RapidChat: Diane Griffin

Surely you’ve seen the bright green Gerbera daisy in yards all over West Michigan. Today, Rapid Growth talks with the savvy, energized woman behind the flower: Diane Griffin. Griffin Properties recently relocated to Heritage Hill (“another bright green building on a corner”) and acquired ownership of the Keller Williams Grand Rapids North Market Center franchise. Diane plans to grow Griffin Properties until those green flowers are in communities across the country, but in the meantime she's finding time to pontoon in Reeds Lake, connect people to what's going on around town, and contribute to the community. Read on as we talk about triathlons (she won her age group last weekend), fox hunting, and the reasons Diane has dug her roots into this town.
Surely you’ve seen the bright green Gerbera daisy in yards all over West Michigan. Today, Rapid Growth talks with the savvy, energized woman behind the flower: Diane Griffin. Griffin Properties recently relocated to Heritage Hill (“another bright green building on a corner”) and has a team expansion in the works. But for Diane, it’s not all work and no play. Read on as we talk about triathlons (she won her age group last weekend), fox hunting, and the reasons Diane has dug her roots into this town.
Rapid Growth: It’s nice to meet at your home here in East Grand Rapids, on a quiet side street off Plymouth Avenue. To paint the picture for readers, we’re sitting on neon-colored metal lawn chairs around a stone fire pit in close proximity to eight bird feeders, two dogs (one large, one small), croquet, and outdoor modern art. It’s quite an oasis. You are in the business of helping people find their perfect homes; what makes this yours?

Diane Griffin: Honestly, the last house we had, we put an addition on, it was much larger than this home. We asked ourselves, “Why don’t we live in a house where we use all of it?” We wanted a house that was manageable and affordable. So we simplified.

Now we use every room in the house. We have great outdoor space and we use it. We love to entertain. We’re total mid-century modern buffs. We bought this house from the original owners and we spent a while fixing it up and making it what it is.

One of the questions we ask buyers is, “How long do you intend to own the house?” That helps them determine what is reasonable to pay and what is reasonable to invest. I’m a mover but Lisa isn’t and neither are our girls, Ruby, who’s almost 13 and Evelyn, who’s nine. So we decided we could live in this house for a very long time and we made the investment.

RG: How did you get into real estate?

DG: Griffin Properties is the fourth business I started. Each one I’ve started, built and sold. The businesses were all related to people and sales but none were ones I felt like I was going to do forever. I came to Grand Rapids for my first job out of college (I’ve now been here 25 years), focused on corporate communication skills, training and public relations. So that people part has always been really important.

When I started Griffin Properties in 2007, I was at a transition point. I’d sold my coffee shops and restaurants. I was working at Lafontsee Galleries selling art and loved that, but it was retail hours, and I had an infant and a toddler.

My mom was pestering me to get into real estate. You know, your mom says one thing and then you do the other thing. Now she’s saying, “Aren’t you glad you finally listened to me?”

I knew when I started this business that I didn’t have long to make it work. It’s an expensive business to be in. There is a lag from when you get a property to when you get paid. And sometimes it takes a while to get to a point where you can sell a property.

They say when you start a real estate business that you need to have a minimum of six months' living expense stored up. I had three. Three months to make this work. I just really hit it.

RG: You’ve differentiated yourself a lot with the Griffin Properties brand.

DG: Keller Williams encourages you to build your brand within their company. When I first started, my business was Diane Griffin. Then I started having a brand, Griffin Properties, and growing a team. People were wondering what I was doing at first. But now, clients don’t always expect me, which allows me to focus on other aspects of the business.

It allows everyone on the team to focus on what they’re great at. I hire people that are better than me in various areas and it’s best for the business. When you’re doing exclusively what you’re great at and what you love, morale is increased and it raises the bar for overall success. It’s a spiral upward of wonderful things.

RG: So what are the things you love to do?

DG: I love leadership, development, growth, community connectedness and exceeding client expectations.

RG: Tell me about the recent growth.

DG: As the Grand Rapids population grew, there was an opportunity to buy another Keller Williams franchise: Keller Williams North Market Center. They had a great foundation but needed leadership to get in bigger growth mode, and we felt ownership was a good business opportunity.

RG: I have the age-old question of work-life balance. How do you do it all?

DG: If it isn’t in my schedule it doesn’t exist. So I am very scheduled. I start with my calendar for the year and first block in family time, and then personal time including athletics, and then what is left is the availability I have to work.

I’m also very disciplined. If I’m going to lose 20 pounds, I’m going to lose it. If I decide to compete in six triathlons, I’m going to do at least that. It’s part of who I am.

RG: What do you attribute that discipline and motivation to – or is it simply an innate characteristic?

DG: Growing up with horses made a big impact on my life. We had a little house and a big barn. I believe horse riding is the sport that creates responsibility. As with other sports, you need to practice, but you can’t just leave your horse in the closet. You have to feed, water, let them out, groom them, clean the tack. My parents said, “If you want this, you do this.” I remember cracking ice off the buckets, carrying water from the house to the barn, and many early mornings.

I was a strong competitor. I earned my colors for fox hunting in two years, at age 16, and did three-day eventing. To earn my colors, I had to hunt for two consecutive years, every weekend on my horse at sun up. You wear a black jacket when learning to fox hunt, when rewarded your colors you are given brass buttons and then you get colors added to your jacket, and you get a vest to wear under your jacket.

You ride in stature order – highest ranked first and newbies at the back. You have to earn the right to your colors. You get there early, offer to help people, help clean horses. Horseback riding taught me the importance of respect, etiquette and discipline.

RG: What other sports do you enjoy?

DG: I’ve never been the super star at any sport but I enjoy the team participation and the self-achievement. I’ve swam and played soccer since high school. In college I was on the bike team.

RG: My college didn’t have a bike team. Tell me more!

DG: It was track bike racing, on these big heavy bikes. It was a relay so we’d go one or two laps, then you’d throw the bike and someone would catch you and someone else would catch the bike for the next racer.

I got into playing basketball after college and a lot of around town biking. I biked all winter, all summer. After Ruby was born, one of our friends asked if I’d heard the story on NPR about the book the Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer. The whole time I trained, I trained pushing Ruby, with a jogger. Less than 1% of the population completes a marathon, so completing my first marathon really built my confidence in my ability to do anything. Then I ran four more marathons, then four half marathons. I was so tired of running so I decided to try triathlons.

I did a sprint triathlon yesterday and I won my division. I suppose that’s the beauty of getting older: there are less people in each division. I can do a triathlon every weekend and stay in shape, feel good, clear my mind. I’ve noticed when you’re an influencer in your community, it’s looked at positively to have achievements outside your field of work. That’s an added bonus.

During the week I work out with my personal trainer and play on two soccer teams. We have a pontoon boat at Reed’s Lake so we go out, put the anchor down and swim around.

RG: What do you like to do as a family, in addition to spending time on the water?

DG: We like to travel, sometimes just Lisa and I, sometimes with the girls. Our most recent family trip was an Alaskan cruise. Before that, we traveled to Toronto and Niagara Falls. We take the girls to Naples, Florida to see my mom every year. Lisa and I love going on Olivia cruises. They’re all-women cruises and we go every two years. In October we’re cruising to Tahiti and Bora Bora.

As a family we like to play a lot of games, board games and cards. We enjoy bike riding together.

RG: Not only have you made Grand Rapids your home, you encourage and help many, many people to do the same. Why?

DG: Overall, the quality of life is really high here. The variety of weather is good. The proximity to the big lake is good. Proximity to Chicago and Detroit is good. Soon you’ll be able to fly places more easily. It's affordable, beautiful, a nice combination of types of people. There is something for everyone and I believe that. Finding the something for others is what we do; we’re connectors. I like to connect homebuyers with what is going on, from sailing to foodie groups. Everything happens here; it is just a matter of connecting with people.

Molly Crist is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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