Meet our 12th Annual GrowFL Florida Companies to Watch Honorees!

Celebrate with us! Tickets on sale for the annual awards celebration on Thursday, February 23, 2023.

Blue Ocean Title, LLC

Duval, Florida
Founded: 2013

Blue Ocean Title is a full service title company that provides real estate settlement services for residential and commercial real estate sales as well as legal services necessary to ensure a smooth real estate transaction.

Industry

Legal Services

Employee Growth

72% increase from 2018 – 2021

Revenue Growth

185% increase from 2018 – 2021

Marla 2

Marla Buchanan

CEO

Tell us about your background. What led you to Blue Ocean Title?

It was always my dream to be a lawyer, but I’ve always loved the business side of things, too. After I graduated with my law degree from the University of Florida, I began practicing law with a small private firm. A friend of mine, who I had met at the University of Florida, approached me about partnering with him in a fertilizer manufacturing company. Basically, just sweat equity, helping to put the company together and with some of the legal and business things that came along with it. Although I was a relatively young attorney, I was excited to have the opportunity to be a part of owning a business. We formed Green Technologies in 1999 and I had the best of both worlds – I was still practicing law, but also, we continued to grow the company. In 2014 Green Technologies really took off and I was finding myself more and more pulled toward the business side of things as opposed to the practicing side.

I had to make a decision and decided to leave my law partnership at that time and focus on a major expansion project that we had going on within the manufacturing company. When that expansion project was completed in 2017, a friend of mine asked me to come on as CEO and obtain ownership of a title company in Jacksonville. I was happy to come in and see what if I could help, with the caveat being I had no knowledge in the title world. She brought me in and at that point in time the company was struggling – they only had a handful of employees, and it wasn’t a great situation.

I think this was a moment for me, that I’m sure anyone who has journeyed down the path of entrepreneurship has faced, where I just was not sure this was the right decision. But, part of my makeup is I may die, but I won’t give up and I’ll never fail. I struggled through several months of trying to get the existing employees buy in and after several months, honestly, one employee after another either left or I had let go. From there, we started building a new team that had the same culture and mindset that I had, and I was able to assemble a strong team to start to rebuild the business. Within 18 months, we went from losing money to making a profit. We continued to grow and added an office in the St. Augustine area to grow that market for us and an additional office in the Daytona area followed that. Since then, we have acquired an existing title company on Amelia Island and opened an office in Palm Coast as well. It wasn’t easy, but we’ve been able to grow our culture, hire great people and ultimately be successful.

Did you know you always wanted to be a CEO?

I think being an owner of a business was actually something that has been in the back of my mind.  My desire was not necessarily to be a “CEO,” but to be instrumental in the success of a company. I’m not sure the role of CEO ever crossed my mind, but it became an opportunity and I’ve really enjoyed the journey. Now, even though I have the title of CEO, I don’t identify it in the same way that a lot of others might. I see it simply as an opportunity to be an instrumental piece of growing and sustainable company.

There’s no handbook for being a CEO. What resources or mentors did you look to for guidance?

My partner in my previous role, Dr. Amir Varshovi, really taught me a lot about business and how to run one.  It’s almost like being a parent, right? You are responsible for all the people you’ve employed and they’re their families. That’s a big responsibility to bear on your shoulders and he taught me so much in that regard. His mentorship laid a very, very strong foundation for me to be able to have the self-confidence to jump into the role of CEO in an industry that I’d never been in before. He gave me the building blocks that I needed to be successful, and I have to give credit to him.

Tell us about your company. What makes you different from others in your market?

Blue Ocean Title is a full-service Real Estate Settlement company, meaning we process real estate transactions from beginning to end. What makes us a bit different is than in addition to having licensed title agents on staff, we have three full time attorneys as well. Our entire staff is committed to making sure that regardless of what obstacle might come up in the process of clearing a title, we have the resources and ability to overcome those challenges. For example, if a probate needs to be done to clear, we can do that in house with our attorneys, whereas a lot of other title companies can’t. We have a leg up where others are very limited in what they can or are willing to do. I think our commitment to making sure that we get the client the transaction to the closing table as quickly, as cost effectively and as efficiently as we can is what sets us apart.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a business owner?

This is probably true for many companies, but one of our biggest challenges has is filling the positions we need with people who have the same set of values as us and fit into our culture and commitment to the mission. That’s been a big challenge, but it’s also been one of the most rewarding parts because our really is like a family. Even though we have five offices spanning from North Florida all the way down to the Daytona area, all our team members know each other. Despite the different offices, we come together, and we help each other. That’s been a very rewarding aspect of, of the business.

Tell us a bit about your company culture. How do you like to lead your team?

I try to treat my employees as if they were my family. After that, if everyone is doing what they’re supposed to do and they are showing their commitment to the company, we try to build in as much flexibility as we possibly can. We understand that everyone has a home life and family outside of work – people get sick and people have tragedies. Knowing that, we try to take a flexible approach because we care about each other.  If somebody wants to enroll in a continuing education course or participate in a community volunteer event, we will pay them for that time. We try to invest in them not just professionally, but personally.

With 5 different offices, how do you keep your employees engaged?

One thing I like to do is have a personal conversation with all my employees at least once a week checking in on them. How are you doing? What’s going on? Is there anything I can do to help you be successful in your job? It can be challenging at times between the four offices, but I try to maintain engagement with my team that way. It’s important to me that my employees know that we care about them, we listen to them, and we value them, and we’ve listed them as well.

What goals do you have for your company? How do you hope to see it grow in coming years?

In three to five years, I’d really like to see us as a statewide title company. My goal is that Blue Ocean Title was offices in all the different regions of Florida. I’d like us to grow beyond the southeast coast and move more into central or west Florida. 

Do you have a proudest moment as president/CEO?

Of course, being selected as a GrowFL Florida Companies to Watch Honoree has been a very proud moment for not just me, but the whole company. We’re just so excited. That was that was a proud moment. It’s all good with that. It was validation for us that we’ve made it. We’ve made it through our difficult times, and we didn’t only just get through it, but we got through it and excelled.

Is there anyone special you’d like to thank for helping you get to where you are?

Of course, Dr. Varshovi. Along with Barbara Cheryl who was the one that gave me the opportunity at Blue Ocean Title, even though it took me about 2 years to take the leap. I credit her and thank her for believing in me and believing that I could take a very struggling company that was, at that time, losing money and then grow it into several other companies.

I’d also like to thank Justin Serato who came in as my vice president and gave me the ability to focus on the growth of the company. He’s always been in the title industry, so I could really rely on his expertise. That gave me the opportunity to go out and grow the company and to not have to worry about some of the day to day things that he came in and oversaw.

What is your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Stay the course. I think the key to a successful company and to your own happiness is making sure that you have the right people. I wouldn’t be here without the people that are part of my team. Sometimes you have to hire because you really just need to fill that spot and sometimes you can go through three or four people before you find the right person. But don’t give up.

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