It’s often said that in the aftermath of adversity, innovation is born. It was one year ago, as the destructive paths of Hurricane Ian swept across Southwest Florida that we at Echo Fine Properties felt a call to action.
Driven by a desire to help, we came up with the idea to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the victims. While the plan sounded a little unconventional, it made sense. Peanut butter and jelly is 450 calories, a full meal, and it’s comfort food. Little did we know it would eventually turn into a multi-county, grassroots effort that would result in 25,000 sandwiches delivered.
Even more unexpected is the profound impact it had on how we do business; it transformed us into a more efficient, community-connected, charity-aware TEAM working together in ways we never had before. It turns out the PB&J drive wildly improved our business.
We went into this humanitarian initiative with a sense of urgency like we’ve never had before. The people needed food now. What would have taken us six months to a year to develop on any other project happened in just five days. We came up with an idea and slogan. We developed a website, T-shirts and stickers and set up materials, a product distribution plan, guidelines and a marketing and public relations outline.
The process of giving brought people back into our office after the COVID-19 pandemic and got them involved in doing something positive together. For some, it tackled loneliness and reawakened their personal and work lives. It was one of the most personal and gratifying experiences of my life.
The community recognized the sincerity of our efforts and rallied behind us. Schools, local businesses, senior centers and even country clubs lent their support. We had everyone from 3-year-olds to 95-year-olds making sandwiches. Sports legends like Joe Namath, Johnny Bench and Willie Roaf used their influence to amplify our mission. Altogether, it transformed the endeavor from a humanitarian initiative into a genuine grassroots movement.
Then, our agents, reinvigorated by this community initiative, dove back into their communities with newfound zeal. This venture not only enhanced their networks but also presented myriad charitable avenues, bolstering the recognition and recall value of our brand. Considering that it usually takes around 17 impressions for a real estate agent’s name to resonate, the PB&J campaign acted as a turbocharger in this brand-building process.
Right in front of us and totally unexpected: The PB&J Strategy was born. At its heart, the strategy emphasizes the essence of “scheduled giving.” This concept encapsulates the power of heartfelt, localized acts of generosity, which in turn fosters synergy, innovation and a shared mission. The campaign ushered in a surge of positive vibes in our workplace. The enhanced creativity, unimpeded communication and vibrant collaboration prove this to be true. Unsurprisingly, this atmosphere of positivity indirectly boosted our sales figures, reaffirming the age-old adage that positivity begets positivity.
One year in, and the transformation at Echo Fine Properties is remarkable. A list of 57 “to do’s” that once seemed unattainable are now happening at a fervent pace. Our team has grown by 20 members. We’ve opened an office in neighboring Martin County, where, coincidentally, we were just named Best Real Estate Brokerage for 2023. And we’re launching our title company. From a purely business perspective, our initiative has yielded an impressive return on investment, touching the half-million mark.
The PB&J Strategy can and should be duplicated, so I wrote about it in a book, which is really a business guide, called “How Making a Sandwich Can Change Your World: The Amazing Success of the PB&J Strategy.”
PB&J’s are a weird tie-in for a business book, but once you understand the principles, it makes perfect sense. It tells the story of how local and authentic “scheduled giving” can affect you and your work life for rapid growth. There are also 10 sets of thought-provoking exercises that tackle other important elements that came to light, among them: foolproofing a plan by assessing the risks. For instance, at Echo, before delving into commercial real estate, we determined we already had a base of clients interested in commercial spaces — so that lowered the risk substantially.
Other important elements include the art of delegation, the importance of positive company culture and recognizing and seizing opportunity. At Echo, when launching a title company, we knew we would get leads from our own agents but stepped back and also realized we could leverage our relationships with our preferred lender and the bank that handles our transactions. There is also the importance of branding for both the agent and the organization to really set you apart from the competition.
Our journey with the PB&J Strategy emphasizes the immense potential within community-driven initiatives. Not only can they provide immediate relief in times of need, but they can also pave the way for lasting business growth and enrichment. Through community connection, teamwork and innovative thinking, we’ve learned that even the simplest of gestures, like making a sandwich, can indeed change the world.
Jeff Lichtenstein is a Chicago native, the founder of Echo Fine Properties in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and the author of “How Making a Sandwich Can Change Your World, The Amazing Success of the PB&J Strategy.”