a world scale, is probably almost as ideal as you can get. And I truly believe that, I really do. There's opportunity here. There are jobs here. There's plenty of opportunity here. The location for convenience to things that people want to do or would like to do is great. Of course, I could talk to you all day about it, but if anyone came to me and said, “I just really don't like Hickory,” I truly would want to know why. I can't think of a really solid reason why someone would not want to live here. I truly can’t. And I'm not being a sales person in that sense, that's truly how I feel.
In addition to helping people find homes here, you’re also making a life here for yourself and your wife and your family. What does that side of life look for like for you?
This goes back to what I just mentioned about the storybook setting. I have the ability to take my son fishing. I have the ability to take my kids to the park. I have the ability to rent a canoe or a kayak and go down a river. I can go snow skiing this weekend if I want. It's Friday, and I could be on a snow hill at eight o'clock tonight if I wanted to be. We can get to the beach within a few hours from here. I could be in a couple different zoos within a couple hours. I can't think of many things that aren’t easily accessible as far as location for a family. We have great hospitals here. We have really, really good schools here. I get that question a lot being in real estate.
As a parent the number one thing that I am concerned with is, are they safe? Do I have to worry about what my kids are associating with at school? How are the teachers? There's probably enough information out there for anybody to make a very informed decision about their schools. At the end of the day, I don't know of any other place that would be as safe or as inviting or have as much opportunity for our kids than right here.
Do you feel the relationships are just as rich on that side of life as it is in the business side for you?
Absolutely. I can think of dozens and dozens of just really good people. When I say people, I mean really good families. Really good support groups, friendships and clubs, Rotary clubs, church groups. There’s so much opportunity in Hickory. I don't think anybody could come here with or without a family and not find somewhere to plug in.
I want my kids to be exposed to as much as possible when it comes to activities. Do you want to play piano? Do you want to play soccer? Do you want to paint some pictures? Do you want to sell Girl Scout cookies? All of that is readily available in a very safe environment, surrounded by very loving, very caring, very honest people.
In your position, you're all over the county, you're in all kinds of neighborhoods, you're in different parts of the region. What would you say our vibe is as a community?
How much time do you have? I've been fortunate to be involved with a program called Leadership Catawba It’s put on by the Chamber of Commerce and is probably one of the most phenomenal things we have available to us in our community. It pulls the curtains back on what really happens in our community. Being involved has been almost like a double-down on my buy in to Hickory and what goes on here. Because not only is it what I thought it was, but it's even more. You see the diversity, you see the growth, you see all the gears turning and all the work being done. And we have so many people on so many levels that are just solidly bought into the idea of making Hickory a wonderful place for everyone, amd they're working so hard to do that.
There is such a buzz here. When you talk about the vibe in Hickory, I think it's like lighting a stick of dynamite and I'm watching the fuse starting to burn. You see it getting closer and closer to a point where you probably need to get out of the way. I think that's the vibe right now in Hickory and Catawba County.
There is so much work being done right now to put us in the forefront of growth, of leadership, of being a place where people are super proud to live and grow their family and be a part of the business sector. That growth has been unleashed. You can pick up a newspaper and see what's happening and all the work that's been done. Some of the fruits of that labor are starting to appear, but in my opinion, from what's happened so far compared to what's going to happen, we've seen very little of all the hard work and all the cogs that are turning to move us forward. If you look behind that curtain, anyone who has any kind of imagination at all is going to see that we're set in a big way for a lot of growth.
There’s no way you'll look at what's going on behind that curtain and not get really pumped about it, really, really excited about what's coming. That’s the vibe that I get.
Interviewed January 11, 2019