Chip Collins is much more comfortable talking about other people’s milestones. After all, he has been part of more than 7,000 life milestones in his 25 years of real estate in the Lowcountry.
But as his brokerage firm, Collins Group Realty, celebrates 20 years in business this year, the 53-year-old leader of the No. 1 ranked large realty team in South Carolina is less focused on self-congratulatory reveling and more on what the moment means.
“When I took the leap to start my own firm, my belief was that serving others was most important, that sales would come naturally if we put people first,” Collins said. “This is a numbers business and it’s easy to get caught up in that and let the statistics and the bank account drive you. But we’re nothing without the people that give us the opportunity to make their life transitions special.”
It’s a mentality that permeates through every facet of the Collins Group. That begins with his staff structure, building support specialty teams to handle every step of the buying and selling process – from photos and staging to scheduling inspections, marketing and troubleshooting to anticipate the litany of setbacks inevitable with each sale. Building that support team means a one-to-one staff-to-agent ratio, an unheard-of approach for the realtor with a singular focus on their ledger sheet.
Collins isn’t immune to the money-and-power-first temptation. The Ohio native was on that path fresh out of Denison University. He spent three summers in Washington, D.C., during school, two at the prestigious Price-Waterhouse financial firm and one as a summer intern at the White House. He accepted an offer from Price-Waterhouse after graduating, but quickly realized something was missing.
“The work was exciting, the money was great, the atmosphere was exciting. But the work was mundane. I didn’t feel like I was making an impact on people. I felt transient – I needed a smaller-town atmosphere where the work mattered,” Collins said of his decision to head for Hilton Head Island in 1992.
Collins first worked for a house contractor, then moved on to a four-year stint in property management. There, he developed a steely patience and saw how resolving complaints led to lasting relationships with his clients.
“Those relationships led me to real estate and I was always learning, soaking in the positive and the negative approaches in these transactions,” he said. “I hate that word. When you just see the buying and selling as a ‘transaction,’ you detach yourself from the meaning behind it all. I knew that I needed to start my own thing, that when it was time to hang my shingle, serving others was going to be the key to driving the whole engine.”
That concept began with a unique spark. Chip and wife Carrie were part of an idea sharing network and heard of a realtor that offered a moving truck with the hook of “buy a house from me, use the truck for free.” The couple took that a step further, buying a 15-foot box truck and offering it up to churches, schools and nonprofits to use at no cost.
The offering was so impactful and became such an essential resource that the Collins now have two box trucks available to the community, one based in Hilton Head and one based at their Bluffton office.
It’s just one example of tenacious follow-through that is a pattern in all corners of Collins’ life. When he realized he was getting a bit of a “Dad bod” as a then-35-year-old father of two girls, he could have just joined a gym and did a little running. Instead, Collins began miles-long ocean swims, joined a local biking club, then competed in triathlons and back-to-back Boston Marathons.
“I found a passion and I just kept feeding it,” he said of the feats. “It’s no different than the trucks. When we really started digging into who was using them, you see beyond the typical glamour view of our area, that we face all of the challenges of any community. And you see the heroic efforts in meeting those needs and it helped us become even more involved.”
That has led his team to create efforts like the 200th Home Sale for Charity. The company is routinely passing that goal, with more than 485 completed sales last year alone. To celebrate that, the team gives away $10,000 to five different charities each year – chosen through voting on their website.
Then there’s the Community Results Project, where his team chooses one area charity to spotlight and to give hands-on man hours and financial support throughout a calendar year. That began with the Deep Well Project’s livable housing initiative in 2021, creating marketing and fundraising initiatives to bolster the charities’ efforts to assist residents who don’t have the means to properly maintain their home.
This year, the team’s focus is Lowcountry Trash Heroes, spotlighting the tireless volunteers that tackle an array of litter collection projects.
“We want to drive awareness of these heroes and get in the trenches with them,” Collins said. The team was part of a recent beach cleanup that kept 450 pounds of trash from polluting our waterways.
If you’re part of Collins’ team, you know that holiday toy drives and anonymous acts of kindness to spotlight unsung community heroes is just part of the job description.
“We have been so blessed to find a family here that embraces that spirit, that knows to be truly successful means we are woven into the fabric of our home,” Collins said. “You can’t separate the real estate from the community. The business opportunities come naturally when giving back is our driving force.”
Collins said the anniversaries allow him to reflect on what it means to be a local, to have ridden out the waves of boom and bust in the marketplace and to experience the resiliency and entrepreneurial spirit that have led to the growth of the region.
“To see the community come together 6 years ago during Hurricane Matthew, to overcome the lows that had us talking about upside down mortgages, it makes you appreciate the highs in the market and the successes of our neighbors all the more,” he said. “It means something to be a guardian of what makes this place so special. The hard moments, you remember. I’m honored to be in the presence of the community champions that carried us through the roughest times.”
Collins knows he is nothing without the 30-plus-member team that lead with their hearts each day. That begins with Carrie, who he met on her first day on the island 29 years ago and has built a life with, the first 27 years spent living in Sea Pines before moving to their circa 1795 residence overlooking the May River in Old Town Bluffton. She provided interior design support for the team and is the conscience behind the business.
“She isn’t in the fishbowl every day, so she always sees what’s next for us with fresh eyes,” he said of Carrie’s support.
His father, Kent, is a strategic advisor to the firm but more importantly, a compass for Collins to push forward.
“He’s smart, he’s an excellent thinker and listener, he’s my sounding board, my sensei,” Collins said of his dad. “The older I get, the more I want to be like him. He is the foundation of who and what I strive to be.”
As for what’s next, Collins said that learning and passing on knowledge are the basis for what he hopes is another 20-year journey.
“My wife says I’m a teacher at heart. I love mentoring, I value the chance to help this community that’s given me so much to just continue to excel and reach our potential,” he said. “It all begins with humility, with gratitude and with passion for serving. It’s a privilege to be part of so many life transitions. When we focus on the lives we impact, the transactions will always follow.”
To learn more about Collins Group Realty, go online to collinsgrouprealty.com.
Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.