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Power Women: Kimberly Lay

Dallas-Ft. Worth

Hudson Peters' Kimberly Lay may be one of the top buyer and tenant reps in Dallas, but her start was a little unorthodox. It began her senior year of high school when she oversold yearbook advertisements by 400%. (Nobody there will ever forget it... because they have the yearbook to jog their memories.)

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That was during 1991 in Anniston, Ala. Kimberly's stepfather, the GM for the local radio station, was her sales guru. His clients in the market of 50,000 included the bank, jewelry store, furniture store, local car dealerships, and the local real estate office. She told him she'd just go with him on his sales calls, and after he got through selling each their monthly advertising for $3,000, she'd add on a $300 yearbook sponsorship. "He said, 'That's not really how it works. My sales calls are at my Rotary Club meeting, at the country club, down at the Chamber of Commerce, at the theatre--those are my calls'." Kimberly (pictured with client and WaterTower Theatre Spotlight Gala chair Barbara Daseke in 2009) internalized the lesson immediately: "Our year books were lined with gold that year; we started an endowment for future years." (Though there's probably a few kids who wish that money would've gone to airbrushing their pictures.)

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It wasn't until 2002, though, that she had her "a-ha" moment about commercial real estate. She'd come to Dallas in 1998 and was applying her people skills in the restaurant world, waiting tables at Benedict's, largely a business crowd. Her boyfriend at the time worked for a growing restaurant group, which had a broker. In a lavish social setting (on a Thursday, the day that company set aside to celebrate closed deals), their real estate transaction had cratered and broker was inconsolable. She tried to help him put it in perspective and learned that the lost fee was $85k, more than she made in a year. "I remember it like it was yesterday; everything went into slow motion for me," she recalls. As she watched her friends sip their martinis from the balcony, she said to herself, "That's it. That's what I'm going to do." She called her parents on her way home that night, handed in her notice at the restaurant the next day, and within a month, had her real estate license. (And maybe a martini as well.) That's her going over the edge of the Hotel Intercontinental in 2011 for Special Olympics.

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Her first job: a broker, Jim Conrow (here with her at a NTCAR event in 2003), whom she knew from the restaurant. His first lesson on becoming a broker: cold call. But that didn't make "good sense" to Kimberly. She opted to hang out at a busy Starbucks where she met her first client, a woman whose company had an energy drink and needed office space for a year. She took the deal to Shula Netzer, who had a building on the Tollway. Kimberly said she had a good credit tenant and named her fee: 6%. "The landlord looked up my license and said, 'You've had your license for 45 days and you're asking me for 6%'?" Kimberly expanded that client for years until they were purchased by Coca-Cola. Kimberly never owned the fact that she was a rookie, even in her first year. She wore a black suit to the office every day (from Goodwill) and left at 5 to make it to her 6 o'clock restaurant shift across town, which paid the bills for her first year in real estate.

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Kimberly's business methods haven't changed much since high school. She still sends handwritten notes everyday (though she outsources it to someone else). She is the chair elect for the North Dallas Chamber and has served on the board for her favorite non-profit (with several transactions born from that personal passion). Doing good work for the Chamber or the Rotary fundraiser, the silent auction at your kid's school, church, or the community garden means "fellow volunteers know that you're going to treat their real estate deal with the same common sense and energy." (Just with fewer lemon squares.) During the recession, she jumped into community service head first, serving three and a half years on the Addison City Council. She only made $200/ month, but she learned a lot representing eight cities for transportation advocacy and state and federal funding. Retiring from the post of deputy mayor pro tem last year, she's now fully engaged with complete focus on her real estate clients.

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Kimberly's greatest honor may have been winning the 2010 Paul Hanson Award as given by Ebby Halliday. This award is named for Ebby's brother for community service in the North Dallas business community (Kimberly's biggest clients were there; it rendered her speechless). Her hallmark deal to date: Visit Addison with the Dallas Craft Guild. Sweet Spot clients: Specialty Blends, Daseke Inc, Kenny's Brand Restaurants. Kimberly's daughter, at six isn't quite ready for this advice to young women: Figure out what you're great at, improve upon it daily and don't spend a moment working on your weaknesses. If you're not good at it, let someone else do it. (Guess that means we need to stop trying to juggle.)