by Marian McPherson from Inman (subscription required)
If there was ever a song to describe ACME broker-owner Courtney Poulos’ approach to real estate, it would be Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” From the beginning of her career in 2005, Poulos has held tight to her unique method of branding, marketing, and sales that aims to place clients first — even if it means her name has to take a backseat.
“In 2010, I had just moved back [to Los Angeles] from selling real estate in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, and when I moved back, I had no clients,”she said. “I had to figure out how to distinguish myself since I had no name recognition.”
When she clenched her first deal, which came from a flipper who ran a well-known and reputable business called Better Shelter, Poulos crafted an idea that could help the next 10 Better Shelter homes sell quicker. Instead of plastering her name and photo on the yard sign, she’d highlight her client — a move she believed would attract more buyers.
“I was just a real estate agent, and nobody knew who I was because I’d just moved back to Los Angeles,” Poulos explained. “I went to my broker and said, ‘Since he’s got a name, why don’t we put his brand on the signs instead of the real estate brokerage logo. Then my name and the brokerage information can go at the bottom.’”
“He said, ‘No,’” she added.
That rejection is what spurred Poulos to branch off and launch ACME Real Estate in Los Angeles’ Eagle Rock neighborhood, which has become known for its uncommon marketing (she uses the sign idea her previous broker axed) and attitude toward agent success.
“I created ACME because I felt frustrated that a conventional brokerage wasn’t going to allow me to put my client’s branding and interests ahead of the brokerage’s branding and interests,” she said. “Real estate is really about service more than sales.
“Of course, a great transaction is about management, the word by word understanding of contracts and the negotiation process, and delivering on promised services,” she added.
When it comes to marketing, Poulos and the ACME team ensure that every client receives unique positioning and marketing treatment, which includes coordinating with sellers to make upgrades that highlight their home’s best features.
“We help our sellers create the type of homes that our buyers want to buy,” she said.
After staging, Poulos enlists architectural photographers to take magazine-worthy listing photos — ACME listings frequently appear in Dwell, Lonny Mag, Domino, Curbed, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Architectural Digest, and LA Times.
“The approach is aspirational. All of our photos are editorial and magazine-worthy whether the house is listed at $500,000 or $3 million,” she explained. “The key to our success is that we work with our sellers to do the tweaks necessary to deliver a product consistently.”
In addition to Pinterest-perfect photos, Poulos has crafted what she calls a “tactile approach” to real estate by reinventing the brokerage as a lifestyle brand.
“We currently have a line of Heretic x ACME Real Estate candles in production–Heretic is known for its recent Goop candle with Gwyneth Paltrow — you know ‘the one!’” she explained.
ACME already manufactured its own neighborhood-inspired home fragrance line and is currently in production on a streetwear line.
“By being boutique and being super ears to the ground on what’s hot and what turns people on, we’ve created a tactile approach to the real estate sales process,” she said. “It’s about having a home that you can feel and when you walk into the house, you can smell it, you can touch it, you can see it and you can feel it. That’s what we’re committed to creating.”
“We’re always looking for some kind of gift that can improve the client’s home experience, but also leave some kind of signature mark [of ACME], you know something that’s going to live on their coffee table or live in their home with them for a while,” she added.
Beyond leaving a lasting impression on clients, Poulos also aims to make a lasting impression on her tight-knit group of 31 agents by pushing them to redefine what success in real estate is.
“I was trained by a veteran of the industry who was a classy lady and who taught me things that I still use to this day,” she said. “I would sit in sales meetings with her, and she was the one winning the sales awards most of the month.”
“They would ask everyone what their sales goals were, but her goals were quality of life goals,” she added. “She worked for her quality of life and not for trophies, and that’s something that has stuck with me as I lead my team.”
“When people come to ACME, I explain that we’re a brokerage that’s a quality of life brokerage,” Poulos continued. “If you are a single mom and you can only work six transactions a year, that’s fine with me. You do what you need to do as long as you’re happy, but you do your job with precision, you are trained and intelligent.”
“Our brand succeeds because of the quality of performance on a brand and agent level because of consistency in excellence and innovation, not necessarily individual production,” Poulos concluded while noting ACME is expanding to a second location in West Adams with veteran agents Silke Fernald and Dominique Madden at the helm. “We are a home for the creative agent.”