The Devonshire Group, headquartered in Champaign, was founded in 1977 and provides a broad range of real estate services in central Illinois. The company was established under the leadership of Thomas E. Harrington, Sr. and George T. Shapland. The Devonshire name came from a small community in England–first used to name a Champaign residential subdivision developed by Harrington and Shapland in 1959. In the beginning, the focus of the company was residential subdivision development and commercial brokerage and sales. Devonshire has grown to provide real estate related services. Tom Harrington, Jr. and one other employee started the company in 1977. Today, Harrington, Jr., President; Timothy P. Harrington, commercial brokerage director; and Kenneth L. Bilger, chief financial officer, own the firm.
The Devonshire Group provides services including commercial real estate brokerage, commercial leasing, site selection, real estate development, residential real estate sales, civil engineering and land surveying, architectural services, property maintenance, and construction management. Continuous evaluation of the industry trends, target markets, the competitive environment, internal strengths, and external risks contribute to the strategic position of the company.
It was in June 1999 that Devonshire reached an agreement to purchase the sales and operating divisions–Prudential Cullinan Properties–from Diane Cullinan Oberhelman of Cullinan Properties. At the same time, Devonshire purchased Coldwell Banker Preferred Realtors. Today, Coldwell Banker Devonshire Realty offices are found in Canton, Champaign, Danville, Decatur, East Peoria, Mahomet, Monticello, Morton, Paxton, Pekin, Peoria, Rantoul, Putnam and Springfield. Coldwell Banker Commercial is in Champaign, Peoria and Springfield. HDC Engineering and Architectural Spectrum are based in Champaign. The Peoria services include commercial brokerage, residential brokerage and property management.
The focus on customer relationship management is a key reason the Devonshire Group has partnered with Coldwell Banker. The expansion has provided a competitive edge for Devonshire in central Illinois.
Tom Harrington has been very active in civic affairs including the Urbana-Champaign Economic Development Corporation, Champaign Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Development Finance Authority. Tom and his wife, Mindy, have been married three years. Tom has a son who is a senior in high school, a daughter who is a freshman at Indiana University and two stepchildren, Brian 11, and Rachel 12.
Tim Harrington has been married to his wife Kris for 12 years. They have a son who is 7 and a daughter who is 9. Tim is a member of the national advisory board for Coldwell Banker Commercial as well as City of Champaign zoning steering committee, and the YMCA annual fund raising chairman.
Kenny has been married to Joy for 13 years. They have two children, Corey who is 6 years old and Nikki who is 4 years old.
Briefly detail each of your career paths that led to your current positions.
Tom: I am a native of Champaign and I graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in finance with specialization in real estate finance. As a founding member, my career has been with the Devonshire Realty Group. At the very beginning I did everything and anything that needed to be completed. I did administration, operations, marketing, and sales. I remember having meetings with clients and then sweeping the halls to keep things moving forward. My brother Tim joined the firm in 1981 with a focus on commercial brokerage. We started residential brokerage in 1982 and Kenny joined the firm in 1994. We have had extensive growth since then. We partner as we can with my brother Steve who owns a construction company, and my brother Dan, an attorney, which makes for a good working relationship.
My focus has been to establish the framework for our divisions as well as be the driving force behind the company's growth in residential brokerage. I am actively involved in our 14 Coldwell Banker residential offices and provide direction to the management team that coordinates nearly 400 independent contractors.
Tim: As a native of Champaign, I left the community only to attend the University of Arizona. I received a business administration degree with a real estate specialty and returned to Champaign to come to work for Devonshire. Like Tom, I tried to accomplish whatever needed to be done. I can remember we had a restaurant tenant who vacated the premises, but as we discovered later they did not remove the items in their freezer. The freezer had been turned off and after about a month it was very obvious. I was the one in charge of cleaning the freezer. I carried the spoiled meat out to the dumpster. Tom won't let me forget that assignment.
As we grew, my focus was with commercial brokerage and real estate development projects. I continue to foster the growth and success of our commercial division. Our commercial division works under the documented process of ISO 9002, which is a key reason our customer relationship management is so successful. Our organizational structure and partnership with Coldwell Banker, provides Devonshire with a competitive edge in central Illinois.
Ken: I came to know Devonshire and the Harrington family when I was attending the University of Illinois. I graduated with a bachelor of liberal arts degree with a concentration in accounting and economics, as well as a master of business administration concentrating in corporate finance. I then received my CPA and worked for KPMG and Ford Motor Company before I came to work at Devonshire in 1994. I have been the chief financial officer since.
My focus has been with the growth of the company. I was integrally involved with developing infrastructure and facilities needed to support an increase in revenues from $10 million to $30 million in less than two years. I provide overall direction, develop and implement goals, policies and controls for the Accounting, Information Technology and Human Resources Department.
Briefly describe the history of Devonshire, and the subsidiaries that fall under its umbrella.
Tom: Devonshire is a company that has evolved over time. We have conscientiously built affiliations throughout the years to bring together complimentary services that benefit our clients. Devonshire started in 1977 with property management and commercial brokerage. In 1980 we established an engineering division, and by 1982 we started residential brokerage. Over a 13-year period we grew residential brokerage and acquired the Coldwell Banker franchise in 1995 for residential sales only. In 1998, we expanded with an acquisition to bring in Architectural Spectrum, which allowed us to provide architecture and design services.
Ken: It was in June 1999 that we purchased Cullinan Real Estate Services in Peoria, which gave us property management, commercial brokerage, residential brokerage, marketing, development and construction management in Peoria, East Peoria, and Pekin. At the same time, we purchased Coldwell Banker Preferred Realtors in Peoria, Morton, and Pekin, as well as Mitchell Realty in Canton. We brought all the real estates sales under the Coldwell Banker franchise by the beginning of 2000. The most recent acquisition took place in January 2000, when we acquired Coldwell Banker Showcase Properties, and Julie Davis in Springfield.
Tim: All of this may seem confusing, but we have worked to align our divisions and make the organization very simple. Tom, Kenny or myself oversee one or more of the eight divisions and work with a strong management team. We work to motivate and empower the organization to reach aggressive goals. With a company such as ours we are facing new challenges everyday, and we could not succeed without a management team that functions as leaders."
What were the advantages of purchasing the operating and sales divisions of Prudential Cullinan Properties in the Peoria area with the Devonshire Group predominantly in the Champaign area?
Tom: Diane Cullinan built a strong sales force and had the supporting divisions very similar to Devonshire Realty. Diane was looking to concentrate on development projects and it was an ideal time for us to acquire Cullinan Real Estate Services.
Ken: A cause of confusion in the community when all of this took place was–"What really took place?" Diane Cullinan actually sold 12 percent of Cullinan Properties, which was the sales and operating divisions consisting of 100 employees and 45 agents at three locations.
Tim: Devonshire forms strategic alliances with Cullinan Properties on a per-project basis. Diane is now our client, and she purchases services from Devonshire.
What type of products or services do you offer?
Tom: Our divisions are: engineering, architecture, development, commercial brokerage, residential brokerage, relocation, property management, and marketing. Some of our services within these divisions are leasing, site selection/analysis, property development, existing facility surveys, contract negotiations, environmental surveys, market analysis, cost analysis, build-to-suit assistance, architecture and design services and commercial, residential public and private engineering services. We link our business units so our services work together.
Ken: We have gathered professionals from all specialties of the real estate world. We like to believe with the power of the Devonshire full-service real estate team behind your project, anything is possible.
How many locations, and employees (full/part-time), did you have at the beginning? Today?
Tim: In 1977 we had only one location and two full-time employees. Growth was a gradual process. We maintained a minimal number of employees until our residential brokerage division began to grow in the mid-1990s. The sales force within our residential brokerage division work as independent contractors. Today we have 21 offices, 270 employees, and 400 independent contractors.
How competitive is the local real estate market, both commercial and residential?
Tom: The real estate market is very competitive for both commercial and residential in the Peoria area. The trend is for more professionalism, well-organized-full service operations. Extreme customer service is required, and expected. The common theme is "only the strong will survive". In Peoria the market is in need of retail development. It is an area we are looking at all the time.
Tim: We feel Devonshire has the following advantages over existing competition: ongoing local support to clients, a coordinated marketing program; capacity to take on additional business with the current sales force; ancillary services; national affiliation and professional image. Our service quality is to a large degree a function of our dedicated employees and independent contractors.
Does Peoria have a "bad" regional or national reputation in the development community? How do you combat that when approached by developers or business owners looking to locate in central Illinois?
Tom:The challenges facing Peoria are similar to those in all of central Illinois in that the attraction of certain businesses is challenging based upon certain quality of life issues. In the entire region, we must concentrate on accentuating our positives and quality of life. The cost of living in large cities and on the east and west cost are working in our favor. We have to remember that we have a lot to offer.
Tim: I do not think Peoria has a bad development reputation either nationally or regionally. What I have encountered is more of a lack of knowledge, especially nationally, about the size, strength and even location of Peoria. It seems to me Peoria needs to make sure a concerted effort is made to market itself nationally, and have a positive atmosphere with the city government towards the development community.
Twenty years ago, there were homes and businesses for sale on almost every street in Peoria. Should the economy go into a recession in the next five to 10 years, how well prepared is the real estate industry to handle such a situation?
Tim: There has been a steady growth in many areas that have helped put a balance in Peoria's economic profile and strength. The health services, insurance and technology-based industries continue to grow. Community leaders realize and promote the fact that a diverse economy will not let what happened in the 1980s, happen again.
Tom: The real estate industry in general is better positioned to handle downturns. Particularly, the emergence of the secondary market as the main source of home financing has provided a much more stable and abundant source of financing than was previously available. Our affiliation with Coldwell Banker gives us a national arsenal of tools that help our agents meet the needs of their clients. This combined with the professionalism of our agents helps us ensure we will meet our clients' needs and goals during all types of economic circumstances.
What sets your business/organization apart from others in your industry?
Tom: We invest in our people, who represent our most important asset. We provide and support real estate education and we have created a positive and productive working environment. We empower our managers to be leaders. When people function as leaders they will keep the mission and core values of a company foremost in their mind. Our people are our competitive advantage.
Ken: I fully agree with Tom and would like to add that these people, these leaders, do make a difference. Coldwell Banker Devonshire Realty, our residential brokerage, ranks second in the Midwest region and sixth nationally among Coldwell Banker companies, and this is due totally to the efforts of our managers and agents. Our agents take extreme pride in themselves, our organization, and the clients they work with. Of the top ten Coldwell Banker residential agents in the state of Illinois, seven are with Coldwell Banker Devonshire Realty.
What trends in your industry have forced change in your business? What drove those changes? Was it for the better or for the worse?
Tom: Technology has been a very big factor in all of Devonshire's businesses, most notably residential real estate. The profile of the consumer today has vastly changed from that of just a few years ago. The techno-savy homebuyer today is utilizing the Internet and related sources to do a lot of the legwork the agent did in the past. It has made these people so much more educated and that has motivated the industry to stay ahead. This activity has encouraged our agents to be a part of the tech world and keep up with the demands put upon them by buyers. The Internet allows buyers and sellers to do some of their own homework. What customers really value is our ability to negotiate a transaction.
Ken: Coldwell Banker has provided their agents with a resource of technology-based tools. Many of these tools are industry leading and bring the client and agent together. One such example is Personal Retriever(, a tool that allows buyers to hunt for homes, mortgage rates, and much more. Sellers can browse through information about recent home sales in their neighborhood and find a Coldwell Banker sales associate. It provides a direct link from the buyers and sellers to the agent.
Tim: The Internet has motivated our residential and commercial agents to become more proficient in the use of technology-based tools. With the transfer of information so easily accessed over the Internet, clients are demanding the agents provide accurate information in a much more timely manner than in the past. This change has really been for the better because it continually keeps all our agents on top of their game. We can also offer information to the prospective buyer, seller or tenant that actual improves our productivity–these people can survey a property online before setting foot on it. This saves a great deal of footwork escorting tenants through numerous properties.
How have you marketed your products or services in the past? What, if any, changes have you seen in those efforts recently?
Tom: Much of our success has come from relationships. Customer satisfaction is one of our best resources for referral business and repeat business. Aside from that, the selling expense keeps going up, but it is also a big part of our promise to our client. Today, technology is a major tool in marketing our services. One of the challenges has been keeping up with the financial needs relating to technology. Our approach is to try and give everyone the tools to do their job. The operations of our divisions depend on technology.
The Devonshire Group is very innovative and supports company-wide cutting edge technology. All of our offices are equipped with high speed Internet access and we have our own local area network. We utilize desktop computers, laptops and high capacity network printers.
How does your company recruit and retain employees? Have you seen a change in those efforts recently?
Tim: We are always looking for highly effective people who are capable of assuming greater leadership. It takes longer now than it did previously to hire the skill level we need. A change we made is to establish an internal reward program for employees referring individuals for employment. We benefit from this form of recruitment.
What changes do you plan to make in the future?
Tom: We have been aggressive with growth in the 1990s and plan to maintain our position during the next few years with the number of employees and independent contractors. We are going to reinforce the need to be a "Top Performer" in commercial and residential real estate, customer service, revenue growth, brand awareness and in our work environment. Successes generate excitement and we plan to work toward many successes. IBI