Last weekend, over 450 System members gathered in Edmonton to celebrate the 35th anniversary of CENTURY 21 Canada. They came from all over the country to connect with old friends and meet new ones and of course gain some valuable information to help grow their business.
CENTURY 21 Canada Founder, Chairman, and CEO, U. Gary Charlwood has been there since the beginning and we'd like him to share his story.
CENTURY 21 Canada Real Estate: 35 Successful Years and Counting...
There are few things I enjoy more than a great story (perhaps it’s only rival is watching European soccer). So, when I was prodded about coming up with a story about my 35-year history as the founder and leader of CENTURY 21 Canada, I must admit I felt a little pressure.
So what is the story of CENTURY 21 Canada? For me, the evolution of CENTURY 21 in Canada is more about perseverance than the minute details of the company. Our story is an example of how – as budding entrepreneurs – no matter what the obstacles, you can succeed in building your own business with the right attitude and team behind you.
When I first bought the rights to the CENTURY 21 brand in Canada – I was a relative newcomer to the real estate business. What did I know? Not much at the time…but that may have been my “edge”…I wasn’t bogged down by what “was” but inspired by what “could be”. So after personally selling 118 homes in my first 15 months in the industry (and just a wee bit of bravado from my side)…my competitors were a little worried as they circled their wagons.
I didn’t get into CENTURY 21 right away. First I bought a local company called ‘Hunt Realty’ and saved up enough capital to partner with a business associate to buy the Canadian franchise rights to a rising brand in the U.S. called CENTURY 21. I bought my partner out more than 20 years ago, but back in 1975 my competition said, “It will never work in Canada”. I was even told by the local real estate commission that franchising was ‘illegal’ in the real estate business. This would be when most entrepreneurs would fold their cards and walk away, but instead my team took up the challenge.
CENTURY 21 Canada was the first expansion of the brand outside of the U.S.A., and despite having the American powerhouse behind me, I had to convince investors that the franchise model worked for Canada. Plus, we had no staff. If there were any questions from potential franchisees, my sales team would say “Let me check with our marketing department, or our finance department.” Then they would promptly get on the phone or come to the office and all four of us – who made up the marketing, finance and sales department – and we would come up with a solution.
In 1976, my then 4-man team worked on developing the western provinces. I would spend three weeks at home in Vancouver and three weeks travelling the country. By the fall of 1976 we had over 80 offices in Western Canada; 35 years later, CENTURY 21 Canada is 440 franchises strong, employing over 8,000 people across the country; today 90% of real estate brokerage offices in Canada are franchised.
I believe today that if your competitors are that interested in what you’re doing – then you must be on to a good thing. As legendary Manchester United Football Club striker Eric Cantona once said “When people are talking about you, it means that you exist.” For all of you budding entrepreneurs out there – whether in real estate or any other start-up business – the worst thing you can do is to become too focused on the strength and strategies of your competition. If you know you’ve got something better to offer and a solid business plan – whatever you do – don’t let skeptics undermine your confidence.
Building a business is tough. In real estate like any other business, there will be disastrous years and ridiculously good years. The key is not to be influenced by either one, or the inevitable naysayers. We’ve been experiencing a roller coaster in the financial world in the past few years, but I can assure you that in my 35 years of experience, investing in real estate and the real estate business long-term will always keep you “in play”…no matter what the skeptics said yesterday, or say today or will say tomorrow!!! Hold the course k!! And to heck with them.
U. Gary Charlwood
Founder, Chairman & CEO
CENTURY 21 Canada