Staff Writer

Mark McKenna knows all about how to get out there, work hard and hustle to be successful. It’s a life he’s been living ever since his days of donning the bright orange football jersey of Cherokee High School. Things don’t get handed to you in this life and if you want something, you better be willing to do what it takes to get it. That’s a life lesson he learned from his Chiefs coaches, and a mantra that has served him well through a real estate career that has been going strong for three decades and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. 

Pat McKenna, Mark’s father, started Pat McKenna Realtors along with his wife, Eleanor in the late 70s, but he never got to see much past the groundwork being laid for the future success of the business. Pat died in 1984 of a heart attack. Mark was just a sophomore in high school, and suddenly adversity was staring him in the face. His mother had six months to pass the broker’s exam or risk losing the business altogether. 

“My mother didn’t have her broker’s license. At the time, my brother was in the Naval Academy and I was a sophomore in high school. She had six months to pass the broker’s exam, so we cut it close. She passed it, and she still runs the business to this day, in her early 80s. It’s her business, I’m a salesman for the company,” McKenna said. “My first full year was 1991. I played football at Cherokee (graduating in 1985) and then four years at Widener, I had a great time there and a great career. I got my license when I was 18 and I had been out putting up lawn signs since I was about 10 years old. My two older brothers didn’t get into the business, but my mom always said, ‘I knew, of any of the three boys, you would get into it because you would go over somebody’s house and tell them all about their house.’ Nobody pushed me, I just kind of fell into it.”

What could have been a failed business in the early 1980s instead has turned into one of the great success stories of South Jersey and the Marlton area in particular. McKenna said the company is in the process of building a brand-new, state-of-the-art office on Main Street in Marlton, and he has visions of selling more than 300 houses in 2021. The company sells a home about every 26 hours, and with his wife teaching school and three kids, life can get pretty hectic in the McKenna household.  

“I got into this business in 1991 and just kept working and working. In 1997, I hired my first assistant, Sandy, and my mom and I kind of shared her, then we hired Lucy in 2000, and they are both still here today. I used to sell 70 houses a year by myself, then I hit 100, then I told a guy who owned a bunch of Re/Max offices that I was going to break 200. He said, ‘you’ll never break 200.’ I broke 200 and he was the first guy I called,” McKenna said. “Now, we’ve ripped down our old building and we’re building a brand new, state-of-the-art building. We have four salaried people who work for me and there’s a total of 13 in our group. This year, we’ll close about $93 million in sales. Nobody can figure out how we do it with a small, family owned business, but we have a lot of technology, great systems, we have great social media and probably one of the few companies in South Jersey that has what’s called an inside sales agent. No leads slip through the cracks here anymore. We don’t miss anything now.”

Pat McKenna Realtors may be a small-town business, but it certainly has the clout to play on the stage with the big boys in the region. He’s had some serious consistency among his staff, and that’s been one of the keys to success. Sandy Stern has been with the company for 23 years, Lucy Nowicki for 21, Bob Grace for 25 and Jeff Amsden for 15. The staff also includes salespeople Dana Grigore, Lauren Schmidt, Don Antonelli, Michelle Tierney, Shealyn Coyle-Maugeri, Amanda Angelozzi and Nick Versaggi, inside sales agent Karli Cindelli and social media director Dalton Lanoza.

Plus, Mark McKenna said he makes it a priority to continue to infuse the staff with younger team members to give some new perspective.  

“The great part about us is we have a lot of young energy,” he said. “We have two 24-year-olds, a 28-year-old — I try to stagger everybody about five years apart. We have a 32-year-old, a 38-year-old, 44, etc.”

One thing Mark does require from everyone on his team is the willingness to work their tails off. Real Estate is a hustle game, and if somebody isn’t willing to work the phones like crazy and follow up every lead, it’s probably not the right business for them, he said. 

“We sell all over. Lucy just sold a property in Ocean City for $1.2 million, I have a buyer I’m working with in Point Pleasant for $3 million, so we have a lot of different things going on. But we eat, sleep and drink it here. You can drive by the office at 10 or 11 at night and you’ll see a light on,” McKenna said. 

“You can never take your foot off the gas pedal. The one thing about this business is you have to be super competitive because it’s nonstop. A lot of realtors get lazy. I always tell people that realtors usually fall asleep around Halloween because they don’t think anything happens from Halloween to New Year’s Eve, then they get all motivated when the credit card bills come in. In January, they try to reinvent themselves. So if you can have a strong fourth quarter it sets you up for success. The first quarter might be weak but you’re always going to be busy in the second and third quarters — so you have to grind through those quarters,” he added. “Smile, dial and make a pile. We do a lot of different things here. Like me, I’m a phone person, I like prospecting at night or I’ll come in on the weekends to try to track people down. The great thing about COVID was you could get in touch with everybody, everybody was home. We’ve been doing a lot on social media and have been doing a lot of different things.”

The real estate business has been booming the past couple of years and McKenna said his company needs to take advantage of that upswing because the market does fluctuate. This month, as the staff does every year, they’ll get together and go over everything that happened in 2020, the good, the bad, what could have been done better. McKenna is constantly self-evaluating and even has a real estate coach he contacts regularly to keep himself sharp. 

“You have to reinvent yourself every couple of years. You can’t keep doing the same things because this business will go right by you. This time of year we try to brainstorm, think about things, where we can improve, where we struggled the year before — kind of game plan for the run, which is February through July. Our goal (in 2021) is to do 350 units and about $110 million in business. This year we’ll be at about 290 units, which is the most we’ve ever done,” he said. 

As much as his wife, Shannon, may want Mark to slow down, it’s a tough business to take a break. There’s always the next sale and every day brings new challenges and busy schedules. But, this is what Mark McKenna does, and what he loves. He loves being involved in the local communities, going to support Cherokee High School football on Friday nights — he’s a Marlton guy, through and through, and that’s never going to change, even if he does start to dial back the 15-hour days. 

“We’re really involved in the community with sponsorships, field signage, PTAs — we’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars. This year we’re making a $32,000 donation and half of that is going to the police for Toys for Tots, some will go to churches and people in need. For us, it’s good to be a part of stuff like that,” he said. “I think this industry, in 15 years, will look a lot different than it does today. I think I’ll work another 10 or 15 years, maybe. I like to educate people and I like to see people grow. I always connect everything to sports — if you have that team concept mentality, and if you’re willing to lead by example, you’re going to be successful. I have great people on my team, so each year I can let go a little bit more.”