Renters Warehouse, based in Golden Valley, Minnesota, finds and manages tenants for owners of residential property. To attract the growing number of unintentional landlords created by the housing downturn, Brenton Hayden, the company's 26-year-old founder, uses franchisees, sophisticated lease-management software, and a couple of high-profile celebrity endorsements.
I had done research on my customers, and I found that 70 percent of them were white, male, conservative Republicans between the ages of 34 and 55. I thought Glenn Beck would be perfect. In 2009, he became our spokesperson.
Since I also host a radio show, I had used my voice for Renters Warehouse ads, and they performed modestly. But the year we signed Glenn, we brought in a million dollars in new revenue directly related to his radio endorsement. He put us on the map.
You either hate Glenn or you love him. And the people who love him are fiercely loyal to him, and believe he doesn't just stamp his name on anything. We'd call prospective clients to give them our sales pitch, and they'd stop us and say, "Wait, you don't need to sell to me. If Glenn Beck endorses you, I'm ready to do business with you."
Then there's the other end of the spectrum. I've gotten hate mail. Someone threatened to kill me. People have told me I should be ashamed of myself. "Glenn Beck is crazy, and I just wanted to let you know, I was going to do business with you, and now I'm not."
If he went very far out there and said something I really felt against or was damaging to my brand, I would drop the endorsement. Owning a business is like having a family. I've got 25 people I support. I pay the checks that pay their mortgages. I have to think about the good of the company versus the good of me. For the good of me, I'm cool with Glenn Beck. I agree with him on most everything. But for the good of the company, there are some concerns that could potentially affect us.
When he lost his TV show on Fox News, we didn't know if he was going to be on the radio anymore, either. When it all happened, we thought, Is he getting fired all the way around? We should have a backup plan. Now, we've scaled back his presence on our website and signed on Josh Altman, from Bravo TV's Million Dollar Listing, which will help us bring in a sexier, chicer customer. He's a totally different kind of celebrity. He's in a bubble in Beverly Hills, a very left-centric area, selling $20 million houses. He's incentivized to help us sell our franchises and grow our brand.
Josh wanted us to take Glenn Beck's picture off our homepage and replace it with his. I can tell you this, when I took Glenn off, it was a bit of a relief. All it takes is one crazy scandal or something that he's said, and people can associate that with us. That changes a lot of things.
IMAGE: Ben Baker
From the September 2011 issue of Inc. magazine
J.J. MCCORVEY is a reporter at Inc. magazine, where he covers a wide range of topics, including technology and business research. He has covered metro news for The Detroit News, and his work has been featured in Men's Fitness. @jmccorvey