The Man Behind the CENTURY 21 Gold Jacket

The CENTURY 21 co-founder responsible for the famous gold jacket, as well as many other (more significant) franchising breakthroughs, has passed. Art Bartlett, who has been dubbed the "father of conversion franchising" (turning small businesses into franchises), died last week at his California home at the age of 76.

Throughout the 1950s, Art worked as a top salesman for the Campbell Soup Company in the Los Angeles area. In 1960, he went back to school to study real estate, and entered the world of commission sales. Armed with enthusiasm but no training, he started as an agent and later became a branch manager, then district manager in the San Fernando Valley. He was soon running the top producing office of Forest Olson - Califronia's largest residential real estate company at the time.

In the mid-'60s, Art left to co-found Four Star Realty in Santa Ana, California. He later formed Comps Inc., one of the first companies to offer comparable residential listings services.

Jumping into the Franchising Business

After the sale of Comps Inc., he ran into his former Forest Olson employee, Marsh Fisher, who was working for real estate franchisor CJS - one of only two real estate franchisors at the time (the other being Red Carpet). Art was intrigued with the franchise concept, and by the end of their second meeting, he knew real estate franchising would be his next venture.

In 1971, Art and Marsh Fisher opened CENTURY 21 in Santa Ana, Calif. They leveled the playing field; prior to franchising, most real estate companies were "Mom and Pop" shops that lacked the knowledge or resources to do everything optimally. Art and Marsh offered franchisors affordable tools and expertise in all aspects of business, including recruitment, marketing, sales and accounting.

Art created the regional, independently-owned concept of franchising: Selling an entire area to one "master franchisor" and instructing that licensee how to sell individual franchises within their area.

He set CENTURY 21 goals of 300 new franchises per month - while his rival, Red Carpet, grew only 500 franchisors over five years! Each year, CENTURY 21 reported doubling its number of franchises. To fuel the dynamic growth, Art and Marsh tapped people already in the real estate industry as owners or employees.

Stealing the Competition

Art stole away Red Carpet's national franchise sales director, Bud Schultz, who made all his sales staff there wear red jackets. Bud's only condition to jump ship: CENTURY 21 employees had to wear a staff jacket - decided upon as gold (although Art initially wanted a more subdued brown version of the jacket).

After going public, CENTURY 21 was purchased by Transworld Corporation in 1979. Art remained as chairman and chief executive officer until 1980. He then bought and sold Larwin Square, a retail complex in Tustin, California, and started a new franchise in 1981 - called Mr. Build - to capitalize on the remodeling trend as real estate prices began to soar. He left that business enterprise to devote time to his ailing wife and his family, but continued to invest in real estate from his home office.

Art received a Hall of Fame award from the International Franchise Association (which he joined in the mid-'70s), a Napoleon Hill Gold Medal, and the CENTURY 21 Centurion Award. The Art Bartlett 2100 Cup Award was created in his honour - the most prestigious award in the CENTURY 21 system. It is presented each year to one company that demonstrates the highest level of customer service, professionalism and leadership.

Today, CENTURY 21 International, a subsidiary of Realogy Corporation, is the world's largest residential real estate franchise company - comprised of 7,700 independently owned offices in 67 countries and territories, employing more than 120,000 sales staff.

The entire CENTURY 21 family mourns the passing of Art Bartlett, and remembers a great man - in business and in life.


  1. marie-andree bastien 01/26/2010 at 2:07 PM

    Thank you for an interesting presentation of the beginnings of Century 21. I am a new agent and when I speak of Century 21 I like to put it in context. I had found some info but not as much as you provided me with.

    According to Wiki, the name comes from the Century 21 Exposition held in Seattle in 1962. Thank you and I hope to have the opportunity of meeting you in Montreal!

    Marie-Andree Bastien

  2. Gayle Ross 02/28/2010 at 7:47 PM

    [iThank you for the interesting article. We've been part of Century 21 since 1993 but never had heard where the gold jackets originated from. Good information to pass along to our agents. Thank you.

  3. Jared Winterton 05/02/2013 at 3:20 PM

    I never knew where the gold jackets came from. Kinda cool to know it now. Does Century 21 have any accountants in Calgary? I sure hope so.

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