It's still under construction now, but Ockhardt wants the new location to be open for business by June 1. He said it was always his intention to relocate the agency downtown, part of an ambitious overall 5-year plan for the company. He looked at the space three years ago, he said, but at the time, its 3,500-square-feet was too much for the agency. Today, it's not.
Growth at Chivers
Every year for the past four years, the already-successful Jack Chivers Realty has grown by another 10 percent, Ockhardt said. Much of this is due to the creation of several new specialized subcompanies, brands and service branches operating under the Jack Chivers umbrella.
In the summer of 2015, the company expanded into Vergas with a new branch called The Lake Life Lounge. Styled in an unconventional, artistic way, the Lounge is used as a rendezvous point for potential lake property clients as well as a space for classes, receptions and other business and community events.
About a year later, the agency announced the opening of JCR Land Co., a new division specializing in hunting and recreational land. Ockhardt also started JCR Service and Property Management, which helps sellers complete minor projects around their homes before putting the properties up for sale.
Last year, he subdivided J. Chivers Advisory, which specializes in commercial real estate. He also started Matz & Greiff Media Group, a marketing company that works for Jack Chivers Realty. Based in Perham, the company operates out of an old auto repair shop that has been remodeled into a creative 'think tank' type of environment, complete with a DJ station, drum set, ping pong table, full kitchen and more.
Around that same time, Ockhardt was getting Lake Life Magazine off the ground, a publication designed to communicate the "lake life" mentality to anyone who might be interested in visiting or living here. From that, an online regional events calendar called Lake Life Wknd was born, and from that, a Lake Life Wknd podcast.
Ockhardt also recently started the Explore Lake Life Expo, a Fargo-based expo that invites vendors from Lakes Country to showcase some of what the lakes area has to offer. The 2018 expo took place in February and featured 40 vendors.
It all comes from a desire to share the concept of "lake living" through as many creative means as possible, Ockhardt explained of his endeavors; to spread the word about Lakes Country, and promote the lifestyle of lake culture.
"I'm trying to communicate Lakes Country, and the idea that we can bring you home here," Ockhardt said. Most people know Jack Chivers Realty buys and sells properties, he added, "Now, we're making a transition into telling people about what else we do."
All these efforts have created the need and opportunity for additional employees at Jack Chivers Realty. Today, the company has 15 salespeople, an office manager, a graphic designer and three other people working in marketing, plus owner/broker Ockhardt. In addition, Jasken Peterson's role is growing: she has recently become a business partner of Ockhardt's, and will serve as the Detroit Lakes market center team lead.
Though Ockhardt is licensed to sell real estate, he chooses not to, instead focusing on strategy, brand development, growth and marketing.
"I try to nurture, motivate and assist my agents," he said. "Other realty companies have their brokers competing against the other sellers, but I couldn't have made Chivers what it is today if I was also trying to sell."
More about Dirk Ockhardt
Born and raised in the metropolitan area of Dusseldorf, Germany, Ockhardt's history in business—and in Minnesota—goes way back.
When he was 16, the now 40-year-old spent a year in Barnesville, Minn., as a foreign exchange student. That experience connected him to Minnesota, he said, and though he's since traveled the nation, "that's still the only America I know, I like, I love."
After returning to Germany at the age of 17, he began to trade stocks (with his dad as a co-signer). He started his first company, a marketing and communications company, one year later with money he earned from those stocks.
"I come from an entrepreneurial family—it's just what I do and what I'm raised of," he said.
He also comes from a military family: his dad was an officer in the German Air Force, as was he. Ockhardt was stationed for a year in Happy Valley Goose Bay, Canada.
He later got a degree in banking and financing and then studied art and opened his own art gallery. Eventually, he got another degree, this time in business law.
"That was in preparation for being an eventual business owner," he said. "For the past 20 years, all I've done is think about projects and businesses. I've been doing this all my adult life."
Ockhardt returned to the States in 2009 to raise his son, Harry, and be closer to Harry's family in North Dakota. That's also when he began to focus on real estate sales. In 2013, he and two silent partners founded Ockhardt Realty in Fargo, which he still runs today along with Jack Chivers Realty. He moved to the Detroit Lakes area five years ago.
He and Harry maintain close ties with their family members back in Germany thanks to face-to-face smartphone apps and annual trips back to Dusseldorf. They also hold their roots tight by speaking only in German to each other at home.
In some ways, Ockhardt is still a true German: he holds on to his convictions, no holds barred.
"I'm a pretty passionate person and I come from a culture where arguing or expressing your opinion is not a bad thing—it's intended to resolve an issue or argument," he said. "I question everything, always. It keeps me fresh. I don't always just accept things."
That tendency to ask questions and challenge people, along with his naturally loud speaking voice, can make Ockhardt stand out amongst the local "Minnesota Nice" crowd. But, he said he's becoming more accustomed to the culture here, and continues to adapt.
In a lot of ways, Ockhardt has already adapted into what some would consider a "true" Minnesotan. Over the years, he's developed a fondness for canoeing, swimming, snowshoeing and just the outdoors in general—even in winter.
"For some reason, Minnesota is me," he said. "It took me a while to adapt, and I was very homesick for Germany—I was missing what I was used to. Now, after being here for almost 10 years, I can't imagine leaving. I really found that Minnesota is my calling."
Looking ahead, Ockhardt has big plans for the future of Jack Chivers Realty.
He's on track to easily meet all of his five-year goals for the company; next up is a longer-term plan to expand into other markets, to make the agency a statewide leader in lake property sales.
"We will always have an anchor in Detroit Lakes," Ockhardt said, "but this is just the beginning of my vision for Jack Chivers Realty. We have 10,000 lakes to serve."