This week, we're sitting down with Clint Flowers. Clint is a partner at National Land Realty, a real estate brokerage specializing in rural property across the country. Check out this week's episode to hear his take on business and how efficiency and quality are key in running one.
The Mobile AL Business Podcast is produced by Blue Fish.
Clint Flowers: I'm Clint Flowers, partner at National Land Realty.
Marcus Neto: Very good. Well Clint, I don't know, have we ever met in person? We've known each other for a while, I think.
Clint Flowers: Yeah, in passing briefly at a chamber of commerce event here and there.
Marcus Neto: Well, it's good to finally get a chance to sit down with you and talk.
Clint Flowers: Absolutely.
Marcus Neto: We've been doing this for, I don't know, three or four years and 150-plus episodes or something, I need to get a more current count, but one of the things that I love is just getting the chance to get to know people. It's very one sided, so at some point in time you'll have to go out for coffee and let me tell you about myself, but I'm glad you're here.
Clint Flowers: Thank you.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. Well, to get started, why don't you kind of tell us some backstory on who you are, where are you from? Where'd you go to high school? Did you go to college? If you did, what did you study? Are you married? You know, that kind of thing.
Clint Flowers: Yeah. I'm originally from Clark County, Alabama, from Jackson. Went to school at Alabama, met a girl there from Trinidad and Tobago. She actually for some reason reciprocated the affection and we got married and moved to Mobile because moving to Jackson, Alabama was not on her agenda when she moved from the south Caribbean to here.
Marcus Neto: I mean, Mobile was probably quite the shock, you know?
Clint Flowers: Yeah, but we were close enough to the beach that she kind of settled, I guess you'd say. But we've made a life here. We've been doing this for 15 years almost and we've been been really happy. We started in Mobile, we're on the Eastern Shore now, but my office is still in downtown Mobile. I guess that's the rough start.
Marcus Neto: And what did you study when you went to Alabama?
Clint Flowers: Finance and investment management.
Marcus Neto: Okay. Because I know in your industry, knowing something about land and forestry and stuff like that can sometimes be helpful, but most of the people that I've met that either work for you or work with you are more along those lines. It's in investment or they're real estate background, things like that. Is that accurate?
Clint Flowers: Yeah. So what we do requires a real estate license, but everybody's background is different. The benefit of us is kind of the really strong depth chart. So we can be experts in one field and if we've got another field that we're dealing in that we're not an expert in, we can reach out and grab that expert. So whether that be foresters or wildlife biologist or whatever you need really. But my background on the finance and investment side helps me to analyze things better, because depending on whether we're talking about certain types of rural property, I can, I guess you'd say, create a proforma for it and really analyze that investment for the buyer or the seller.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. And your business is one that probably bears explaining. Why don't you tell? Because like I think we just did an interview with Gail from Mosquito Joe. If you can't figure out what Mosquito Joe does, then there might be something wrong. They get rid of mosquitoes. So tell people a little bit about what you all do.
Clint Flowers: So we are a realty company, a real estate company that specializes primarily in rural land. We've got different divisions. We've got a solar division, we've got a commercial division, but the heart of the company is in rural land brokerage. So around here that typically means recreational property, hunting land, timber land, farm land, rural home sites. You know, if you want to get out of town a little bit and have a home site that you can still have some horses and cows and things like that, or if you want a few hundred acres to a few thousand acres up in the country, that's what we specialize in.
Marcus Neto: For deer hunting or whatever. Is there a minimum on the amount of acreage that you will represent?
Clint Flowers: No, it depends on the market. I mean, our averages tend to be anywhere from 40 to about 2,000, but it all depends.
Marcus Neto: That's a wide swath. You know? 40 acres to 2,000, that's... Wow. I'm going to jump around here just a little bit, but how did you get started in that? Because real estate is one thing, but that's a very specific.
Clint Flowers: Well, I grew up hunting and fishing, but the main way I got into it is my dad is a consultant forester. And the biggest accomplishments in my life tend to have come from an argument with my dad about something. A friendly argument, but I had gotten out of school and had a real estate license just from extra education hours I had at the business school and I was interviewing for jobs in Birmingham, thinking I was going to have to live in this big city if I was going to get this girl from Trinidad to marry me. And I was kind of fussing at him about, I felt like he was missing some opportunity as a forester to do some retail land sales. And in my dad's normal fashion, he said, "Well, prove it."
Clint Flowers: And so I did. I had done some tech support for the business school and I knew enough to build a website. Pretty basic, nothing like you guys do. Did that. I was going to sell a few tracts of land and show him and then give it to him and get out of the way and go back to my other life plans. And after about the second or third closing, I was hooked and I had a business, and it's just gone from there.
Marcus Neto: That is so wild. You called yourself partner, but I mean, did you start the company?
Clint Flowers: I was independent for 12 and a half years at a company which is still an existence on our timber management side, which is A&M Forest Consultants. But the real estate side branched off from that and I merged that with National Land Realty in 2015.
Marcus Neto: Okay. Good. No, that's good. Now, let's go back in time. What was your first job? Not your job after college, like your first first job.
Clint Flowers: I worked on a farm for a man named Sam Houston in Jackson.
Marcus Neto: Okay, so this is going to be a good one because farmers are definitely good for teaching life lessons. But were there any lessons that you still remember from your time working on the farm?
Clint Flowers: Yeah, primarily that some fence have electricity running through it. Those yellow handles are there for a point. That was my first real lesson is use the yellow handles. The second thing is when they put the sack of nutrients on your shoulder and tell you to run, they mean it, because that stuff tastes like candy to cows and they will tackle you. Those are my life-
Marcus Neto: Oh wow. Those are your life lessons?
Clint Flowers: Yeah, there's a lot of life lessons. Manure is slippery when you're standing on a trailer full of it.
Marcus Neto: Oh, my gosh.
Clint Flowers: There's a lot of beautiful lessons in that.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. Wow. Okay, those are good. I'm sure we didn't expect that we were going to get those.
Clint Flowers: Yeah.
Marcus Neto: Now go back to your first time, you mentioned after your first couple of deals that you were really hooked. I mean, describe that to us. So do you remember the first deal or the first... I mean, I guess maybe it was one of those first couple of deals that made you really think like, hey, there's really something to this.
Clint Flowers: One of my first and most favorite memories in this business is the first time I had a seller who really needed help and that gave me this big hug at closing. Like, thank you for helping them. It wasn't about money, it was about making their life easier, and it gave me a lot of perspective on the service side of this and it helped me focus better. I mean, we're all here, we work to earn a living and things like that and we want to be successful, but I find if you align that from a service standpoint, it really just makes things smoother and easier to see. If I'm saying that right.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. No. Many of us have gone in the services that we offer because we want to help people. We want to impact their lives. We want to be an agent for change. You know? Like for us, we want to help business owners increase their revenue and achieve their goals. For you, I would imagine it's helping people either sell their land or purchase land, that maybe they've been dreaming about owning a thousand acres in the middle of Alabama for a long time. So yeah, I can see how that would be very impactful.
Clint Flowers: Yeah.
Marcus Neto: If you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?
Clint Flowers: Learn to be very stubborn and too stubborn to quit. And that's the main thing. And be ready to hear "no" a lot and just keep going. I mean, if you're going to be successful, you've got to be prepared to not make any money for a while and just, if you're lucky, make ends meet until the little snowball rolling down the hill turns into an avalanche. And sometimes that takes years, but it will come.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. Tenacity. Grit. All those things, it's definitely something that's required for running a successful business. Is there anything that you're currently working on that you can kind of share with us?
Clint Flowers: I mean, this is the busiest year I've ever had in my career. We've crossed all-time sales records twice in 60 days and we've got dozens of tracts coming to market. So we've got a lot going on just in the general day to day business, but we're working on some new innovation in the technology side in our company that we hope to bring to market next year that will really enhance the way people can tour land without leaving the house. Our goal is to have a business where our buyers and sellers can take immersive tours of property from their home. And then so basically by the time they actually come see it with me, they're kind of just making sure that what they saw was true. You know? So it removes a lot of the due diligence that they require. So we want to make it as fun and interactive as we can.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. I'm kind of reading between the lines and I'd see that becoming more and more prevalent, especially in real estate because so much time and energy is eaten up. And if you think about residential real estate, so much time is eaten up going from location to location. But with yours, you're talking about you may have tracts that are hours apart from each other, so it's not like you can drive and see one and then immediately just turn around and go down the block and see the other one. So I would imagine it becomes even more important to kind of give them as much information about what it is that they're looking at before you start traveling to wherever it is that you're going.
Clint Flowers: Yeah. I do my best to disqualify tracts as much as qualify tracts for people, because we don't want to waste anybody's time. We want to bring the most value we can to the table, and one reason you want to try to engage an expert is that they might make things easier and faster. So we try to be that.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, absolutely. So give us an idea of what a typical day looks like for you.
Clint Flowers: Well, on a showing day we typically would cut out early morning hours, and depending on what part of the state we're working in... A lot of our high-end recreational properties in this area, you're going to end up being in the black belt, the central part of Alabama. If we've got two or three tracts to show in a day, it's a three hour run to the first one and then a few hours per tract and an hour between each tract. So on a heavy day, we'll see some 12-plus hour days, easily. So daylight savings time is not always our friend.
Marcus Neto: Maybe it's time to get a helicopter license or something?
Clint Flowers: If it was cost effective, that would be fantastic.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, I know. Those things are probably not cheap to run. When you look to the business world, is there one person that motivates you?
Clint Flowers: I think, and this is this a little bit cliche, but what I like about Warren Buffett is he keep things simple. I've followed and read a lot of people through the years that are very intense and they seem to run a lot of roots, and I don't know if I'm saying this right, but they overcomplicate things to me. And I think I like his approach of keeping things simple, not always having to be at the forefront of having the latest and greatest thing in your possession, but just being the best at what you do.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, that's interesting. And I haven't read much on him, but what I have read is that when he does take over organizations, oftentimes he's not making really a whole lot of changes.
Clint Flowers: Yeah.
Marcus Neto: Some people go in and try and reinvent the company or they're looking for something that's kind of depressed and that they can make some changes to with their process or the people, and then realize these large profits from the changes. He seems to just go in and get companies that are operating efficiently, buy them, and then just let them continue doing what it is that they do.
Clint Flowers: That's right. I mean, you're there because of the strengths that they had and that's what attracted you to that.
Marcus Neto: Right.
Clint Flowers: Some people, I don't know if it's ego or what, but they're just driven to change it no matter what, and he doesn't do that. And I think that mentality, I've seen it a lot in our business a lot because we've seen over 40% growth per year for two years in a row, because we're not a franchise, that's not how we operate. When we come into a market, we partner with brokers or successful agents that are already there because of their success. So we don't walk in there and start telling them, "This is how you be successful at your business," because they already are that. We come at it from a support standpoint and really they show us how to do it in their market and then we just do what we can to aid them in that.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. That's awesome. Are there any books, podcasts, people or organizations that have been really helpful in moving you forward?
Clint Flowers: The last few years I and some of my guys have really gotten involved in BNI groups, which you know that here recently, and we've seen there's a lot of success than that. Really, I think the most relevant book to what I do has been a lot of the Dale Carnegie type publications, which is again just service-oriented approach to everything. And if you can come in from a standpoint of understanding someone's position and identifying the problem to solve rather than just trying to sell, sell, sell, I found that that's really had the most effect on my career.
Marcus Neto: Right. Adding value instead of just trying something that may or may not fix what it is that they're needing.
Clint Flowers: A lot of people in our industry, a lot of agents are looked at as some kind of unnecessary or distasteful expense because all they think is, well, that guy is going to cost me this much to use.
Marcus Neto: Right.
Clint Flowers: And that can be the case if you don't do your job properly, but our goal is always to bring way more value to the table than we ever cost, and it's allowed me to have some really lifelong friends come out of my client list over the years because we've really helped them. Whether it's from buying a small tract to growing now and having a much larger piece of property through the years or just finding that perfect piece of property for them and their family. It's really served me well.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. What's the most important thing that you've learned about running a business?
Clint Flowers: Nothing gets cheaper with time. I mean, very little. And having a bigger organization is not always... Or really, I should say team. Having a bigger team is not always as effective as having a-
Marcus Neto: Efficient.
Clint Flowers: Efficient team. We focus more on the quality of our agents more than the number of agents. I've seen other companies that just, their whole system was fee driven. So the more people they had, the better for the company. And I've never liked that approach. My approach is more of having a smaller group of quality that really serves your clients better.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. I'm just curious, how many agents do you all have?
Clint Flowers: Locally we're running about a dozen, counting the few that we've got in northwest Florida. In Alabama we're up to, I think 45, across six different cities. And then five offices with agents in Mississippi. But we're in, I think, today is running 33 states total.
Marcus Neto: Golly, I had no idea. Yeah. No, that's really cool, because I knew that you were prevalent in Alabama, but I didn't realize that you were in 33 states. Wow. You learn something new everyday, folks. You know? So I can imagine how you're going to answer this, but how do you like to unwind?
Clint Flowers: Hunting and fishing.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, imagine that.
Clint Flowers: Yeah. I mean, that's changed from me doing it to watching... I've got a six year old son that's really getting into it, and how I unwind now is more seeing him enjoy and learn things that I've known for years and taken for granted. Now it's more enjoyable for me to see him do it.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. I would imagine, do you have a tract of land somewhere that you go to to do that?
Clint Flowers: We do. We're in Dallas County near the Safford community. It's a few hours away, about two and a half hours.
Marcus Neto: Very cool.
Clint Flowers: Actually, the same property I shot my first deer on and so did my little sisters. They don't hunt anymore, but when we were kids we all did. So it's nice to be able to take him to that same piece of land that my dad got me on, when we were originally just leasing it and now we're lucky to have the opportunity to buy it through the years. And now dad and I have started doing stuff together and now we're bringing my son into it.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, that's cool. And so I wish that I had my very first car. Right? And I would imagine that this, in a much bigger scale, I would imagine that this is along those same kinds of things. You know, there's usually not a chance to still own your vehicle. Like once you sell it, it kind of gets lost, you'll never find it again. With land it's a little bit easier, like hey, there it is. But to be able to buy that from somebody, because I would imagine tracts of land like that don't come up for sale all that often.
Clint Flowers: No, we were lucky. That area is now really renowned for the quality of the deer herd and trophy deer. And I do a lot of business up there because of my history there, but had it been trading at the prices then than it does now, we probably wouldn't have been able to afford it. So we were really blessed that we just happened to be there. And then the quality of the habitat in the area grew up around it. So now we've got kind of a legacy nest egg, so to speak.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. No, that's really cool. Something that you can hand down from generation to generation.
Clint Flowers: That's right.
Marcus Neto: Where can people find more information about you or the company or whatever you want to put out there? Where can they find out more information?
Clint Flowers: Nationalland.com is the easiest and fastest route. We've got bios on all of our agents there, office information. My personal office is down here on Conception Street on Bienville Square.
Marcus Neto: Like next to the... Is it bridesmaid? What's the-
Clint Flowers: Bella Bridesmaids.
Marcus Neto: Bella Bridesmaids, yeah.
Clint Flowers: That's right.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. We're trying to get her on. I can't get her to come on the podcast.
Clint Flowers: She's also a Clark County girl. We're from the same hometown.
Marcus Neto: Is it?
Clint Flowers: Yeah.
Marcus Neto: Oh wow. That's cool.
Clint Flowers: Yeah, she's got a really neat operation.
Marcus Neto: She's expanding her business like crazy too.
Clint Flowers: Yep.
Marcus Neto: So I need to nail her down and get her on the podcast. You said nationalland.com?
Clint Flowers: That's right.
Marcus Neto: And are you on Facebook or anything?
Clint Flowers: Yep, Facebook. Sorry. Go to @ForestryLand.
Marcus Neto: Okay.
Clint Flowers: And that'll take you to our office page.
Marcus Neto: Very cool. Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
Clint Flowers: I just appreciate the opportunity. If we can help you, just let us know.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, man. Well, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. It's been great talking with you.
Clint Flowers: Thanks, Marcus.
Marcus Neto: Yeah.