Dallas Business Journal - November 10, 2003

Stepping up from door-to-door selling
Sandra Zaragoza
Staff Writer

The next time you see a door-to-door book salesperson standing on your welcome mat, don't be so quick to shut the door. Among the eager college kids offering books at your front porch could be a future state governor, hotel president or real estate bigwig -- as one successful local commercial real estate broker can testify.

Because Steve Shrum, now co-managing partner with Dallas-based Glacier Commercial Realty L.P., a company he launched with partner Andrew Beckman in August this year, peddled books door-to-door during summer breaks from college.

Glacier specializes in tenant and owner representation, investment services and acquisition and disposition of office properties, industrial properties and land.

While a student at Idaho State University in 1977, Shrum heard about a company called Southwestern Co., which was offering college kids the opportunity to earn up to $4,000 in a summer.

Nashville, Tenn.-based Southwestern Co. still markets family-oriented educational reference books and software through its work force of college students. It recruits college students and relocates them in different cities so that a student "takes their work more seriously and is away from distractions," the company says.

When Shrum was with the company in the late 1970s, students were placed in a host family's home and asked to contribute about $10 in rent a week. A financially strapped college student, Shrum signed up.

"I didn't want to ask my parents for help, and I knew I would be able to see a different part of the country," he said.

He soon discovered that selling educational books 80 to 85 hours a week wasn't as easy as he'd thought it would be.

"My first year was hard. When you've never been a salesman, the rejection kills you," he said. "It was a humiliating experience, but I kept going. I was dead last in sales at the beginning of the summer. I felt like Emmitt Smith, (after the recent Dallas Cowboys vs. Arizona Cardinals game.) I felt like crying."

But by the end of the summer, Shrum had become the No.1 rookie in his group.

"It really taught me to do what you say you are going to do," he said. "It made me understand the importance of the dollar. I think it helped me to develop good work habits and good ethics."

His sales technique improved with each passing summer week. "My communication skills got better, and I would be able to tell in 20 seconds if people weren't interested," he said.

He would visit about 20 families daily, making sales in 10 to 15 of those attempts.

That first summer he earned $4,000 and enjoyed the experience so much he returned every summer for the next six years, earning more every year. He eventually gained recognition with the company as one of its top producers.

It was during this time that he met his wife, Pam, a top Bible saleswoman for the company. Together they have four children, ages 4 to 14.

Though earning money was the initial attraction for Shrum, it later became secondary to the excitement of competing against his fellow college salesmen.

"I didn't want to lose," he said. "The high level of competition motivated all of us to do well."

Among those he competed against were Ronnie Musgrove, now governor of Mississippi.

The experience also opened doors for Shrum as a sales manager and recruiter for Southwestern Co. He eventually left the company and moved to Dallas, where he found a retail position selling men's custom clothes from 1984 to 1987.

Many of the clients he sold suits to were movers and shakers in the real estate industry and it was at a fitting that Shrum met Jerry Fults, president of The Fults Cos., who later offered him a job.

He spent the next 15 years in tenant representation at The Fults Cos., which later became Kennedy Wilson International Inc. A few years ago, he left Kennedy Wilson and moved to Stream Realty Partners L.P.

Early this year, Shrum and colleague Andrew Beckman, who have worked together for the past 10 years, decided it was the right time to launch their own company. They brought in Morris Orr, a real estate veteran with whom they had worked at The Fults Cos.

"It's not like a start-up company that doesn't have existing clients. We have retained all of our clients," Shrum said. "We are like family. We trust each other and respect each other. There are a lot of companies that don't have trust between their partners. With us it's never going to be a problem."

Morse say selling books and suits isn't too different from what he is doing now.

"It is a lot of the same principles. You have to make calls and build relationships," he said.