Mossy Oak Properties started as a single real estate office in Livingston, Alabama in 1999. One ad sparked quick interest in what is now a network of offices nationwide. That network was established in 2002. This year, the Mossy Oak Properties Network celebrates 15 years. This is the story of its start and what has attributed to its success through the years.
It was early 2001, but Chris Hawley clearly remembers his confusion as he glanced down at his old-fashioned answering machine and saw the number 65 on the screen.
“I thought the power must have gone off,” recalls Hawley, who two years prior had launched a new rural land brokerage concept called Mossy Oak Properties with his close friend Toxey Haas, founder of the Mossy Oak.
“As I began to go through the answering machine, it was clear that the calls were from people responding to an ad we had just run in a hunting magazine,” said Hawley. “There were folks looking to sell and buy land, but a large number were real estate brokers that wanted to associate their business with the brand. The wheels in my head began turning.”
Hawley and Haas had been close friends for nearly two decades before they decided to pair Hawley’s land brokerage background with the powerful Mossy Oak brand and opened the first Mossy Oak Properties office in Hawley’s home office in Livingston, Alabama. The local response was immediate, but the duo was not entirely sure they wanted to expand outward. The ad that changed all that - a simple picture of a buck rub with a note saying “for sale” - was as subtle a call to action as you could possibly get. The reaction was not so subtle.
“We realized then that the brand strength could be used in ways other than to sell camo,” said Haas. “For land brokers to want to latch on to our brand just because of the name was pretty remarkable. Even today, it is that unmistakable logo that our agents say ‘if that’s all I had, that would be enough.’ It is very humbling to hear things like that and know the fruits of your labor are not just helping people hide from critters, but that it is allowing them to have a successful career doing what they love.”
It seems so many of life’s important conversations happen on the back of a truck tailgate. For Rick Taylor, a forester and real estate broker from McComb, Mississippi, a hot summer day in south Mississippi was the setting for a question that changed his life.
“Chris [Hawley] and I were visiting before looking over a tract of land that Chris had listed. He said ‘Rick, we are thinking about expanding the Mossy Oak Properties concept out through a franchise network. We want to partner with established land brokers. What do you think about that idea?” recalls Taylor. “Without hesitation I told him I was very interested. I knew that the Mossy Oak brand was so trusted and recognized in my area that it could be a game changer for my business. I also knew I probably didn’t want my local competitors to have that logo on their trucks.”
In September of 2002, Taylor and his wife Tammy became the first Mossy Oak Properties franchise owners, armed with little more than a brand and a promise from Hawley that he would make good on their faith in the fledgling company.
“Right after we signed up Rick and Tammy, those were some sleepless nights,” confesses Hawley. “I knew then that we had an obligation to grow our company and in turn help Rick and Tammy be successful. That remains my number one priority, making sure we are giving our folks the best platform possible. We cannot be satisfied with where we are.”
The official launch of the Mossy Oak Properties franchise was planned for early 2003. The company had been sending out promotional information to brokers in the Deep South in advance of the launch. By the fall of 2003, a dozen land brokerages had signed on as franchisees. The rural land market across much of the country was on fire, and the confidence level across the growing Mossy Oak Properties network was in another orbit.
“If you showed a property more than three times in 2006, the property was overpriced,” said Selmer, Tennessee’s Brad Hawkins, who joined Mossy Oak Properties in 2004 and most recently won the companies’ Agent of the Year for both 2015 and 2016. “Those were incredible years to be in the land brokerage business.”
Then came the Great Recession.
“2009 and 2010 were rough years,” said Hawley. “Our folks were scared, and we were scared for them. The markets were just pretty flat. I felt like part of my job during that time period was to keep our franchisees’ spirits up. They were busting their tail and the sales just were not coming because there were so few buyers in the marketplace. But I look back at those years and think they kind of molded us into who we are today. It is relatively easy to sell land in a hot market. It’s a tall task in a recession.”
As the economy began to turn around, the Mossy Oak Properties network began to really hit on all cylinders. Transactions went from less than 300 network-wide for 2009 to over 800 in 2012 and over 2300 for 2016. The network began to expand into western states, and opened offices in Alaska in 2012.
Currently, there are Mossy Oak Properties franchises in 26 states. The company is poised to eclipse 100 offices before the end of 2017. Over 650 land specialists fall under the Mossy Oak Properties umbrella. The Mossy Oak Properties network closed over 2300 transactions, totaling in excess of $500 million, in 2016. Yet with all the growth, Hawley said he is most proud of one thing.
“I was looking across the room at our conference this year [officially dubbed the ‘Land Summit’], and realized just how blessed we as a company are with quality people. Not only people that are great at selling land, but are just salt of the Earth, good folks,” explained Hawley. “In today’s world, I don’t know of many companies with a roster as large as ours that can say that. I think our company culture, one that places an emphasis on integrity and family values, has allowed us to attract great franchisees, and they have in turn been able to attract great agents. People buy in to our culture. It is who they are at their core. But it is also who we are at our core. We tell folks this isn’t a trick ‘em deal. What you see is what you get and we are not changing to appease someone.”
The patriarch of Mossy Oak, Mr. Fox Haas, has become an icon not only amongst the Mossy Oak family, but to the outdoors community as a whole. His quote, “I believe that the good that men do will live long after they are gone,” has become a battle cry for the land and wildlife conservation movement. The legendary call maker Harold Knight recently said, “If you looked up ‘southern gentleman’ in the dictionary, you would see Mr. Fox’s picture.”
Now 87, Mr. Fox moves as slowly as his deep coastal drawl (he grew up in Mobile), but what he says sets the tone for the entire Mossy Oak enterprise.
“My Dad has always been the most humble and unselfish person I have ever known,” said Toxey Haas. “He gets up every day just thinking of what he can do for everyone else. His lifelong commitment to honor, integrity, and leaving things better than he found them is self-evident and impacts everyone around him. His values are certainly the anchor for everything we do around here.”
At this year’s Land Summit, an award in Mr. Fox’s honor was given to Bud Cook, a Mossy Oak Properties broker from eastern North Carolina. Cook, who had been nominated by his peers, was emotional after winning the award. He had his picture taken with the namesake of the award. Others in the crowd had to fight back lumps in their throat.
It was this moment that Hawley had reminisced upon:
“There are so many success stories in our network, and so many great people. When you see Bud just in shock as he is coming to accept this award, and so many people in the crowd were visibly touched by the occasion, it really hits home with you. Everyone knew that Bud was a man of character, a man that puts others first in all he does. They were so happy for him. When you’ve got a collection of people that share delight in others’ successes, especially those that conduct their business the right way, that is an incredible thing. That is why we say we are more of a family than a business.”
Hawley says his guiding principle in decisions about the company is always “what is best for the Mossy Oak Properties network.” That mantra is probably the reason for the low turnover the company has experienced in a notoriously high turnover industry. The company has renewed nearly every franchise agreement that was eligible. Roughly half of the franchise growth over the past five years has been from current franchisees expanding their operations.
“That’s the greatest testimonial we can receive,” says Hawley. “If it wasn’t working for them, they would not want to expand.”
The model is working, according to Ohio’s Brian Bauer, who joined Mossy Oak Properties as franchise owner in 2011 and has, along with his wife Jenn and a dedicated team of land specialists, racked up Office of the Year honors for 2013 and 2014.
“We face some pretty stiff competition in Ohio,” admits Bauer. “But none of our competition has the brand strength we do. Mossy Oak is a lifestyle in our state. When we pitch our program to a seller, we have complete confidence that we will land the listing because of our name recognition, marketing power, and the caliber of land specialists the brand has attracted.”
4,000 miles away from Ohio, in Alaska, the sentiment is the same for Kathy Chircop. She recently sold two of her three Mossy Oak Properties franchises to one of her agents, allowing her to target two more franchise openings in the next year.
“The jump our business has made because of Mossy Oak Properties has been overwhelming in a sense,” said Chircop. “People kind of look at us like we are celebrities up here. Mossy Oak is as popular here as it is in the lower 48.”
On the last morning session of the 2017 Land Summit, Hawkins tells a story of how he represented a single property four different times.
Pictured: Brad Hawkins, 2016 Mossy Oak Properties Agent of the Year, with Chris Hawley (left), Toxey Haas (right) and Brad's son (back)
I represented a buyer, and he ended up purchasing a large tract, and then asked me to sell it for him two years later,” shared Hawkins. “We sold it and that buyer wanted to sell a couple of years after that, so I did. And now the current owner has it listed with me.”
The moral of the story, relationships matter.
“There’s no substitute for relationships in this business,” said Hawley. “Technology, marketing, and all the other things we do to promote ourselves are about giving us an opportunity to earn someone’s trust. I think the Mossy Oak brand certainly creates more opportunities for that. Our core consumer has a pre-existing trust factor with the brand. They likely live the same lifestyle that we do. But it is our duty as a company and a network to ensure those expectations the consumer has for us and for our land specialists are fulfilled via a positive experience.”
As the company celebrates 15 years and looks forward to the next chapter in its already storied history, Hawley says the thing he looks forward to the most is watching new faces come into the network and witnessing their success.
“Toxey and I knew that Mossy Oak Properties had potential to change our agents’ lives, but what we didn’t account for was how it would change ours,” Hawley said. “We have been so blessed by the friendships this company has created for us at the home office, and we look forward to making more friendships in the future as our family tree grows.”
For more information on the Mossy Oak Properties land brokerage network, please visit www.mossyoakproperties.com or call 1-662-494-1243.