Launching a Franchise in the Recession

Connie Antinou, Hunter’s Fairway Sotheby’s International Realty, North Barrington

By Shannon O’Brien

In the best of times, striking out on one’s own to open a brokerage is challenging. Doing so in 2007, on the edge of the housing market collapse, would seem like a recipe for disaster, both personally and professionally. Not if you’re Connie Antoniou, broker/owner of Hunter’s Fairway Sotheby’s International Realty in North Barrington.

Antoniou started out 27 years ago at Adams & Myers Realtors in Hinsdale. Upon her move to Barrington in June 2007, she decided to make her vision of the perfect real estate brokerage a reality by purchasing the assets of Wynstone Realty, a brokerage that sold only within the Wynstone gated community in North Barrington. She opted to buy her own franchise instead of build her own brokerage from scratch.

“The world is growing smaller and the importance of worldwide online marketing of real estate has become a requirement, not just a luxury,” she says. “Many of my clients have had a need to purchase internationally, or at the very least, demand global exposure for the home they were selling. I realized I needed to be affiliated with an international franchise, and the reach which the Sotheby’s International Realty brand offered was a perfect fit.”

But the Wynstone trademark prevented Wynstone Realty agents from selling outside the neighborhood. Antoniou’s solution was to purchase Wynstone Realty, then purchase a Sotheby’s franchise, then set up shop within Wynstone Realty’s office but operate under the Sotheby’s name.

“I wanted to create an environment that was client-centric and agent friendly; a classy, high-tech place with global reach, but with an intimate boutique feel,” she says.

One of the biggest challenges Antoniou faced – even before the economy took a dive – was a set of preconceived notions about Wynstone Realty agents and their manner of conducting business.

“I discovered that some of the former Wynstone Realty agents made it very difficult for local agents to show or sell in the community,” she says. “I guess the old regime was just protecting their business, since they were not allowed to market properties outside the gates because the Wynstone name was proprietary.” This reputation attached itself to the Wynstone name, despite the new owner with new ideas. “Many local agents still felt that even though the name had changed, the business model hadn’t. It wasn’t until our signs starting popping up all over Barrington that the local agents began to embrace our firm.”

While dealing with this, of course, Antoniou was also dealing with managing her new brokerage in the recession. “I had some considerable initial success as I started our Wynstone office, but as the recession took hold and had significant negative impact on home pricing, I had to figure out how to re-invent not only my own systems but those of my company and agents,” she says. “My original idea of starting and growing my own international boutique brokerage went through some major adjustments.”

Antoniou needed to recruit top producers and top agents for her brokerage, but the problem was, she had no idea how to recruit.

“I came from Hinsdale’s two top brokerages: Adams & Myers and Brush Hill, and they never recruited, ever,” she says. “They were the absolute tops and that’s where you worked if you wanted to be associated with the best. I thought that by being a Sotheby’s International Realty office, I would enjoy the same mystique that Adams & Myers and Brush Hill had. I really thought that I would not have to spend a lot of time recruiting, I was wrong – sort of. I still don’t recruit – I invite.”

Antoniou also learned that delegation is a broker’s friend, so she hired a CFO. Not just any CFO, however, but “a gentleman who has brought the resources and staff of his other corporations to bear, making our international boutique real estate office a small powerhouse,” she says. He allowed Antoniou to focus her energy on driving sales volume and building systems that would help Hunter’s Fairway Sotheby’s International Realty grow and improve its clients’ experience.

The system reinvention that has had the most impact on her business and her agents is doing everything “on purpose,” says Antoniou. “If we hear anyone say ‘we’ve always done it this way,’ we break it and find more purposeful reasons to do it.”

Over the course of what she calls “five delightfully challenging years,” Antoniou has managed to build her team to where they have earned the highest average selling price, least number of days on the market and second highest market share volume per agent in its five-year history.

“Not only have we survived the worst real estate market since the Great Depression, but we have just opened our second office, and have already done the same volume this year to date as we did all of last year,” she says.

For many brokers, that would be enough. Antoniou, on the other hand, strives for more, and is seriously considering expanding into other nearby markets, but not until she strengthens each office’s position in the market. “We must first deepen our roots and continue to strengthen our position at our current locations before we venture into any other markets.”

  • Diana Ivas says:

    Connie deserves the accolades of this article. She is top notch and cudos to her for her success and drive in this challenging market. I applaud her success.
    Diana Ivas
    Prudential rubloff

  • Diane Sprenger says:

    Connie is a very organized, focused and fearless broker, that is a true professional. This article did a great job summing up her dedication to the real estate profession and how she helps her office strive to deliver the best service and advice to their clients. I’ve seen her in action and she is the person you want on your team representing your property. Keep up the good work Connie.

    Diane Sprenger
    Marketing Professional