By Susan Doran
“What’s the catch?” is often the first question asked by broker/owners who’ve been approached by the Peak Real Estate Network in its intensifying efforts to expand its brand.
“There isn’t one,” says Paul Ruby. He’s the founder/owner of the network’s flagship company, Peak Realty, an independent brokerage based out of Waterloo, Ont. It’s a neck of the woods popular with tech and software companies, university students and a thriving Mennonite community.
Ruby started Peak Realty in 1989. It now has nearly 180 sales reps spread across its various offices and is one of the leading brokerages in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and in Southwestern Ontario in general. In the past few years the operation’s reach has expanded, accelerating its momentum to include a unique system of “licensee” brokerages (it currently has 15 of these) in the surrounding areas and beyond, which has brought the total number of agents under the Peak Real Estate Network umbrella to around 270.
The brokerage has been spreading the brand by granting licenses since quite early on. But it only began to go full-steam-ahead in recent years after Paul’s son, Lee Ruby, a former radio producer/writer/host, stepped into the business to guide it emphatically into growth mode. To this end, Lee, a licensed real estate sales rep, heads up Peak Resources, which oversees licensing and expansion efforts. John Dietrich is the Peak Realty broker of record and Jason Bunker is broker/manager in the Kitchener office and is active in training and mentoring under the Peak umbrella.
Owner Paul Ruby is still actively involved in the business. But as he explains, “I’m officially a senior. I enjoy golf. In the last few years, I’ve been slowing down, waiting for the next generation to come in and grow things…Now we’re actively working to grow the brand, hoping to go across Canada.
“Our growth strategy is to make everyone aware of who we are and what we do.”
And here’s the thing – it has become clear that when first approached, many potential Peak Real Estate Network licensees assume that the pay scheme is too good to be true. As Paul and Lee Ruby explain it, that’s because owners pay only an annual fee. Period. No additional costs (other than the usual unavoidable start-up costs such as insurance and getting incorporated). No buy in. No royalties. No brokerage split. No additional cost per agent.
And there’s another detail that may pique people’s interest.
“Our annual cost per license, regardless of how many salespeople you have, is less than a single salesperson would pay to (most brands) per year, and that’s before their split and additional fees kick in,” says Lee Ruby. “There is no other deal out there like ours. Our focus is to offer more for less.”
He and his father don’t call their company a franchise.
“We refer to ourselves as a network,” says Lee. “We don’t think franchises are a bad thing. We understand the value of a franchise. We just think we have found a better way…There can be high or hidden costs with a franchise, strict rules and guidelines, and high initial costs that can put people a huge step behind out of the gate.
“We firmly believe in keeping our costs down, benefits high, flexibility and keeping much more money in our people’s pockets. This promotes longevity and benefits everyone.”
He continues: “It’s all about brand. Our flagship company and brokerage Peak Realty gives us a strong brokerage as a foundation….The value is already here and this allows us to create a model that is hard for others to replicate, value without high cost…We have the franchise-like benefits, without being a franchise.”
These benefits include “a full safety net” with technical/web, administrative and training opportunities and supports at no extra cost, he says.
“We are with you every step of the way. We are happy to help you adapt to your area and let you have the wheel. We see ourselves as the passenger who helps navigate. Becoming a member office allows you to operate your office on your own terms….We encourage our people to tell us how they feel things should be run and we provide advice and suggestions to allow them to operate as effectively as possible.”
Technological advances such as the internet and the resultant savings factor significantly into the firm’s ability to streamline operations for greater efficiency and to pass these savings along to member offices. Many supports can be offered online, fewer layers of management and less legwork are needed, and agents now have the option of working from home when they wish, for example.
As for what the Peak Real Estate Network is looking for in its licensees, both father and son stress the importance of ethics.
“Dad says, why get married if you are just going to get divorced?” says Lee, laughing. “So, we are looking for people we will get along with – people with good morals, who are kind and easy to deal with. We are trying to prevent headaches. We encourage people to ask as many questions as possible.”
In typical Ruby family fashion, potential licensees are approached ever so politely and patiently.
“The last thing we want to do is rush someone,” says Lee. “We are stress free, no pressure and simply looking for a fit. Some people I have been in touch with for two years. We keep the lines of communication open.
“We want to go global, but getting across Canada is the first hurdle. We know it won’t happen overnight.”