By Susan Doran
You can safely assume you’re valued as a leader if the only way to get an hour to yourself is by hiding out in your car.
That’s where newly minted brokerage StreetCity Realty’s vice president Mary Johnson and president/CEO Costa Poulopoulos decided to hunker down to carve out an undisturbed hour away from their sales reps in order to speak by phone with REM for this article.
“People don’t leave us alone,” says Johnson, laughing. “Someone will knock on the window soon.”
But that’s exactly how she and Poulopoulos want it. They believe in karma and in ensuring that their brokerage “feels like a family.”
The married pair, who formerly operated Realty Executives Elite, re-branded and launched London, Ont.-based StreetCity last summer, in partnership with Canadian real estate brokerage network Peerage Realty Partners.
Asked whether the real estate industry really needs a new independent brand, StreetCity’s principals respond with a resounding yes. They’re building “a better real estate brokerage,” they say.
“The industry is ready for an entrepreneurial alternative focused on customer service and supported by the latest technology and social media marketing…built upon our proven culture of superior customer service, collaboration and professionalism,” says Poulopoulos, who is a CREA director and a past president of the Ontario Real Estate Association.
Time will tell, but StreetCity’s first year has certainly been promising.
The company is currently one of the fastest growing brands around. In just the past few months, it has opened five new offices across Ontario, bringing its total to eight in all (London, St. Thomas, Glencoe, Thunder Bay, Hamilton, Kingston, Sarnia and Port Dover), serviced by around 150 sales reps. In addition, at the time of this writing, the paperwork was being finalized for an office in Sault Ste. Marie.
“This is only the beginning for StreetCity. Costa and Mary are working on plans for more branches across Ontario,” says Peerage’s CEO Gavin Swartzman.
In fact, the couple says they are already getting calls about taking StreetCity nationwide and that word-of-mouth among sales reps continues to allow the brokerage to grow organically without the need for active recruitment.
All brokerages pay lip service to putting their sales reps and clients first, but StreetCity is the real deal, they maintain.
“What makes us different is that we really care about people,” says Johnson. “It’s about relationships; we live that. I may not remember the addresses of all the places we’ve sold, but I can remember the people, the children and the dog.”
Kindness Above Everything – the name of a charity founded by Johnson that provides poverty relief to local families – is also what the couple wants to embody.
Says Poulopoulos: “We’re a service-focused brokerage. Our culture made us successful.”
Expansion opportunities are greatly enhanced by Peerage’s support and deep pockets.
“Nothing has changed except we’ve gotten stronger,” says Johnson. “They take care of people like we do.”
Peerage, founded by mega-wealthy mover and shaker Miles Nadal, takes an equity stake in the strong entrepreneurial brokerages with which it partners, encouraging their autonomy and culture while providing access to a multitude of stellar financial, technological, operational, training, marketing and other resources to accelerate growth.
In other words, Peerage partners get help with expansion while retaining the freedom and the mojo that has made them stand outs.
“We’re blown away by how open and supportive Peerage is….Who better than Miles Nadal as a partner?” asks Poulopoulos rhetorically. “He’s on the cutting edge, the winning team. The calibre of our materials, our website, are top notch thanks to Miles and his expertise. Our marketing materials (and) listing/buying packages are like glossy magazines. Agents from other firms ask our agents where they got their forms and clauses.”
Additionally, partnership with Peerage has opened up a market affiliation with Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, a global luxury network with exposure to international buyers.
Many people resist change, so Poulopoulos and Johnson expected to lose up to 20 per cent of their agents due to the conversion. When no one left, they considered it a testament to their leadership.
As part of the rebranding process, besides being re-christened as StreetCity (“We wanted something fresh and young that speaks to all demographics,” says Poulopoulos) the brokerage came out with distinctive orange and grey signage.
With Nadal’s background as founder of MDC Partners (one of the top advertising/marketing companies in the world), the rebranding process cost a bundle and was highly professional and intensive.
“So many questions,” recalls Johnson.
“It was nothing like sitting around the kitchen table,” says Poulopoulos.
Between them, the duo has half a century of real estate experience. After getting a couple of college business diplomas, Poulopoulos, who speaks three languages and grew up in Montreal in what he refers to as “a traditional Greek family,” got his real estate licence at age 21.
He says he always tells people that he’s “one of the six per cent in the real estate world whose first career was real estate.” Even in his high school yearbook he predicted he was going to have a successful career in real estate.
He met Johnson over 20 years ago when she was the vice president of a real estate holdings company. Before long she got her licence as well and the pair teamed up both professionally and romantically (although due to the challenges of combining families, they officially married only three years ago).
With her corporate background, Johnson was in for some surprises. She tells a story about week one, when she said to Poulopoulos, “The key is ready for the closing. Which courier service do you use?”
His amused reply was, “Welcome to commission sales. You are now officially the courier.”
They rose through the ranks of London’s real estate professionals, winning numerous performance awards and opening up their own real estate brokerage in 2008. It was intended to be just the two of them, at least initially. But agents were calling to join the firm within its first hour, “before we even knew how to sign them up,” the couple recall. “Our reputation followed us.”
And they continued to grow. In July 2016 they were approached by Peerage, for the second time.
They laugh now that Johnson’s reaction was “not those guys again!”