Self-made, self-reliant and self-driven: Michele Rogers turns whatever life deals her into a winning hand
Michele Rogers had no job, no college degree, no husband and no place of her own when she pulled up stakes in her hometown of Norfolk, Va., and headed for Haywood County in the winter of 1996.
“I rolled into town with a car, a little bit of furniture and two little kids,” Rogers recalled. “I literally had to start from the ground up.”
But Rogers was full of grit and optimism, a winning combination for a self-made businesswoman.
In a 15-year span, Rogers climbed the ladder in the business world from a desk clerk at Maggie Valley Country Club to the owner of a prominent rental home company, Select Homes.
Rogers had an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time — and winning over the right people — in her career journey.
Like most business success stories, Rogers still remembers the turning point that catapulted her from sales foot soldier to small business owner. She was a Realtor at the time and was shooting the breeze in her boss’ office — griping about the souring real estate market as she recalls — when an unexpected call came through.
It was Bruce Totty, the owner of Select Homes. She was short-staffed and wanted someone to pinch-hit as a temp worker.
“She said ‘Do you know anyone smarter than the average bear who can come in here and help me for a few weeks?’” Rogers recalled.
Ron Breese, the owner of ReMax Mountain Realty, swiveled to Rogers and asked her if she wanted to pick up some extra work.
Rogers had been a Realtor for less than three years and was knocking it out of the park.
“I did very well. I was a very hard worker for one,” Rogers said. “I have always been an over-achiever.”
But by 2008, the market had slowed dramatically.
“I love to work. I didn’t like sitting in my cubicle. I thought, ‘It will give me something to do instead of sitting here and the phone not ringing for eight hours.’ I thought I was going to do it two or three weeks.”
Rogers would ultimately come to own the business.
“I have truly loved every job I had, and that’s the truth. But I have never loved a job like I love property management,” Rogers said. “I knew after I was here two months this was my niche.”
Still, Rogers was torn over returning to real estate and staying in the rental management business. But Totty kept asking her to stay.
“Bruce and I hit it off,” Rogers said.
Of course, that’s true of just about anyone Rogers ever meets.
Rogers’ outgoing and open personality has been one of her greatest strengths in her business endeavors. She has the rare ability to find a personal connection with everyone she encounters. From the second she meets you, she’s an open book, and that translated to her sales approach.
“Whether it was on the phone or in person, I always tried to find a way to connect with that person,” Rogers said. “I make it more about a conversation.”
That knack for building relationships in a heartbeat made her a perfect fit for the world of property management.
“I love it. I love the interaction with the owners and the tenants, I love finding people somewhere to live,” Rogers said.
Totty began turning more and more of the business operations over to Rogers, until Rogers was essentially running Select Homes.
“I just came out and said ‘Are you interested in selling?’” Rogers said.
Rogers has steadily grown the business since becoming the owner in 2010, more than doubling the number of rental properties that Select Homes manages.
“Two hundred and sixty-five, as of today,” Rogers said.
The growth of Select Homes can’t be chalked up solely to Rogers’ charisma, but is the result of tireless networking in the business and real estate community.
And while her upward career trajectory might look like luck, it was anything but.
Whether it was taking night classes for her real estate license or studying landlord-tenant law when the rest of her family was asleep, Rogers worked tirelessly to position herself in the path of opportunity.
Perhaps most importantly, when doors opened for her, she had to be brave enough to go for it. It’s certainly been a motto in her life, going back to that early decision to strike out on her own as a 25-year-old single mom to start the next chapter of her life following a divorce.
“I can remember making the decision. I remember thinking the big city is not for me. I love the mountains and thought ‘I will give it two years,’” said Rogers.
Rogers inherited her independent streak from her mother, who taught her the virtues of tenacity and self-reliance as a child. Her father was diagnosed with life-altering cancer when she was a child, and it was up to her mom to make a living to support the family.
“I know this is cliché, but I attribute a lot of my success to my mother. I grew up in an era when the majority of my friends had a stay-at-home mom,” Rogers said. “It wasn’t that she was a feminist, she was just like you never know what is going to happen in your life.”
Like Rogers, her mother started at the bottom and quickly came up through the ranks.
“My mother was a go-getter. She started as a secretary and kept getting promoted,” Rogers said.
Rogers’ story is similar. After arriving in Haywood County, she landed a job at the front desk at Maggie Valley Country Club but didn’t stay at the post long — only three months — before being promoted to sales and marketing manager. Her boss hand-picked her as the perfect fit to sell the country club as a resort destination to golf groups, a job that included traveling to golf trade shows all over the country.
“Because I am so outgoing,” Rogers said. “She saw that sales quality in me and she took me under her wing.”
She later migrated to a similar group sales position at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center, before making another leap into real estate, landing an agent position with ReMax Mountain Realty.
Once again, Rogers made the right connections, teaming up as partners with another agent, Scotty Schulhofer, who had vast connections as a local.
The two shared all their listings, marketing costs and commissions — based on a “handshake deal” that gave Rogers forays into the real estate world it would have taken years to build up otherwise.
“Scotty knew everybody and I did the work. That was our joke,” Rogers said.
Rogers’ enthusiasm that got her where she is today isn’t something you can simply turn off, and that proved one of her biggest challenges as a business owner.
When Rogers bought Select Homes, she was working until midnight, and back again by 7 the next morning. Her sons were grown by then, and her days as a self-described baseball mom were over, freeing her up to throw herself headlong into her work.
“I had zero life. I was so afraid something was going to go wrong. I was a new business owner and felt like I needed to know everything going on and needed to handle it,” Rogers said.
She knew she had to temper her own drive, but didn’t quite know how.
Rogers’ salvation came from her husband, who quit his job and came to work with her at Select Homes. She had two employees but needed a management-level broker.
“You grow to a certain point and know you need someone else. It was a huge leap of faith because we were giving up his salary,” said Rogers.
They’d been married for nearly 10 years but had known each other much longer. They’d met when Rogers worked at Maggie County Club, where Rick was in accounting.
Rick’s as easygoing as Rogers is outgoing. He’s not only Rogers’ business partner and husband, but her best friend.
Rogers is a die-hard Steelers fan and country music nut, and quickly converted Rick. And Rogers took up deer hunting — they are in a hunting club together — and staying at a camper at the lake on weekends. She even listens to his ‘90s music.
“We go to listing appointments together. We ride to work together every day. We are one of those lucky couples that truly get along that well,” Rogers said.
Most of the time, that is.
“We have a joke that I fire him occasionally,” Rogers said.
Even with Rick on board, it was hard for Rogers to let go of the wheel.
“I am very type A and felt like I had to have my hand in everything. It really was an epiphany. I thought, ‘What am I doing? I have the best possible team I could have. I have got to let it go,’” Rogers said.
The business was growing and needed more space anyway. So Rogers expanded the office — located one block off Main in downtown Waynesville — and set up her own work space in an adjacent office suite with a shared lobby.
“I can’t hear what is going on over there and I can’t stick my nose in it. I am able to focus on my job,” Rogers said.
It also gave her a chance to redecorate. Rick moved into her old office — which was decked out in Steelers colors and paraphernalia — giving Rogers a new office canvas to work with.
She decided to pay homage to her love of old LPs, autographed guitars and concert memorabilia, including framing and displaying dozens of records from her collection.
“It is a great ice breaker when meeting new clients,” Rogers said.
Not that Rogers needs any help in that department.
“I have never met a stranger,” she said.