Traders Realty has made customer satisfaction a family business.
Moving from one state to another to begin a new job with a company run by one’s father-in-law might appear daunting to some. But for Jeff Kolbus, president of Traders Realty Corp., it was an opportunity to get involved in the local community and strengthen ties with family.
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and a graduate of Indiana University, Kolbus had not planned to venture into real estate. Just out of college, he was a sales representative for a sports supplier. But his plans changed in the early 1990s, several years after he married Wendy Wilkins, a Peoria native and granddaughter of Dewey Wilkins, who founded Traders Realty in 1938 with G. Hicks Fallen. In the early 1970s, Wendy’s father, Bob Wilkins, took over the business, while Bob’s brother, Jack, operated Traders Insurance, a separate corporation offering all lines of insurance coverage.
Eventually, in January of 2011, Jeff and Wendy took the reins of Traders Realty, becoming third-generation owners. Jeff says his induction into the firm came at a time when he was seeking a career change, and believes it was fate that turned his path towards real estate.
“It was really a fluke,” says Jeff. “Bob knew I was starting to look for a new position, and he needed help on the development side of things. He suggested I come to Peoria to join the firm and assist him with subdivision development, and the rest is history. Bob gradually evolved out of the presidency position of Traders Realty, but continues to work on development of our six residential subdivisions.”
The Learning Curve
A mentor from the beginning, Bob Wilkins has been an invaluable teacher, according to Jeff. “Being the son-in-law and knowing no one [in Peoria] but the family, my attitude was: ‘Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it.’ When I came here, I knew nothing about real estate. Bob taught me everything. I still come to him for advice. I consult him on a daily basis. I think everyone needs a board of directors. Bob is my board, and I trust and value his opinion.”
Bob was named Realtor of the Year by the Peoria Area Association of Realtors in 1984 and 2004, and has 56 years of experience selling and developing real estate in the Peoria area. From managing a sales team to developing professional relationships, “everything I learned I learned from him,” says Jeff. “If you ask anyone in the real estate business here, they’ll say he is probably one of the most highly respected people in the community. I am truly blessed to have been trained by the best!”
A Team Effort
Thriving under Bob’s influence and now under Jeff and Wendy’s direction, Traders Realty has developed into one of the largest, most respected real estate companies in central Illinois. The family continues to develop land for both residential and commercial use, and maintains an industrial and commercial division and an active residential sales division. With over 70 agents, Traders Realty is consistently one of the top brokers in the Tri-County Area. The family also operates a rental and management division named TMC of Peoria, under the direction of Wendy’s sister, Nan Weers, as well as the insurance agency, under the direction of Jack and Doug Wilkins.
Jeff takes little credit for the company’s success, citing a longstanding, top-notch company reputation, years of family effort and the importance of working together to draw on individual strengths. “What’s nice about a family-run business is that you’re more than a team—you’re family. We come to each other for help and give one another advice. We all have areas we’re good at and specialize in, and we draw on all our strengths. That creates a very positive environment.”
The firm has seen several changes over the leadership of three generations. “Technology and access to information have definitely changed,” says Jeff. “Realtors controlled market information in the 1980s. That has evolved into the consumers having 24/7 access to information via the web.”
Traders Realty promotes its listings on approximately 400 websites, according to Jeff. “This is a great service because it allows consumers to find and ‘weed out’ homes prior to actually looking at them. It’s amazing how much the Internet is used by consumers in searching for property.”
From finding a home to helping clients maneuver the negotiating, inspection, closing and moving process, the Traders Realty team assists consumers in every step of real estate, handling all aspects of marketing and ensuring homes receive maximum coverage in newspapers, magazines, Multiple Listing Services and across the Internet.
As president, no two days are exactly the same for Jeff. A typical day may encompass the firm’s community involvement in events like the Parade of Homes and the Home Show; meeting with the management team; helping implement new technology to assist his Realtors and their clients; assisting with commercial real estate development; and keeping up to speed on the firm’s developing neighborhoods.
Jeff’s success didn’t come overnight. He continued his education in the field, studying for his real estate brokers license and earning the Graduate REALTOR Institute (GRI) designation. He also became very active in the community, serving on the board of the Home Builders Association of Greater Peoria and the Planning and Zoning commissions for the City of Peoria, as well as its Zoning Board of Appeals. He currently serves on the Illinois Association of Realtors Strategic Thinkers Group and Public Policy and Governmental Affairs Working Group, the Peoria Area Association of Realtors Board of Directors, the OSF Saint Francis Foundation Council and various committees for Tee It Up for the Troops.
Getting involved and giving back to the community is very important to Jeff. “When I came to Peoria, I really wanted to become a part of the community,” he says. “One of the first things I did was enroll in the Peoria Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership School, to learn about Peoria.”
He also serves on the Children’s Hospital of Illinois Community Advisory Board and Executive Committee. “My involvement exists because of the incredible care my first son received in the NICU when he was born prematurely at the Children’s Hospital.” For Jeff, connected to the community has allowed him to meet vast numbers of people, creating longstanding relationships and trust. “That’s what community is all about.”
Business and Pleasure
Trust is an essential part of working with the community; it’s also an added benefit when it comes to working with family. “There’s nobody better I can trust than Bob, Wendy or her sister, Nan,” Jeff says. “Trust helps keep the lines of communication very open.”
Separation of duties, he says, is also key to family business success. “I oversee the daily needs of our three offices. Bob and I work the real estate development side of the business. Wendy’s an active Realtor. Nan oversees much of accounting and directs TMC, the property rental division. Jack and Doug run Traders Insurance. The arrangement works because no one’s stepping on anyone else’s toes.”
But somehow the Wilkins family manages to mix business with pleasure. “One of the traditions we have is meeting every Thursday morning for breakfast. We see each other every day at work, but we’re so busy, we rarely have time to talk. Our breakfast meeting allows us to spend time together as a family, discuss current business and catch up on what’s going on with everyone else. We’ve been doing this for 10 or 15 years. It’s something that works really well for us in terms of staying connected as a business and as family members.”
As with all successful businesses, Jeff says pleasing customers has always been a family priority. “We want our clients to remember that they had a wonderful experience; that we assisted them with, in most cases, their biggest asset—their home; that our agents did everything they asked of us and beyond.”
Indeed, Traders Realty has put itself on the map as one of the Peoria area’s premier real estate companies. “We strive for positive reports from our clients about the service we’ve given them. Good reports mean strong referrals. The best compliment a client can give us is to refer us to their friends, family and colleagues!” iBi