Interview with Brie and Tarah Plemmons of Plemmons Industries:
Brie Plemmons is the chief operating officer and creative vision behind her family’s Seattle real estate firm, Plemmons Industries. Brie specializes in revitalizing older commercial buildings and modernizing their single-family-home holdings. Her sister, Tarah Plemmons, is the director of the commercial division and the newest member of the Plemmons Industries team, which was just endowed with a Best Customer Service of the Year Award. This sister duo is paving the way for other young women to thrive in one of the hottest real estate markets in the country, all the while honoring the tradition their family established in 1965.
Plemmons Industries is a three-tiered company with distinct commercial, residential and development divisions. All of these operations are run in-house, from the first business park they ever developed in the South Sound of Seattle, Washington.
Q: What is Plemmons Industries? How did you get your start?
B: We are a small family real estate firm, founded in 1965, that does commercial, residential, and development, all in-house. My father, Jim, started this firm after college, when he realized there were no affordable spaces to lease a small office in the Greater Seattle Area. If it didn’t exist then, surely other people were in need of the same thing. Upon building our first business park, the Firm started building single family homes that could be rented. Although a cliché today, rentable homes in the 70’s didn’t exist. This paired nicely with also renting to the same demographic of young and small businesses, who sought their first commercial location. This has been going on for decades, expanding into mini-storage, micro housing, and even developing horse farms. The goal was, and always is, to find a need and fill it, and people will forever need a place to get their start.
Q: Why real estate?
B: My father Jim, grew up on a farm. Tending and taking care of the earth has always been in his blood. In the 40’s and 50’s, if you wanted a new structure, you had to build it yourself or have the community help. My family did not grow up with money. After college, the principle remained the same; if you don’t have money, you have to build it yourself because your time is free. Once my father realized that there was a market for people just like him, he worked tirelessly to find a way to build a safe, quick home for people with very little money. It worked. With the help of my older brothers, they built neighborhoods upon neighborhoods, filled with families like ours. That is where the story began.
Q: How did this become a multi-generational family business?
B: My father has a lot of children and several have worked for the company over the years. It is the life blood in all of us, whether we decide to make it a career or not. My dad always was of the belief that if you can’t be passionate about your job, you will never succeed, thus it was never a requirement to join the fray. Coming back to the fold was of our own free will. In fact, Tarah and I came into the company at very different times and for very different reasons. But, at the root of a family business, is the pride to contribute to the thing that paid for all of our lives. It is paying it back to make an opportunity to pay it forward.
Q: You didn’t go to college for real estate, why not?
T: I chose science because I wanted to be different than my other siblings. I wanted to help people. I wanted my field of choice to be a direct link to helping people. I learned from growing up in construction that time management, hard work, and caring would always result in making a person’s life better. Having a safe environment was driven into me at a young age. I wanted to make a life out of that.
Q: What drew you away from the field of science to the family business?
T: Family has always been at the center of all things for us. I grew up in real estate so it was second nature to me. I was born into this life. I take my science degrees and apply the same principles of discipline and problem solving.
Q: What is your role at Plemmons Industries?
T: I wear many different hats. That is the beauty of our family. You have to multi-task in all things to survive and be the best. I found that the paperwork side is where I could first make a difference. I love reading and enforcing contracts, it’s the science side of me. But as I have grown, I know that the everyday interaction with clients is where I can make the largest impact. I get to meet people from all backgrounds and linguistic barriers and I have to make them feel comfortable. Although we are talking about very serious business matters, there is no reason that we cannot share a joke or two. I want my clients to know that this company is there for them and that it is imperative that they feel safe in this negotiation.
Q: Your company does residential and commercial real estate, why did you chose the commercial side?
T: There is a very rewarding side of CRE because you have a hand in small businesses taking their first step. We have seen multi-million dollar companies start with a 100 sq/ft office space. Every tenant is the next big deal in our local, or perhaps nationwide, economy. We are believers in the future entrepreneurs of America. It is such an exciting time especially in Washington, where the tech boom is flourishing.
Q: What is the most difficult thing about being in the Seattle real estate market?
T: It is a gift and a curse. Seattle is one of the hottest real estate markets, period. Not only do we have the migration from CA and OR but also Vancouver and that is just locally. The Asian and Eastern European market is always investing in our ports. Prices can be inflated and our product must be perfect. We have been in this market for 50+ years and know with continually updating our inventory, there will always be a need for centrally located, easily accessible, small business friendly, industrial space. My dad bet on this in the 60’s and it will remain a fact as long as my sister and I are at the helm.
Q: You mention Brie. How do you work as a duo? Do you not fight constantly? You are two years apart.
T: I think our parents had this partnership in mind throughout our childhood. We are so very different that we rarely step on each other’s toes. She has her role as the creative vision, the money person, and the face of the brand. I, however, get to deal with all the staff, the clients, the complaints, and the troubleshooting to improve. We never fight about the future or even the present status of the company, but perhaps ‘who is the better boss.’
Q: What is the difference between you and Brie?
T: First of all, I am the funny one and absolutely the most well liked, you can ask anyone. But that being said, we each have our roles. Our company is focused on balance. We always want all clients to be able to relate with one of us. Brie is more outspoken, hard negotiating, and extremely passionate about our goals. I am very even-tempered, calm, and relaxed. It is interesting to see which clients respond to our different personalities. We are so lucky to be complementary in our approaches to business. We have a dichotomy that is important in any partnership.
Q: What do you do to get away from business?
T: I love hiking. I have lived all over the US and Canada and I cannot explain how gorgeous Washington’s topography is. It gives me time to be quiet and in nature. We have our dogs in the office and they like to take the weekends off too. It is all about a work-life balance; that is, if we aren’t in the midst of a huge project.
Q: Brie you came into Plemmons Industries after the market crash, how did you rebound?
B: It was year-long struggle of constant work and renovation. The commercial side was still lagging but needed monstrous attention without the promise of return. We decided to source everything as local as possible. Kent is one of the largest industrially saturated places in the US and number one in Washington. We started close to home. We got back to our roots and subbed out jobs to people needing the work down the street. It worked out beautifully.
Q: How did you get your start in real estate?
B: Being older than Tarah, I have memories of working on the constructions sites as a child. We renovated historical homes, built horse farms, and even designed the office that I work in today. I had a little red briefcase with my tape measure, large pencil, and calculator, which I would take to the sites with my Dad. I grew up watching my parents do the impossible. They would take an overgrown, misshaped field and make it into a beautiful building. I was hooked.
Q: You didn’t go to school for real estate either? Why not?
B: I was an athlete and a secret nerd. I wanted to break outside of what I knew and do something unique. Well, that was at least my intention as a young adult. Through all of my degrees, I realized that what I really love and have always been passionate about, is business. I didn’t feel I needed an MBA to teach me how to do it well. I had the best mentors already, my parents. Sometimes, you have to go away from your selected path to choose it for yourself, naturally and full heartedly.
Q: What is your role in the company?
B: The role has evolved over the years. In the beginning, I was absolutely my father’s right hand. He mentored me in all things construction and simultaneously pushed me out of the nest when it came to troubleshooting any problems. He gave me the liberty to fix and improve upon all the buildings we had and also the responsibility to take ownership for their failures. As the years passed and the market changed, so did my experience and knowledge. I now run all of the divisions; commercial, residential, and the development side. My father is still very involved in all new builds but trusts that Tarah and I will continue to reface all the existing structures. Ultimately, I would say I am a renaissance “wo”man. As, I have always been taught that if you watch after the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves. We are a family that will stop at nothing to get the job done. That is my role, get the job done.
Q: Is being a woman in real estate different than your male peers?
B: I would like to say “no” but especially in the commercial real estate side, we are rare. I hope that people like Tarah and I will encourage women to pursue this field because they are needed. The Seattle market is so international that it can be intimidating. Ninety percent of our clients are men and forty percent do not speak English. I think of this as an opportunity to break the ideals of who would be representing a real estate firm. I take this mission very seriously, as I know when I go to a showing, they are not expecting me. The only thing that supersedes gender barriers in a male dominated field is knowledge. My company’s goal has always been to make a fair and mutually equitable deal, regardless of the players. This principle has been at the root of our company’s culture and has now allowed two women to run it. It makes no difference to me who I am dealing with, but it makes all the difference when I am welcomed surprise.
Q: Where do you see your real estate future?
B: I see my future as adventurous. The landscape of America is changing, as are the businesses that will succeed and the people who run them. I want Plemmons Industries to be a part of that. Whether we are renting/selling starter homes to immigrants, or leasing to the next big tech geniuses. We will always keep our roots, which is providing the opportunity for people to house their futures and dreams. As for what those structures look like, I can’t give away all my secrets.