Shop Talk

Management firm using technology instead of paper

Gregory DeWitt, left, and Todd Crenshaw, co-owners of Red Door Company, run a paperless workplace.
Gregory DeWitt, left, and Todd Crenshaw, co-owners of Red Door Company, run a paperless workplace. TERI SAYLOR

At Red Door Company, paper is not an option.

The business has virtual headquarters, holds meetings via Skype and uses electronic signature and payment solutions, allowing its staff members to meet, conduct business and handle transactions from the comfort of their home offices.

“What has defined our company is our adoption of technology,” said Gregory DeWitt, who co-owns Red Door, a Durham-based property management firm that markets and shows properties, screens applicants, executes leases, handles move-ins, collects rents and supervises maintenance.

When DeWitt started the firm with Todd Crenshaw in August 2006, they maintained a traditional office.

Their single file cabinet became full of paper documents, so instead of buying another cabinet, they took their first step toward a paperless workplace, digitizing the paper files, shredding the hard copies and getting rid of the cabinet.

“It was like getting out of a bad relationship,” DeWitt said. “We felt lighter, unburdened and agile.”

DeWitt, 42, and Crenshaw, 50, are both licensed attorneys, but instead of practicing law, they are using their legal knowledge to manage a portfolio of rental properties throughout Wake, Durham and Orange counties.

The two met in 2005 at a Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce event. Crenshaw had relocated to Durham from Lawrence, Kansas, where he practiced family law.

DeWitt grew up in Cary, and launched his career as a web application developer. He took night classes at N.C. Central University School of Law in Durham, and opened a real estate law firm in Carrboro, where he practiced for 12 years.

After they met, Crenshaw spent a year helping DeWitt in his law practice, until he decided he wanted to make a change.

“I walked into Greg’s office one Monday morning,” Crenshaw said. “And I told him, ‘I don’t want to be a lawyer anymore, but I like being in business with you. What else do you want to do?’”

That conversation triggered about three months of discussions about different business models that would be a good fit. They identified property management as the ideal opportunity to work together.

“We complement each other well,” DeWitt said. “I’m really good at getting the details and making sure everything has been done correctly. And Todd is very good at talking with people.”

DeWitt, who serves as broker in charge, handles the firm’s accounting and compliance areas, as well as licensures and ethical standards.

Crenshaw, who is Red Door’s president, provides broker support, process development, and company culture and guidance.

The firm has no employees, but contracts with nine independent licensed real estate brokers who work in territories, serve as direct property managers and are paid on commission. They recently contracted with a marketing consultant who identifies potential clients and strategies for how to market to them.

Business networking at events and chamber meetings helped Red Door land its first 20 clients within six months of opening. Now much of the company’s business comes from referrals.

“I would say we get 40 to 50 percent of our business from referrals,” DeWitt said, “and that’s huge.”

While the firm performs the typical duties of a property management company, technology keeps the company nimble.

“We have really adopted technology to the nth degree, and we keep adapting accordingly,” DeWitt said. “We recently got into e-signatures.”

Red Door has a brick-and-mortar office on Meridian Parkway in Durham, where the company receives mail and shares a receptionist with other tenants in the building.

But even in the paperless office, the team was collecting wet signatures on hard documents before digitizing and shredding them.

“There was still paper being handled. It just wasn’t coming back to the office and getting stuck in a file cabinet,” Crenshaw said. “When we went to e-signatures, it was like a breath of fresh air.”

Teri Saylor: terisaylor@hotmail.com, @terisaylor

Getting started

▪ Research the type of business you want to start, and try to get a little bit of experience in it before launching out on your own.

▪ Hire well to get the right people on your team.

▪ Outsource work whenever possible.

▪ Go paperless.

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