Brothers Dan and Michael Murphy, owners of M4 Ranch Group based in Lake City, Colorado, are leaving their mark—well, actually their brand—on Colorado ranch real estate.
“The Rocking M4 brand is way more than just a logo—it’s our family ranch brand,” Dan said. “It says a lot about who we are and what we do.”
It is a Murphy family tradition that when the children turn 18, they receive a belt buckle emblazoned with the Rocking M4 brand.
“When my dad handed my son Jake his family belt buckle on his 18th birthday, it was one of the proudest moments of my life,” Dan said. “It was a symbolic statement of the honor and pride associated with our western history—and the responsibility to honor and uphold it as the next generation.”
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The Rocking M4 brand is way more than just a logo–it’s our family ranch brand
An expectation of excellence that results from hard work is part of the family inheritance—and it’s not lost on the next generation. Jake, in a recent paper for a class at Western State University, where he, as a student athlete, is pursuing a double major in business and environmental sustainability while earning his real estate license, quoted his grandfather, “Work half a day—do whatever you want with the other 12 hours.”
“I got a kick out of the paper because it proves the family brand goes far beyond an identifying mark,” Dan said. “It is a statement of trust and excellence.”
In hindsight, the family brand seems obvious as the choice for the ranch division’s logo, but it was selected after extensive research and an outside evaluation of the team’s strengths and identity.
“After all of the time, money and research, the most descriptive and meaningful name for the ranch division had been right in front of us,” Dan said.
Because it carries so much meaning, applying the brand to their business is not a responsibility the brothers take lightly.
Michael said, “Our name and our history is on this company, so we strive to be the best we can be in every aspect of this business. We never forget that M4 Ranch Group directly reflects on our family’s legacy.”
The ancestors have reason to be proud. Team Murphy, the parent company, has been a driving force in recreational real estate for decades. The M4 Ranch Group division has, after just three seasons in ranch sales, already risen to the top of Colorado land brokerages, selling roughly 100,000 acres in mountain ranches in 2017.
The M4 brand of business
The family, who has put down deep roots in Colorado over the past 40 years, can trace their ancestry back to the settling of the western frontier. The Murphys are direct descendants of Mirabeau B. Lamar, the second President of the Republic of Texas, best known for trading off the western Colorado Rockies in 1850 to help retire the then-republic’s debt.
“Our family has been trading in the Mountain West for more than 170 years,” Michael joked.
Despite the constant joking and laughter, the brothers take their business very seriously. Neither likes to lose. Their highly competitive natures don’t cause problems in the office because they’re tempered by an inherent belief in fair dealing with each other as well as team members, clients and colleagues. Plus, they have an abiding respect for the different skill sets each of them developed in the years they worked apart.
Dan built his first career on his passion for the outdoors; few things in life meant more than being in the field where his respect for nature and the role of man’s stewardship grew.
“I spent at least a hundred nights a year sleeping in a sleeping bag, for more than 20 years,” he said.
As he was preparing to depart for Africa to finish school, he met Michelle DePinto, a ballerina who lived in Denver. After a long distance relationship, she traded in her pointe shoes and urban existence for a life off the beaten path as the “best partner a man could find.”
Our name and our history is on this company, so we strive to be the best we can be in every aspect of this business. We never forget that M4 Ranch Group directly reflects on our family’s legacy.
Under the banner of MMLO Outfitting, they owned and operated an outfitting business that took clients in pursuit of the West’s top big game in the back country of Colorado, Alaska and Montana. To succeed as an outfitter, he not only had to master the art of hospitality and client relations, but also the natural history and behavior of big game, federal and state regulations, habitat management and the principles of business.
In the meantime, Michael took his passion for the outdoors in a different direction, turning his attention to the land’s bounty as a classically trained French chef.
“I love anything to do with food—hunting it, catching it, preparing it,” he said.
Eventually, though, he left the kitchen for the beverage business. He helped grow the American Beverage Company in San Antonio from a small upstart company to a major distributor that counted 70 percent of Texas as its territory. Then he returned to Colorado, where he was on the leading edge of the craft brewery movement as part of New Belgium Brewing. As part of that team, Michael opened a Southwestern sales territory for the brewery’s products, including Fat Tire, and further refined his marketing chops in an emerging industry, knowledge that he now applies to rural real estate.
Both brothers were carving out their places at the top of their respective fields when Dan recognized that the outfitting business kept him away from Michelle and their young children too much for his taste. After 20 years in the outfitting business, Dan and Michelle decided to fold the tents at the peak of that career.
The M4 brand of real estate
Believing that the Mountain West real estate industry would provide an ideal environment for their work ethic, knowledge of the outdoors, and vast network, Dan and Michelle launched Team Murphy Realty.
“We like to call Michelle the ‘Closer,’” Dan said, pointing out that she gives the team a focal point of concentration and, with a Master’s degree in Business and Marketing, has the ability to bring the “high-flying, big-picture goals into a grounded, get-the-details-done perspective.”
They enlisted the expertise of the immediate family. Parents, Tom and Midge Murphy, lend their talents to the team.
“Our dad is an exceptional businessman and has trained us since we were in diapers—and no one can make people feel more welcome than our mother,” Dan said.
Michael and his wife Sandy succumbed to the call of the wild—and of the family.
“When the family decided to get into the real estate industry, I wanted to be part of it,” he said.
Michael brought with him marketing and business networking acumen as well as a passion for the West’s live water and anything that swims in it. Sandy, who is a paralegal, ensures that the flood of paperwork flow smoothly, so transactions are completed as efficiently as possible.
In addition to the immediate family, the real estate family includes 10 associates divided between offices in Lake City, Pagosa Springs and South Fork.
Everybody in this company is family, either by blood or by choice, so there’s never any question that everyone is giving 100 percent
“Everybody in this company is family, either by blood or by choice, so there’s never any question that everyone is giving 100 percent,” Michael said. “Our goal is simple: Efficiency achieved by great people with great knowledge and work ethics.”
The shared commitment and unique office dynamic gives Michael and Dan the freedom to roam.
“Ranch real estate gives us a chance to experience incredibly spectacular land just as I did as an outfitter,” Dan said.
From February through October this year, they collectively logged more than 70,000 miles exploring and showing ranches—and the odometer is still turning.
“Our goal from the outset was to be the best informed brokers in Colorado and northern New Mexico,” Michael said. “We work hard to acquire personal, first-hand knowledge of all of the ranches in the marketplace.”
The M4 brand of life
Lake City, which serves as the hub of Team Murphy Realty and M4 Ranch Group, has 400 residents and is the only town in Hinsdale County, the nation’s most remote county. The town is situated in a valley deep in the San Juan Mountains at the base of five 14,000-foot peaks. Lake City also has more Fortune 500 CEOs per capita than any other town in the country.
“They call this place home because this area is not about what you have, but more about what elk you harvest or the fly used to land the latest trout,” Dan said laughing.
Once, Dan was helping a neighbor—a hell-bent-for-leather old-timer—drive cattle. They were joined by one of these CEOs, whose company refines about two-thirds of the oil in the U.S. He had parked his Gulfstream III at the airport and driven his 1979 Ford pickup to the cattle drive.
According to Dan, the CEO’s cowboying skills favorably impressed the veteran cowhand, who said to the CEO, “You need some cash? You could probably make some decent money with day work around here.”
The CEO responded, “I’m doing ok on cash.”
The story resonates with Dan and Michael not only because it is par for the course but it reinforces their parents’ teachings to treat every “book” respectfully regardless of its “cover.” The Golden Rule is one of the family’s core values that is also at the heart of the company.
“We’re real people living in the best part of the U.S., living what we do—and what we believe,” Michael said. “Obviously we’re in the real estate business, but from our perspective we’re really in the relationship business.”
The M4 brand of marketing
M4 attributes a great deal of their success to an aggressive marketing strategy. They utilize the most cutting-edge technology and a variety of deep integrated digital marketing tactics, in addition to proven and established print media, including two in-house magazines featuring the full scope of their listings, and national impact print marketing. They also regularly attend gatherings of a wide variety of organizations such as the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association because they “want to know everyone connected with land through livestock and wildlife.”
The brothers take great pleasure in really getting to know people outside of their offices. Relationships thrive and understanding grows when people get away from the constant pinging of cell phones and out of the relentless reach of email.
To that end, they employ—and enjoy—their “handshake” marketing initiative. The Murphys put current and prospective clients in the field for local events: floating the Rio Grande River during the famous salmon fly hatch during M4’s Wild Trout Week or riding the Rockies horseback on the 100-mile annual Roundup Ride. They also sponsor and guide hunts for one of their favorite charities, the Colors of Heroes hunts celebrating the sacrifices of our veterans.
“Our goal is not just selling the ranches we are blessed to work on, but building something bigger and longer lasting than a closing,” Dan said.
The M4 brand of stewardship
The Murphy’s love of people and wildlife has inspired the brothers to be heavily involved in protecting the western lifestyle.
“Generally, most land is managed better privately than publicly due to the landowners’ passion, finances and ability to make and carry out a decision,” Dan said. “The private, long-term commitment to manage for the most diversity is far beyond most government agency’s desires or capabilities.”
The brothers characterize their philosophy as “cowboy conservatism” noting that their first line of defense for the western lifestyle is first-hand knowledge gained through leadership at the local and state levels.
Dan is currently serving on the Upper Gunnison Water Advisory Group, the Sportsman’s Round Table and its advisory committee to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department. He previously served on the Big Game License Application, Big Game Allocation Program, the Colorado Wildlife Federation and the Hinsdale Planning Commission. Michael served as a Lake City Town Trustee, Chairman of the Hinsdale County/Town of Lake City Marketing Committee, and currently sits on the advisory committee for both the Agricultural and Public Lands and the Neutral Resources, as well as representing Hinsdale County on the Club 20 Board of Directors.
“Being on the front lines of emerging issues helps us help landowners,” Michael said. “We have insight into the debates, the regulations, the concerns and the challenges because we’re engaged in the process.”
One of the team’s most important duties is “matchmaking.” The team excels at identifying the right property for the right buyers—and helping the new owners see what the property can become with good stewardship.
“Our job is to understand a property,” Dan said.
The M4 Ranch Group relies on cutting-edge technology in all aspects of the business, including their own 3D virtual camera, drone filming and editing department to showcase the height, depth, breadth and nuances of each property.
Our family and team understand that we’re on this earth for a limited amount of time and it’s about leaving this place better than we found it. For us, that means creating a legacy through relationships and conservation.
The Murphys’ goal is to give potential buyers a true sense of a ranch before they ever tour it. Once boots are on the ground, the brothers use their experience and expansive network of restoration and preservation professionals to help the potential owners see what the land can be rather than simply what it is. For instance, if a ranch has a degraded stream, the brothers help the client understand what it will take to restore it to a healthy, productive fishery.
“We’re the concierges of conservation,” Michael said, noting they introduce landowners to some of the best conservation practitioners in their respective fields.
Together, they’ve prompted the restoration of miles upon miles of streams and thousands of acres of habitat. This has helped greatly increase the value of numerous ranches while greatly increasing the volume of habitat Colorado’s wildlife depends on.
To keep space open in the west, the intrinsic value of undeveloped land has to be recognized, they believe.
“Habitat has value from an ecological and emotional standpoint as well as a financial one,” Dan said.
To be clear, conservation work is not an income stream for the business, but a passion.
“What makes us proudest is sharing what we’ve helped conserve with generations to come,” Dan said. When we’ve helped build legacy ranches that families can convey to their children or when we see a kid reel in a big brown or a cut-throat on a fly while fishing an enhanced stream, the circle is complete. We’ve passed forward what’s important to us.”
He continued, “Our family and team understand that we’re on this earth for a limited amount of time and it’s about leaving this place better than we found it. For us, that means creating a legacy through relationships and conservation.”