October 3, 2011 - 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.
*Pictured above: U. Gary Charlwood accepting International Franchise Association Hall of Fame Award in 2008
March 10, 2011 - As some of you may know, I am a big fan of world football (a.k.a soccer)…especially the English Premier League
. This interest goes way back to my youth spent in Europe.
Football is the subject of many a heated yet spirited discussion among my staff; my team shall remain unmentioned to protect the innocent. Whatever our loyalties, we are all in awe of the huge talent that players like Lionel Messi, Christian Ronaldo, Didier Drogba and their teammates display week after week.
While still gaining traction in North America, in other parts of the world football is tantamount to a religion. With that in mind, I believe that it has much to teach us beyond the thrill of the game.
As someone who started out as an entrepreneur and has been in the franchising business for almost 40 years, I can tell you there is a lot that young business leaders can learn from football and team sports in general.
Leave the ego at home
To win in business, talent is key. But it’s not talent alone that builds a successful business or football team…it’s leadership, chemistry and trust. I think of the quote: “At the feast of ego, everyone leaves hungry.” To achieve chemistry you must allow your teammates to shine and you must trust that they will deliver. Only by accepting that you cannot do it alone can you hope to win.
If you have a really great business model, the money will come
Just like football, winning in franchising means sticking to the formula. If you create a solid business plan, provide excellent training, attract superior talent and consistently prove your mettle in the face of competition, investors will notice. Players want to be part of a winning team.
Never be defeated by defeat
Never underestimate the underdog and don’t be threatened by what you hear. Business, like sports, is constantly evolving. Some of the most exciting wins in sports have involved unlikely candidates overcoming giants of the league. Embrace the challenge and never give up. Being the underdog can actually be helpful to you in winning new customers.
And finally…brand loyalty is the key to longevity
If you ask any football fan for the name of their favourite team, chances are they will be quick to answer. As a business, brand loyalty is won over time by sticking to your values, respecting your customers and consistently delivering your best performance, even if you don’t always score the winning goal.
Show strong leadership and build a community around your brand. Stick to your values and treat your loyal followers well, and they will be there to celebrate with you when you reach the stage.
January 15, 2011 - Travel and adventure have always been in my blood – from my early days as a tour guide in Europe to the airline career that precipitated my taking the risk to go out on my own as a franchisor of business concepts, that eventually led to the forming of UNIGLOBE Travel International
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the opening of our first UNIGLOBE franchise in 1981 in British Columbia, Canada. I look back with pride on the changes and challenges that this industry has survived – and reflect on the ever-changing cycle of business, travel and world events.
The first UNIGLOBE Travel agency opened its doors in the same year that IBM launched the personal computer
. Email didn't exist and the only thing we could do with a phone was talk into it. Today, I'm posting a blog and am about to utter my first words on Twitter. I don't think I've put more thought into typing 140 characters at any other time in my business career.
The rise of the internet and communication technology has revolutionized every industry, and I would argue that travel has experienced the greatest transformation of them all.
In Europe, about half of the independent countries
we freely interact with today didn't exist when I started franchising. Communist and free market ideologies were antithetical, and escape was the only means for citizens of many of these countries to travel outside of their borders. There is more mobility and freedom for travellers today than ever before.
As we enter our 30th anniversary year, I am attending the UNIGLOBE Chairman's Circle in Hong Kong with our leading travel franchise locations from around the world. It's serendipitous that I look ahead to the next decade from China, which along with countries in South Asia and Latin America will surely transform franchising and travel.
A report for Amadeus predicts that world travel spend
will double by 2020, with the above regions gaining market share. I think all industries will be affected. Western-based franchise organizations will have to learn to adapt their business methods to new cultural norms if they are to harness the rising wealth and entrepreneurial spirit of these populations.
From our very first UNIGLOBE location in Canada 30 years ago, to our more than 750 locations now operating in more than 50 countries – it has been quite the trip.
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