Real Estate Agent of the Month Colleen Ratzlaff LaBeau

Colleen Ratzlaff LaBeau

Building A Family Tradition

By Susan Cushing

“Sales always came easily to me,” says Colleen Ratzlaff LaBeau of RE/MAX Advantage Plus, listing agent and sales and marketing manager for the Portland Tower and The Legacy project. “It just felt natural. My parents divorced when I was very young, so spending time in the summers with my dad typically meant hanging out at his real estate office. I enjoyed helping out, but I was always watching. I wanted to absorb the ‘how-to’s of running a business.”

Whether through genetics, osmosis or pure determination, LaBeau did just that; soaking up every morsel of commerce knowledge from a man whom accomplished MBAs consider a real estate genius. To LaBeau, James “Jim” Stanton was her father, to the rest of the world, particularly the movers and shakers of Twin Cities development, he was an icon.

Long before she knew or could appreciate how valuable lessons from this savvy businessman could be, LaBeau was enthralled by his charisma and magnetism. Spending time in his offices was her college education, the school of hard knocks. She loved the flurry of activity as much as the precise methodology. Some say real estate is in her blood, and that may be true, but it was certainly given an infusion during her visits with dad.

Good Stock

A 2014 inductee to the University of St. Thomas’s Minnesota Real Estate Hall of Fame, Stanton’s unchecked passion for building and developing large expanses of land, fueled a reputation of being “wild-nwooly,” a maverick and gambler. Those who knew him best describe Stanton as having a “big personality,” others say he took big risks.

But according to LaBeau, “He was a calculated risk taker. It seems like he never stopped or even slowed down. Literally, he worked seven days a week, even if it was just driving from site to site making sure everything was progressing on schedule. Luckily, his people were very loyal, many working with him, 25, 30 and some nearly 40 years. When he passed, not a whole lot changed as far as the day-to-day operations because he did have so many trusted employees to carry on and do so in the way they knew Jim would have wanted.”

Most importantly, Stanton’s legacy is in the capable hands of his daughter, who can personally attest to the loyalty of his dedicated employees, having effectively stepped into her father’s shoes. In fact, LaBeau is simply carrying on and expanding the responsibilities handed over to her in 2008. At that time Stanton was in the middle of building out The Bridgewater, a 282-unit condominium complex, and called upon his daughter to share her expertise in sales and marketing, to help him traverse the turbulent economic waters during that time.

“The person who had been handling that aspect of the project had to leave due to a family medical situation,” says LaBeau. “So, I took over management of the sales team and handled all the marketing. The market, as you know at that time was pretty bad, but we managed to hold prices and stabilize the building position, so buyers weren’t losing equity. Gradually the market began to pick up, so he started Stonebridge, which sold out 80 percent within the first 10 months.”

It’s certainly no coincidence that bringing together two of the most brilliant real estate development minds in the country resulted in an unqualified success during a time when others were failing left and right. Interestingly, collaborating on this enterprise was the most time father and daughter had spent together in quite a while. Stanton was fully engaged in launching project after project, while LaBeau was equally busy, building a career and companies demonstrating her superior business acumen and marketing savvy.

A New Era

With the passing of her father, LaBeau’s involvement and responsibilities multiplied. As she continues to lead the sales and marketing efforts, she puts full confidence in the workers who have been there for most if not all of Stanton’s 10 projects. LaBeau has her own reputation to live up to, but is equally concerned about honoring that of her father, who gave so much to the Twin Cities.

For as long as she can remember, people have made the inevitable comparison between father and daughter. So much like her dad in so many ways, even LaBeau admits there has to be something genetic involved, but there is also the fact that Stanton passed along the same work ethic he had from early childhood.

According to LaBeau, her father was born and raised on a farm in Greenvale Township near Northfield, which might explain his strong work ethic and stamina. The eldest of 12 children, Stanton’s own father, had come from nothing and through hard work and determination developed a farm profitable enough to comfortably sustain his large brood. He fully expected his children, specifically son, James, to stay put and follow in his footsteps. But young Stanton had other ideas and dreams of the “big city,” where he applied the principles of his childhood and forged his own dream. Like his father before him, Stanton began with nothing, but his success was of such a size and stature that he became something of a legend in his own time.

Considered one of the most prolific developers in the Twin Cities area, Stanton had been in real estate for more than 55 years when he passed away earlier this year. With more than 6,000 homesites in 28 metro communities to his credit, Stanton had residential and commercial projects in 10 different cities within Minnesota and Wisconsin. Key developments include Riverdale Village in Coon Rapids and The Wilds Golf Course in Prior Lake. He also provided affordable rent to nearly 300 visual artists at the Northrup King Building in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District.

For his many contributions to local organizations and charities, Stanton received myriad leadership roles and distinguished awards for his service with the Minnesota Association of REALTORS, National Association of REALTORS, North Metro REALTORS Association, St. Paul Area Association of REALTORS and the Builders Association of the Twin Cities. A 35-year member of the Builders Association, Stanton served on the board of directors for both Builders Association of Minnesota and National Association of Home Builders (NHAB).

Little Lady Takes A Bow

Many might argue that LaBeau is the most recent in a long-line of family achievers, a brilliant example of the “new face” of successors and constructors of family dynasties. One fact that is indisputable, La- Beau is a woman who from a very early age demonstrated exceptional business savvy and a natural gift for transactions, marketing and, ultimately building an empire. Not only is she something of a real estate icon in her own right, those “in the know” are quick to draw the inevitable comparisons between her and her father.

Truly, a sales and marketing savant, while still in pigtails LaBeau was already flexing her commerce brawn, while other little girls played hopscotch. Without breaking a proverbial sweat, she handily not only won but set records, for Girl Scout cookie sales, magazine subscription drives and every other door-to-door sales campaign of childhood. As she grew, so did her aspirations.

At the age of 9, LaBeau had her own paper route and sold soon-to-be jack-o’-lanterns in her grandfather’s pumpkin patch. By the time she reached high school, LaBeau had launched her own house cleaning business, with more than 20 accounts. “I was always looking for ways to earn money,” she says. “But it was more than just wanting to earn pocket money, I was drawn to anything that fed that entrepreneurial drive.”

Her enterprising ambition drove La- Beau to actively seek new ways of exploring her natural entrepreneurial bent. “I painted apartments. Anytime someone moved out, I provided cleaning service and got the apartment or house ready for the next renters. I also worked at the local pharmacy.”

It wasn’t just her father’s influence over this young go-getter. As a single mom raising four children, LaBeau says her mother always worked very hard and taught her children valuable lessons including that of a strong work ethic. “She always told us, if you want something you have to work for it,” says LaBeau.

She had no problem following her mom’s advice, but did seek her own path. LaBeau decided early on that while never shying away from hard work, she would rather work smarter not harder. Her drive to succeed eclipsed everything else in her life.

“These days they would diagnose me as ADD, (I call it Additional Data Download) I was always on the move and my mind racing thinking about the next fun thing I could do,” she says. “I like people and helping people. I actually worked a few jobs out of high school, but after a back injury, the labor-intensive jobs became harder. I ended up managing a 24-hour convenience store chain.”

By the time she reached the ripe old age of 22, LaBeau figured that as long as she was going to be putting in a 60-hour work week, it may as well be toward her own business. Real estate seemed the most natural fit for both her energy and skills, so she went to school. LaBeau jumped in with both feet and built her business quickly.

She’d only been in the business for four months, when she was already managing a real estate company and, after a year she and her then brother-in-law opened up a custom home building and remodeling company, Ratzlaff Construction now called Ratzlaff Homes.

Career Blastoff

Reminiscent of her childhood achievements, LaBeau’s real estate career launched like a rocket. From the beginning, LaBeau has consistently been the top sales person in every office she’s worked with. Over the course of her 32-year career, she has always ranked with the top 1 percent and was the recipient of the REALTOR of the Year Award in both 2005 and 2009.

As president of Ratzlaff Homes, LaBeau applies the same values and philosophy as in her real estate business. According to her, trust is the single most important ingredient. Just like sincerity, there is no quick route to earning someone’s trust, rather it’s a slow process built on layer upon layer of promises kept and consistent, quality service. Most importantly, she applies this relationship standard to her employees, subcontractors, and of course, her clients. Building trust begins at the beginning. To this end, LaBeau says she doesn’t automatically sell to everyone who walks through the door.

“Building is a huge commitment and an equally big decision,” she says. “Generally, clients will have between four and eight meetings before getting to the point where we actually sign a purchase agreement. I want to make sure they understand exactly what’s entailed and truly feel good about the process and about what they’re building.”

She also encourages prospective clients to contact past customers. “We have a list of hundreds of buyers’ names that we actively give people to call,” she notes.

After more than 30 years of building just about every style of project from custom home building to remodeling, LaBeau’s main focus has become more of managing and marketing.

While she is focused on her father’s last projects, husband and long-time REALTOR Tom LaBeau and his experienced sales team carry on the work at Ratzlaff Homes.

“Tom has more than 40 years of experience in the real estate industry,” she says, “together with our sales team, our clients are benefitting from a combined total of more than 125 years knowledge and experience.”

Trying to ensure that her father’s vision comes to fruition, she is currently fully engaged in the sales and marketing of The Portland Tower, consisting of 112 condo units. Indeed, her efforts have been so successful, there are only units 28 left for buyers to purchase and customize to their own taste.

“The biggest amount of time is helping see through my father’s 10th condo project in Minneapolis – The Legacy,” she says. “It was just coming up out of the ground when he passed away this past June. It is now nearly fully topped off and ready to finish the interiors of 374 units.”

A bittersweet story of success for LaBeau, The Legacy was the name she chose for the project and now wonders at how prophetic it was.

“It is an honor to have named the building The Legacy,” she says, “but a little sad at the same time. I thought it could be my dad’s last building since he was in his 80s, but unfortunately didn’t get to see it fully finished out. He rarely missed a day at the site, just be a part of the action and talk with all the workers. Fortunately, he had a team that can and have moved forward just like business as usual.”