Professional real estate closers TitleSmart Inc. recently opened a location in Forest Lake at 207 Lake St. N. The business is headquartered in White Bear Lake, it has six locations total, and it will celebrate its 10th anniversary this month.
President and CEO Cindy Koebele is co-owner with her sister, Vice President and Executive Closer Angela Shackle. They started the title insurance business in 2007 in Maplewood with a $30,000 loan from their parents (paid back in the third year of business) and three employees: Koebele, her sister and a friend. By 2009, they employed nine people, and currently there are 66 employees, including three who work at the Forest Lake branch.
“TitleSmart is a strictly local business of mostly women,” Koebele said. “We have 9,067 square feet at the headquarters location. We have been in this type of business pretty much for the last 30 years. Even though we opened the business in 2007, right during the housing crisis, it was a very upbeat and very positive beginning because, I guess, at the time we didn’t even know that it would be tough. It was a good year, but it was kind of tight. Then when we got about six months in and we thought, ‘Oh, this might not work.’”
TitleSmart got through that first year with about a $35,000 loss. The next year, it made a small profit, and then the third year, it just took off, as customers recognized the value provided by TitleSmart’s professional agents who assisted buyers in closing on their homes with minimal hassle and surprises.
“I had to make a lot of administrative cutbacks,” lamented Koebele of the first year. “It was my sister and I and a friend who took the job on good faith. After the first couple of months I had to say that everyone would be making 25 percent less. There were a lot of sort of roundtable meetings, and we knew that we were good at what we did and that we provided a high level of service, but you have to get your name out there. The first phone calls we were making, they would say, ‘Title who?’ but now they know who we are when we call.”
TitleSmart prides itself on its fast growth and good reputation in its field, vaunting customer satisfaction in the ability of the business’s closers to make sure real estate titles are clean, to help buyers understand their final settlement statements and to protect new property owners’ investments. The company has been honored multiple times as one of Minnesota’s fastest growers, and it boasts a customer satisfaction rate of 93 percent. TitleSmart is a Certified Women’s Business Enterprise and was named one of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal’s Best Places to Work in 2015.
“When we first started out I had a college kid help me with the website,” Koebele said, reflecting on the business’s growth. “I paid around $500 to have it put together. Then we moved from 900 square foot space, to 2,200 square foot space in 2009, and we expanded and we created a new website in 2010. I am actually on there every day to make sure it doesn’t get boring.”
TitleSmart’s biggest asset is its closers, and Koebele said wooing and retaining excellent staff is a core tenet of the business’ success.
“We just moved our headquarters three weeks ago to the site in White Bear Lake. There we have an acupuncturist and someone who comes in to massage the staff. … It is so important to keep good staff members.”