Starting as a three-person independent operation that got its feet wet in the cottage property market while based in the lake-side community of Labelle, EXIT Realty Inter Lake has gone on to make a big splash in the real estate industry in Bridgewater and Liverpool.
Last November the company celebrated its 20th anniversary with the Ontario-based EXIT Realty chain, the first brokerage in the system to reach this milestone.
And according to Jon Walker, who, along with Mark Seamone, owns the franchise, EXIT Realty Inter Lake's sales were "up substantially," last year although the local industry saw overall sales increases of "about three or four percent."
And he says, this year is looking good too.
"There's a lot of things going on here, a lot of deals rolling in already," Walker told LighthouseNOW, adding that the year is just starting.
While he's reticent to discuss specific figures and make sales comparisons against other companies, he's clear on why EXIT Realty Inter Lake is riding on a wave of sales.
"It's because of our approach," he insists.
"You have to be out in the community and get your feet into what's going on," Walker said in an interview.
Being an active participant in the community is a foundation of the company's modus operandi.
It's a strategy that began in 1997 when Walker and his partner in business, Doug White, and agent Sylvia Cherry moved their Inter Lake real estate office from Labelle in Queens County to Bridgewater's King Street.
The idea was to expand their business and get into a different market.
However, initially they struggled in getting agents to join their team.
"A lot of agents in Bridgewater were with franchises. And they didn't want to come with an independent company," said Walker. "They just felt it was security to be part of something bigger."
Having approached a number of potential real estate franchise companies, they ultimately hooked up with EXIT Realty, and became that company's first Atlantic franchise unit.
Seamone, who had been a professional hockey player, joined soon after as a new real estate agent and would eventually take over White's position as a partner in the brokerage.
By 1998 the company had about "seven or eight" agents and would launch one of its first major forays into the community, setting up a tent at the South Shore Exhibition.
Across from the beer barn, it was operational from when the gates opened until they closed at night, with EXIT Realty Inter Lake agents, listings and brochures on hand.
It was a marketing event the company would carry on annually for the next five years.
"We were the only ones doing that, and nobody else has ever done it since," says Walker.
The company only stopped in 2003 when the novelty had run out and it was hard to get the agents to serve the space.
However, it resurrected the event again in 2017, this time with a 10 ft x 10 ft tent in the building, and there are plans to return this year.
Walker says as a marketing tool the exhibition connection was "very fruitful, "though he admits properties don't actually get sold there.
"But you get to see your clients. Everybody who has their house listed with you wants to see their place somewhere and they bring their friends over and say, 'There's my place.' It's a PR kind of event," he explained.
At the EXIT chain's 1998 Convention held in Ontario, the parent company announced its affiliation with Habitat for Humanity.
EXIT Realty Inter Lake began its fundraising efforts for Habitat by selling hot dogs from its EXIT tent, further constructing its community connection.
Its efforts expanded to include an annual Habitat golf tournament and gala, and the company has helped raise more than $240,000 for Habitat for Humanity's Nova Scotia South Shore Chapter.
In 2001, the company opened a branch office in Walker's home town of Liverpool, which he managed.
Two years later, EXIT Realty Inter Lake would move its King Street office, having bought the historical property on the corner of Aberdeen and Glen Allan Drive.
Though it meant getting financing to do it, the company has no regrets since its agent count and sales and market share soon doubled, according to Walker.
He says the company has been in first place in terms of market share for the number of units in the South Shore area since it made the purchase.
It uses the building in its community events, particularly around Christmas time. It places the property on the town's Christmas home tours to raise money for the South Shore Regional Hospital in Bridgewater, and it's the venue for EXIT Realty Inter Lake's catered Christmas dinners which typically attracted more than 100 guests in the years they were held.
The company has developed other community-driven promotion opportunities, as well, including giving scholarship funds to five high schools in the region for students going on to business studies.
On a more traditional marketing model, last year the company also erected billboards outside of Bridgewater and in Queens, advising, "Thinking of buying or selling? Go to the nearest Exit."
It also participated in a leisure show in Liverpool, while last summer the founder chairman of the EXIT Realty chain, Steve Morris, conducted a three-hour seminar on health and business at Bridgewater's Best Western hotel.
By invitation only, the event was attended by 150 people in the banking and insurance industries as well as other local business people.
According to Walker, the premise of the talk was that if you're not healthy you can't stay in business.
"So it's about your body and your mind. It wasn't about EXIT at all. He never mentioned the word EXIT," Walker emphasized.
It grabbed the attention of business leaders in the area.
"So that was a way that people in the community get to know us," suggested Walker.
And it's not just the local business community that is starting to sit up and take notice of EXIT Realty Inter Lake, which now has 25 employees.
In 2016, EXIT Realty Inter Lake was recognized for its work with Habitat for Humanity and honoured in a ceremony in Ottawa.
According to EXIT Realty's newsletter, the award recognizes "'businesses that demonstrate social responsibility and support the well-being of their communities.'"