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  1. Real Estate

Century 21 Beggins keeps Realtors and staffers trained, rewarded and happy

APOLLO BEACH — Friday morning is often a time when Realtors take it easy, gearing up for what they hope will be a big weekend showing (and selling) homes.

But at 8:30 on a recent Friday here at the headquarters of Century 21 Beggins, two dozen agents were clapping and chanting "Happy, Happy, Happy!" before settling into their seats for an hour-long session on a new paperless contract-management system.

And not one fell asleep. Or even yawned.

"The training and support," agent Terry Cauley promptly replied when asked later what he likes most about Century 21 Beggins .

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That's doesn't surprise Craig Beggins, who in his 26 years running Florida's largest Century 21 franchise knows the importance of keeping his 400-plus agents well-trained and well-motivated. It's what helped land Century 21 Beggins in first place — again — among mid-sized companies on the Tampa Bay Times list of Top Workplaces.

"I'm the broker so I'm the one responsible for all these people," Beggins says.

Each weekday morning at 8:30, he kicks things off with a "team huddle" with some agents in a large training room in Apollo Beach and broadcast live to the nine other Beggins offices from Clearwater to Longboat Key.

"I communicate with probably half the company every morning, he says. "I give them contract tips and advice and motivation talks. I give them problems — When somebody did something wrong, I don't call out that person but call out the activity."

Agents are encouraged to ask questions: "Before you ASSUME, try this crazy method called ASKING" reads one of the many slogans on a whiteboard in the training center. And there's always someone available to help out even after hours.

The level of support is "over the top and makes our lives so much easier,"says Joe Eletto, who's been a Beggins agent for 11 years. "It's a real family feel; you become part of the family."

That's not just a platitude. His wife, Eileen, has long served as Beggins' executive assistant and is finally retiring at age 74. ( That means the office mascot, Eileen's dachshund, Ava, will be leaving, too.)

And then there is the actual Beggins clan. Eighteen years after Jim Beggins started Florida's first Century 21 company in 1974, son Craig launched his own franchise. Brother Jim is part owner and manages the three beach offices. Mom Victoria, also a part-owner, is an agent. Craig's daughter Jessica is an agent in the South Tampa office and his daughter Samantha is in administration.

They are at the core of a company that now ranks 16th in the U.S. and 21st worldwide among the 7,300 Century 21 franchises. Total sales volume last year hit $700 million with revenues close to $20 million.

Although its sales associates are independent contractors, Century 21 Beggins tries to foster that one-big-family-feel by noting every agent's birthday and work-anniversary date on the company's Facebook page. Once a quarter, top-performing agents are rewarded with a luncheon or special events that have included trips to ZooTampa at Lowry Park, MOSI and the Florida Aquarium. Periodically, new agents spend four days soaking up the corporate ethos at "Beggins University."

Century 21 Beggins is good, too, to its full-time employees, offering medical, dental and vision insurance packages, a 401(k) plan, vacation time off and flex time.

Of course, the purpose of any real estate company is to sell homes and that means putting the customer first. Craig Beggins, who eschews a buttoned-down look in favor of a ponytail and jeans, is pushing to increase the use of social media and mobile platforms to achieve what he calls "Speed to Lead" — connecting better and more quickly with buyers and sellers.

Another goal is to provide a "consistently good level of service" to customers, he says. To that end, company employees instead of agents process the listings, upload the photos, order the signs and send the thank-you notes when the deal is done.

That's so "you don't have Sally doing it this way and Don doing it that way," Beggins says. "It also frees up agents so they can spend time working with customers and take time off."

Jamie Wilbur used to work in the medical field in upstate New York. But after moving to Florida, she decided to get into real estate with her son, Joe. She's glad they joined Century 21 Beggins.

"I like everything — the constant education, they empower us, they encourage us," she says. "They're behind us all the time."

Times Staff Writer Sara DiNatale contributed to this report. Contact Susan Taylor Martin at smartin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.

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