Downtown & Student Housing: Campus rentals for college students and recent graduates are where Steve Brown Apartments began, and it's where the heart of our company remains. We understand what today's renters want and need, and have responded by providing a variety of living experiences that range from budget conscious to luxury, and from studio to eight-bedroom house.
Multi-Family Housing: We provide multi-family housing at eight unique properties on the west side of Madison, and in Oregon, Stoughton and Waterloo. Our multi-family housing products range from affordable, basic apartments to luxury, executive properties with all of the extras.
Commercial and Retail Properties: The managing arm of the Company, SBA Management Services, oversees approximately 150,000 square feet of retail and office space in strip mall, stand-alone, and mixed-use developments. Our tenants include restaurants, coffee shops, major retail clothing stores, electronics retailers, business professionals, and other national and local retailers.
Residence Hall-Style Housing: For 20 years, Steve Brown Apartments owned and managed Madison's five private residence halls under the brand Private Residence Halls (PRH). As our students' needs changed, so did our product: today we run many of the same programs we offered at PRH under our new Campus Connect brand. We provide a time-tested, student and parent approved, Residence Life Program, in a fully furnished, comfortable, and stylish apartment setting.
Steve Brown Apartments has a full service staff ready to meet our residents' leasing, service and maintenance needs. We currently have over 120 staff members working for our residents on a day-to-day basis. Our employees are passionate about providing a high level of customer service, resulting in an average 97% occupancy rate each year.
The following management staff is here for you should the need arise:
Stephen D. Brown - Owner
Margaret Watson - Chief Operating Officer
Scott Watson - Chief Financial Officer
Alyssa Hellenbrand - Conventional & Downtown Community Manager
Dan Seeley - Lucky Community Manager
Sarah Hart - Regent & Highlander House Community Manager
Mitch Colstad - Lucky Property Manager
Lindsey Sauter - Regent Property Manager
Shannon Sloat - Conventional Property Manager
Jaclyn Skjervem - Downtown Property Manager
It may sound strange, but despite owning 57 properties and housing over 2,500 people in the Madison area, Steve Brown doesn't consider himself a landlord. Never has in his 30 years of owning real estate.
His early experiences have tainted the term "landlord" in his eyes, and he prefers to think of himself as more of an "owner." However, after a closer look at how he's conducted his business for the past 3 decades, the term "service provider" seems more appropriate. And in this arena, he is one of Madison's best.
To understand why Steve Brown is best known for his service, a peek into his past is necessary.
After graduating from law school and working in Washington, D.C. for Ralph Nader and as a speechwriter for Gerald Ford, Steve returned to Madison. He landed a position in consumer protection for the State of Wisconsin, and his job was to combat the poor housing conditions that had emerged on the Madison scene.
The University had experienced tremendous enrollment growth in the 1950s and 60s, which had spurred many new housing projects. Eventually, the growth tapered off, but with such a glut of renters, slum-like conditions began to emerge in the housing market as landlords became increasingly neglectful. "The approach back then was to raise rents and put up a management sign in front of a place," Steve explained. "The attitude was: 'Who cares about the kids?'"
Steve did. He went after and prosecuted a number of those slumlords. While it may have been rewarding to achieve a sense of justice, the interaction also had a motivating effect: Steve decided he didn't want to just go after property owners. He wanted to become one. And he wanted to do it right.
Opportunistically, a number of Steve's college friends contacted him at this time, and told him they wanted to begin investing in properties. Steve took the helm of a small investment group and began to buy properties.
He was in the game, but he didn't want to conduct his business like the slumlords he'd prosecuted in the past. "I said if I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it differently," Steve explained.
The first step was to put his name on the front of the building, and not hide behind a management company. The second was to establish a different kind of relationship with the people who rented from him. "I wasn't a 'landlord' with 'tenants". I was the owner, and they were the residents," he said. The change in semantics instilled a set of rights and responsibilities on the part of both parties, one his operation still maintains.
Steve became a folk hero on the Madison scene. Known for driving around in an old pick-up truck, he took pride in rolling up his sleeves and mowing lawns or pulling out a plunger at a moment's notice. (To this day, Steve still prides himself on plunging the occasional backed-up toilet when the occasion presents itself.)
His residents loved the approach. He was invited to parties, and established friendly relationships that he maintains until this day. "I still get calls from former residents," he said. "Just the other day, I got a call from a guy in London asking me for some real estate investment advice."
Steve's approach was genuine and rooted in a philosophy of establishing a friendly relationship with his residents. People loved it, and soon his properties became highly sought-after. His business began to grow. And naturally, Steve once again decided to take a different approach with his burgeoning company.
From the beginning, Steve decided that the successful relationships he'd built with his residents should carry-over to his staff. He established a culture in which every employee was honored. No job was considered less worthy than the other.
The approach proved successful. In 2008, Steve Brown Apartments was voted a "Best Place to Work" in Madison. Today, he employs 120 people, many of whom are former residents that have worked for Steve since their renting days.
Steve prides himself on the number of bright, hard-working employees he's added to his staff. "We want this company to be a positive force for the next 30 years," he said. "To do that, we need to have a deep bench."
The key to the company, however, remains a commitment to service, an approach that was crystallized on a particular day during the company's early years.
It was a typical move-in day in August. Many families were bringing their children to various Steve Brown properties for the first time. Steve received a phone call from his staff; he was needed at the Highlander apartments. A parent wanted to speak to him personally.
When Steve arrived, he found a woman waiting for him. She wanted to know who was going to make her daughter's bed that evening. "She's never made her bed before, and she's not going to start now," the woman said.
At first, Steve was incredulous. College is a time for children to become independent, to seek out new opportunities and stand-on their own two feet. This includes going to class, handling their finances, and yes, even making their bed.
However, he realized that the woman's perspective was different than his own. She felt that making the bed was part of her role as a parent. Steve quickly realized that the business of renting living space was not about buildings and houses. It was about service making the living experience a pleasant one. It was the tone he wanted his staff to carry forward, and it ultimately formed the vision for his company.
His staff handled the girl's bed making chores. But Steve wouldn't allow this new approach to service to stop there. Soon other ancillary services began, ranging from partnerships with Lazy Bones Laundry to the creation of ResTech, Steve's high-speed Internet business.
Steve also recognized that support was something that his young residents needed.
While in college, he had worked as a Resident Assistant (RA). He learned how essential the RA is to helping young people find their way. "You get a lot of small town kids coming to a big institution like the UW," he said. "They need help finding their way around."
To provide the necessary support, Steve's residence halls developed a student to staff ratio of 35:1. (Comparable public dorms generally run at a 65:1 ratio.) "We know that these RAs can really impact the lives of our students," he said. "We want to show the students how much we care, so they'll stay with us when they move on from the dorms."
The service game is always evolving, and Steve's challenge to his staff is to "always be better." It's why residents are constantly surveyed to measure their satisfaction levels. Steve wants to make sure his team is one step ahead of the game.
Steve's father is eighty-eight and a former pastor. The two meet 3-4 times a week for breakfast. It's from his father that Steve feels many of his values were shaped.
"He's always taught me to give back to the community," Steve said, and give back he has. He's contributed time and resources to Project Home, Porchlight, Habitat for Humanity, The Road Home and the Salvation Army. He's also used his access to his residents to extend his father's message.
"When the earthquake in Haiti hit, the residents in Lucky Apartments took action," he recalls. "We had floor wars to raise money. They raised $3-4 thousand, and really understood that they're part of a bigger world."
He's happy that his business is in a position to have made such significant contributions. But for all that he's done in the past, it's the future that makes Steve eager to come to work each day.
"Our biggest challenge is to position this company to be successful for the next 30 years," he said. The company's plans include expanding out into peripheral neighborhoods of Dane Country, while still maintaining focus on residence halls.
His company may expand, but its values will not change. After 30 years, Steve's desire to be an owner and a friend to his residents has not abated. If anything, it's become more precise. "I'm 62 years old," he smiles. "When you hit 60, you realize that you better get really intentional with your plans."
The intention is clear. The goal of Steve Brown and his company is not to be a landlord that squeezes its tenants for every penny. It's to be an owner who provides exemplary service to its residents. To be an employer who honors its employees. And to be a part of the community that never stops giving back.
"You're known for how you treat people," Steve says. "It's as simple as that."