Steven Park grew up working at the family’s poultry farm in Sarnia, Ont., but at a young age he decided not to put all of his eggs in one basket.
Park, broker of record and co-founder of the newest brokerage in Sarnia, Coldwell Banker Southwest Realty, says, “The eggs on our farm needed to be gathered at certain times during the day, but other than that, the farm took care of itself,” he says. Since going on vacation was out of the question for their farming family, Park would be out in the barn in the mornings, then from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., he’d work at his family’s office selling real estate. After returning to the farm to collect the afternoon eggs, he’d go back out at night to show and sell houses again. It was a perfect fit.
After learning the ropes from his father, who specialized in selling poultry farms across Ontario, Steven, at 20, decided to join a Sarnia real estate firm.
From 1988 to 1993, selling real estate wasn’t easy in Sarnia, Park says. Ontario Hydro had just downsized, and Dow Chemical had pulled out of the small town. His knowledge of selling farmland came through for Park when residential sales were few and far between. Back in the 1980s there were only a handful of real estate salespeople in the county. So, the Parks’ name was held in good stead for reliable real estate advice and sales.
At the independent firm where he worked, Magic Realty, Park met Rob Longo, his co-founder at Coldwell Banker Southwest Realty. Longo grew up following the footsteps of his own Realtor father. Joining the real estate business straight out of university was but a natural step for Longo. Although there’s a 25-year gap between the two partners, real estate runs in their veins and between them they share over 100 years of experience selling property.
The writing was on the wall, when a couple of years back, Park and Longo saw an opportunity to begin their partnership. The time was right not just to “design a business structure” from the ground up, “but also the physical structure in the environment,” says Longo.
After spending several months researching the infrastructure of their business, its design, and its location, the duo was awarded both Coldwell Banker residential and Coldwell Banker Commercial franchises. On Sept. 10, 2018, the grand opening of their brokerage followed.
Built at 780 Exmouth St., in the heart of Sarnia’s main commercial district, their 3,600-square- foot building is a “state-of-the-art” space, says Longo. It’s phase one of a 7,100-sq.-ft. office facility.
As you walk through the doors and on to the exposed concrete floors of their new office, you are immediately impressed by its high ceilings and glass walls. The feeling of transparency, light and space is inescapable. “We really wanted to stress on transparency in our brokerage,” says Park. “We wanted our agents to feel that everything was open and up front. There’s a lot of glass in the office and you can see inside my office as soon as you walk in the door. People can look in and see exactly what I’m doing because we wanted that transparency.”
Fitted with 25 private offices, a large bullpen area for agents known as the agent hub, a coffee bar, five meeting rooms and a lounge area, the sprawling ground-floor level office is custom-built to deliver a “concierge-style approach (which) will shoulder many of the transaction tasks,” say the partners in a news release.
Construction is in full gear to complete phase two—the remaining 3,500 sq. ft. of their Exmouth Street location.
Both Longo and Park say a common problem they discovered in Sarnia was that agents weren’t collaborating enough. As top producing agents themselves, they decided to build their business upon a different mantra. “While a lot of new brokerages are pushing more workload onto the agents and making them more independent,” Longo says, their vision is to create “more of a collaborative team approach where we’re trying to offer more backend services to our agents in the office.”
Whether it’s photography, social media updates, government HST returns, filing their paperwork, or ensuring that they are RECO compliant, the 15 agents in the office are encouraged to rely on their secretaries to take on the administrative work load. “Our agents need to concentrate on two things. One, getting out there and selling more, or spending time with their family or the things they enjoy doing most,” says Park.
In an era where agents are being forced to swing between a digital, cloud-based solution or a traditional brokerage model, Park and Longo have found a happy medium where they offer the old-school, personal touch to their agents, along with all the modern-day, hands-off technological advances in the industry. While being future forward, they are deeply rooted in their time-tested traditions.
“It sounds a little apple pie-ish,” says Park, but he says their agents believe in 100-per-cent attendance at Coldwell Banker’s meetings, and supporting each other all the way, even if that means driving for 40 minutes to celebrate each other’s successes. “And in Sarnia, 40 minutes is a long way away,” he says.
Park and Longo have already expanded by opening a satellite location in Petrolia, in a 150-year-old historic building that “solidifies our footprint in Southern Ontario and is further evidence of our commitment to growth,” says Longo.
As opposed to a habitually volatile market in Toronto, selling in Sarnia is more stable, says Park. Now in the business for eight years, he says the value of relationship-building and customer service are that much more important in a smaller community.
As second-generation Realtors, there isn’t much that surprises Park and Longo, but when 350 community members, peers and leaders turned up at the recent launch of their brick-and-mortar brokerage, both were left speechless and honoured. “That stuff sticks with me,” said a humbled Park.