TAMPA – After Robbins Property Associates bought it in 2013, Clearwater's MacArthur Park Apartments metamorphosed from a run-down complex into one boasting "million dollar upgrades'' including an Internet cafe, Bark Park and state-of-the-art fitness center. It also got a new name: Madison Place, courtesy of a Robbins employee who won $300 in a company-sponsored naming contest.
Rewarding employees for their help in rebranding tired apartment communities is just one of the many reasons Robbins made the Tampa Bay Times list of Top Workplaces for the third year in a row. The Tampa-based company, which has complexes in Florida, Georgia Texas and Maryland, knows that its nearly $60 million in revenues last year stemmed from the hard work of its property managers, leasing agents, grounds keepers and maintenance crews.
"We get that the people on site will make or break your company,'' says Kristi King, Robbins' chief operating officer.
Robbins is just 5 years old, started in 2010 by brothers Mitchell and Steve Robbins. Mitchell had been an owner of a large, Massachusetts-based apartment management company, Sawyer Realty, but broke away during the recession to go into business with his brother.
The new company operated out of a small house in South Tampa before moving into fancier quarters in the glass-sheathed Urban Centre on W Kennedy Boulevard. But at the heart of Robbins' business are its apartment communities, mostly in the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas.
Early on, the company took advantage of a depressed economy to snap up aging complexes that had gone into receivership. Among them: Cooper's Pond, a 463-unit complex in a working-class area of Carrollwood
The 35-year-old complex had seen better days, but Robbins knew it had a great location right off busy Dale Mabry Highway close to schools, shopping and the interstate. Robbins repainted and re-sided buildings, upgraded the pools and added a playground and fitness center.
On a recent afternoon, King and human resources director Lora Radzevich descended on the Cooper's Pond leasing office in a rush of hugs and whoops of "great to see you!''
"It's very family oriented, and they care about their employees,'' property manager Marionette Sexton said of Robbins. "They treat all employees the same.''
Depending on size, each complex has up to 12 employees who work on premises. The property managers and leasing consultants are part of a team that includes the maintenance and grounds workers.
Getting tenants to re-up on their leases is a big part of the business, and for every lease that is renewed, $50 goes into a pot. At the end of the month the entire team shares the bonus, which in a large complex can run to several hundred dollars.
In putting together its teams, Robbins looks for employees who have "a passion for business, great energy and care for the customers,'' King says. No experience is needed to be a leasing consultant — one young agent at Cooper's Pond got the job because King had noticed the friendly, efficient way she had waited on tables while working in a restaurant in the Urban Centre.
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King also likes employees who willing to speak up and offer suggestions.
When Robbins hired a company to handle its Facebook postings, employees questioned if that was a smart expenditure given that they still had to provide all of the information. Robbins went back to updating the site in-house.
When the company considered paying an outside firm to install water-saving devices in all units, maintenance workers piped up and said they could do it themselves.
"They wanted to make sure it was done right,'' King says, "and it saved us a tremendous amount of money.''
As a new company, Robbins is trying to build a stable, experienced workforce by encouraging employees to aim high. "If we cannot promote from within we are failing,'' says King, who at one company forum asked how many people in the room had been promoted. Most of the group stood.
Juan Carlos Carvajal has been promoted three times since joining Robbins and is now the Cooper's Pond maintenance supervisor. "I'm growing up with the company,'' he says.
At Robbins' Lakes of Northdale community, team members include Julia Hernandez.
"I've worked for different companies that kind of made you feel you're replaceable. With Robbins I immediately felt like this was home.''
It is literally, Hernandez and her two daughters live in the complex, where as a Robbins employee she gets a 30 percent break on rent.
As Robbins grows — its recent partnership with another company brings its total to 29 complexes — all employees have a big incentive to make sure it's still in business years from now.
That's because those who stick with the company for 10 years have been promised a free vacation for two anywhere in the United States. If they make it for 15 years, it's anywhere in the world.
Contact Susan Tayor Martin @firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate