Peter Martin was a born salesperson, being promoted to managing a jewelry store in River Hills Mall at age 19. He still oversees the store but has added commercial real estate to his resume.
Bonnie Kruger liked sales as soon as she got a job selling men’s clothing at Knights Chamber, now J Longs. Fifteen years later she looked for a new challenge and ventured into real estate. Her first year, in 2004, she sold 100 homes and has been one of the top Realtors in the region ever since.
Amber Pietan loved nothing more than the many camping trips across the country her family took when she was a kid. While attending college, she realized the only thing she wanted to do was be a travel agent. She dropped out, got her travel agent degree and started working. Today she runs her own business doing custom-tailored trips around the world.
No matter their path, those who excel at sales share a few traits, including a passion for what they do, dedication to the job, and an understanding that building a trusting and true relationship with clients and potential clients is vital.
Martin, 34, spent his early years in Miami before his family left their crime-ridden neighborhood and moved to Albert Lea when he was 13.
“One of my biggest blessings was moving from Miami. I witnessed my first homicide when I was 8. Here you can grow up and have all these values. I’ll take the weather here any day.”
Martin’s early sales career wasn’t promising. At 16 he had three part-time jobs, including selling electronics at Sears. “I was getting along with clients well and catering to them. I like to be nice to people. I don’t think (managers) saw that. I think they didn’t think I was aggressive enough and they actually let me go after a month. I was told I wasn’t cut out for sales.”
After he got married, he went to Rochester’s Riverland Community College and worked in the Rogers & Hollands jewelry store there. They soon gave him his own store in the River Hills Mall and he commuted for a few years before moving here.
“The biggest thing for me is to learn to read people on a daily basis and treat people the way I’d want to be treated. People are nervous (about buying an engagement ring or jewelry) sometimes if they haven’t gone through it. I just pretend I’m in their shoes and treat them as best as possible,” he said.
He said the internet hasn’t hurt jewelry stores as much as many other retail stores. “Jewelry it’s something you should see in person...It’s very personal and there’s no way to really see the value online. Our volume has stayed consistent for over 10 years and has yearly increases.”
He said one thing that’s changed is millennial shoppers’ budgets. “They are averaging out a lot higher on pieces, the average wedding ring is $6,000. Everyone wants the nicest ring for the one they love, but they’re stretching it a little more.”
Martin said he doesn’t want to push people beyond their comfort zone. “I try to find their budget and help them work within that. I know my inventory, and I get a lot of comments from people that I made it comfortable and easy for them.”
Two years ago Martin joined Coldwell Banker Commercial Fisher Group. “I’m not good at sitting still. I went after commercial realty because I’m more of a business major and that’s what I’m good at. I’ve known Curt and the Fisher family since moving here and I wanted to make it a priority to work for them.”
He works seven days a week. He’s in his Coldwell office 20-25 hours a week and more than that at the jewelry store. “I manage my hours well.”
Martin said being a store manager and dealing with leases and other details gave him some insight into commercial leasing and sales.
He said there’s a big difference between his two jobs. “Jewelry is definitely more of a commodity and there’s an emotion attached to it. With commercial there isn’t heavy attachment; it’s not like a house where you fall in love with the floors or something. Commercial people need the right spot and what’s a fit for their business,” he said.
“With commercial you have to find multiple options that fit their budget, fits the convenience they’re looking for, highway access if they need it, the traffic they need going by, the right zoning. It’s just business, nothing sentimental.”
His near-term goal is earning his CCIM designation as a certified commercial investment member. He took his first class last year and has years more to go. “It’s a nationwide network that makes you understand all the ins and outs of commercial. I’d like to get that as soon as I can. There are so many facets to commercial.”
When last month’s stretch of bitter weather slowed businesses across the area, Realtor Bonnie Kruger was still hosting open houses.
“I sold one in the blizzard,” she said.
Real estate is a passion not a job.
“I don’t consider this work. I love it,” she said. “I work seven days a week if need be, I work nights, I work weekends. I’m available when someone needs me. You can’t get into this if you want an 8-to-5 job.”
Kruger always loved selling and spent years at Knights Chamber before looking for a new challenge.
“I thought I needed something different to do, and my friend was selling real estate and I asked her if she thought I could do it. I got my license and didn’t have a dime to my name and it all just fell into place.”
A Wells native, Kruger started with Century 21 Atwood Realty in 2004 and remains there today.
“Two years in a row I got the top Century 21 award for agents in Minnesota, the Centurion Award. I’m proud of that but it’s nothing I strive for. I just feel blessed it happened.
“I do a lot of patio and townhome business. I’ve been working with two builders for over 10 years. I do open houses every weekend.”
About 85 percent of the homes she sells are new construction. “A lot of people are looking to downsize, retiring. And they usually have a home to sell, so I guide them through that process. It can get pretty overwhelming for people.”
Kruger sometimes has to be the counselor as people sell their homes while downsizing. “They have a lot of stuff they’ve accumulated. I tell them if you haven’t used it, get rid of it.”
And she’s had to tell more than a few guys their decorating style won’t be the best for showing a home for sale.
“I tell guys to get rid of the deer heads and the fish on the walls. I’ve had some who actually get really mad at me,” she said.
“There’s an art to selling homes. The photos are important. You have to do a lot of staging.”
When working with buyers, patience is sometimes needed.
“Sometimes it’s 80 houses later before you find one they like. Sometimes it one or two houses (before they buy).”
The housing market in recent years has been most challenging because of the lack of inventory.
Her business, she said, is all about making connections with buyers and sellers.
“It’s all built out of relationships. You have to build relationships, and when people are talking to you, they have to feel it’s a fit and it’s a team effort. We have the same goal; it’s just how to get there,” she said.
“And I like having friends.”
Amber Pietan always was drawn to the maps when her family traveled. “When we were kids, we used to travel and camp a lot and stop at wayside rests and pick up maps and information. I always loved geography and maps.”
The Lake Crystal resident and owner of Amber Pietan Travel Agency sees traveling as as an emotional venture.
“When you experience travel, it humbles you and you realize how small your world is,” she said. “We get in such a rush with everything we do that we don’t slow down enough to enjoy it.”
While attending Minnesota State University, Pietan realized there was nothing there she wanted to get into. “I was talking to a friend and I said ‘I just want to be a travel agent.’”
She switched to Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount where she received her travel agent certification.
“I worked at AAA for 14 years and they taught me a lot and then I went on my own six years ago.”
She specializes in putting together specialized, individual travel packages for customers. “So you might decide which cities in Europe you want to go to and how many nights in each — maybe you have relatives in different cities — and I customize it to what they want to see.”
Pietan, whose office is on Pierce Avenue in North Mankato, has won a long list of outstanding sales achievement awards.
“Some people find me from Google searches but it’s more word of mouth,” she said of her clients.
“I try to create relationships as best as I can. I get a lot of repeat business.”
Her job also allows her to pursue her love of travel. “I go on at least two trips a year and sometimes four. I’ve been to a lot of places, which helps me give people ideas of what to do.”
Most of the packages she creates for clients are for foreign trips, but she does a lot of trips for Hawaii and Alaska. “There’s a lot of planning involved for people going there.”
Pietan’s travels and experience as an agent give her lots of tips and tricks to pass on to clients.
“A lot of people don’t know their passport has to be valid six months after your return date.”
She advises travelers to download their airline’s app ahead of time, which allows them to watch movies on their tablet through the app.
Her favorite country to visit is Greece — “I’m a history buff” — and her favorite place to visit is Alaska.
“When we were kids camping, we went to the Tetons a lot and the mountains have always been very nostalgic to me and Alaska reminds of that.”