Art Bartlett, Co-Founder of Century 21 Real Estate Franchise System, Passes Away at 76 After Long Illness

January 06, 2010 // Franchising.com // CORONADO, CA -- Art Bartlett, the influential businessman who co-founded and built CENTURY 21® into a real estate franchise giant, died on Dec. 31, 2009, at his home in Coronado, Calif., after a long illness. He was 76.

"Art was a legend whose actions helped to write the very history of real estate and franchising," says Century 21 Real Estate LLC President and CEO Tom Kunz. Bartlett created the concept of regional franchising and has been deemed the "father of conversion franchising" -- converting existing small businesses into franchises.

"His vision, combined with his dynamic charisma and determination have positively touched the lives of generations of real estate brokers, agents and the millions of people for whom they help find homes globally," adds Kunz.

Today, Century 21 Real Estate LLC is the world's largest residential real estate franchise company comprised of 7,700 independently owned offices in 67 countries and territories with more than 120,000 sales staff. It is a subsidiary of Realogy Corporation.

Art Bartlett was born, the second of three children to Raymond and Thelma Bartlett, in Glens Falls, N.Y., on Nov. 26, 1933. The family moved during the 1940s to care for an infirmed aunt in Long Beach, Calif. Raymond instilled a solid work ethic in his children and young Art took the odd job that included delivering groceries, parking cars and ushering at a movie theater to help provide for his family.

"There is no free lunch and Art, our sister Millie, me, our dad and even our mother worked," says older brother Ray. "We didn't have a lot of money but we survived."

Bartlett started his career in sales at a very young age. "When he was in junior high school, Art made potholders and had a crew of kids helping him sell them," adds Ray.

After high school, Art Bartlett attended Long Beach City College while working part time in a men's clothing store. "He enjoyed sales, genuinely liked people, liked helping people and liked winning," says Ray.

Bartlett left school to join the army, but was quickly discharged due to an arm injury he had sustained while playing football. Through the decade of the 1950s he worked as a top salesman for the Campbell Soup Company in the Los Angeles area. During that time, he fell in love when he first saw his future wife, Collette, at a party. His talents as a salesman came into play, as Collette wasn't initially interested in Art. His powers of persuasion prevailed, the couple married in 1955, raised a daughter Stacy, and stayed happily together until Collette's death in 2002.

In 1960, Bartlett went back to school to study real estate and enter the world of commission sales. Armed with enthusiasm but no training, he started as an agent and later became a branch manager then district manager in the San Fernando Valley, running the top producing office of Forest Olson, the largest residential real estate company in California at that time.

Bartlett had taken a pay cut to enter management. He wanted to continue his growth in the industry, but he also wanted to keep more of the earnings. In the mid 1960s, he left to co-found Four Star Realty in Santa Ana, Calif. He later formed Comps Inc., one of the first companies to offer comparable residential listings services.

After the sale of Comps Inc., he had a chance encounter at Denny's with his former Forest Olson employee Marsh Fisher, who was working for real estate franchisor CJS.

Bartlett was intrigued with the concept and teased Fisher that he was interested in starting his own real estate franchising company. By the end of their second meeting, Bartlett knew real estate franchising was to be his next venture.

"Real estate franchising was a new concept and there were only two real estate franchisors at the time, CJS and Red Carpet. Art had an uncanny ability to take a new idea and develop it beyond anyone's wildest dreams. His marketing and sales approaches were very aggressive," says Jim Cummings, former Century 21 International president chief executive officer.

In 1971, Art Bartlett and Marsh Fisher opened Century 21 in Santa Ana, Calif. "The vision of Art and Marsh was to create synergy by persuading extremely successful local real estate people that they would have more success by marketing, advertising, training and selling together under one Century 21 umbrella," adds Cummings.

"He created order out of chaos," says Bud Cashen, a former Century 21 board member and the company's first regional owner. "He'd get a bunch of strong minded men together, some even more successful at the time than Art, throw out a problem, antagonize it, listen and put us in the right direction. He was a great negotiator and a man of integrity. There were no hidden agendas. He knew all about you, cared about you, knew your goals and helped you reach them. Your success was his success."

"He had the innate ability to select and motivate to excellence. That is how Art built and expanded his businesses," says Art Turner, his former Four Star Realty partner. At Century 21, Bartlett thought of each one of his franchisors as a partner. He took their individual good ideas, synthesized them and presented them in a uniform manner, as programs, for the benefit of all. "He developed a good image for the industry at the same time," adds Turner.

Bartlett also leveled the playing field. Prior to real estate franchises, most companies were "Mom and Pop" shops. "They didn't have the resources or the know-how to do everything needed. One could do sales well, maybe the other accounting. Art offered his franchisors affordable expertise and tools in all aspects of business like recruiting, sales, marketing and accounting," says former Century 21 Senior Vice President and General Counsel Jim Mitchell.

He hadn't set out to be an entrepreneur or a pioneer, but armed with a vision, he was unstoppable. He also always played to win. Bartlett created the independently owned regional concept of franchising -- selling entire areas and instructing the licensees how to sell individual franchises within their area. While Red Carpet grew slowly, with five years sales totaling 500 franchisors nationally, Bartlett set Century 21 goals of 300 new franchises per month.

He joined the International Franchise Association during the mid 1970s. Each year Century 21 reported it doubled its franchises, which was unheard of. Bartlett had become the pioneer of conversion franchising. Instead of recruiting retirees from other fields with little experience and a large learning curve, the partners tapped people in the real estate industry and existing real estate company owners, which resulted in dynamic growth.

When he saw the value of Bud Schultz, the national franchise sales director for rival Red Carpet who conceived the idea of his sales staff all wearing red jackets, Bartlett didn't just steal the idea, he stole Schultz. Bartlett, Fisher and Century 21 Executive Vice President Bill McQuerry met with Schultz and wouldn't let him leave until he came over to Century 21. He agreed on condition that Century 21 staff adopt and wear the now famous mustard gold jackets, turning thousands of real estate sales professionals into walking, talking business cards. Although Bartlett initially wanted a more subdued brown version, he saw the wisdom of Schultz's actions.

The name Century 21, despite Web myths that it came from the Century 21 moniker given to the Seattle World's Fair, actually came from a brainstorming session. The first suggestion, Twentieth Century Realty, was virtually impossible to get registered. That was followed by 21st Century, but Bartlett didn't like that. The words Century 21, though futuristic, were available for trademark and the partners soon incorporated as Century 21.

After going public, Century 21 was purchased by Transworld Corporation in 1979. Bartlett remained until 1980 as chairman and chief executive officer.

Afterwards, he kept busy in other ventures. He bought and sold Larwin Square, a retail complex in Tustin, Calif. He started a new franchise in 1981, Mr. Build, to capitalize on the remodeling trend as real estate prices began to soar. He left that business enterprise to devote time to his ailing wife and his family, but continued to invest in real estate from his home office.

Among his many recognitions throughout the years, Bartlett received a Hall of Fame Award from the International Franchise Association, a Napoleon Hill Gold Medal, and the Century 21 Centurion Award. Century 21 further honored its co-founder by creating The Art Bartlett 2100 Cup Award, the most prestigious company award in the Century 21 system, presented annually to one company that demonstrates the highest level of leadership, customer service and professionalism.

Bartlett had few extravagances, but did indulge himself at one time with a small powerboat and an exotic car collection numbering just under a dozen. Some of his biggest joys were to take the family on weekend trips in their motor home, go to a shooting range, and to hold Fourth of July parties for friends.

After the passing of his first wife, he felt fortunate to find love again in his later years with his second wife Nancy.

He kept strong friendships throughout his life with his hand-chosen Century 21 "roundtable" of executives and his former business partners.

By the accounts of friends and family, he was an extremely generous man and supported many worthwhile causes including the SPCA and other animal charities. Bartlett is said to be a driving force behind Camp Able, a summer camp for the physically disabled in San Diego County.

While living in Orange County, Bartlett participated in the Orange County Sheriff's Advisory Council. For 12 years, after his move to Coronado, he became involved in the Honorary Deputy Sheriff's Association, an organization of 700 affluent business people in San Diego County. He was a board member for three years and on its advisory board. "Art was a 'spark plug,' donating his personal funds and helping to raise more than $100,000 for education, training and equipment," says HDSA member Ken Miles.

Art Bartlett is survived by his wife Nancy, his daughter Stacy Bartlett Renshaw, his son-in-law Aleksander Renshaw, his granddaughter Bella Collette Renshaw, his stepson Larry Wells and his family, his sister-in-law Dolores Hovey, his brother Ray and his sister Millie.

Service to be announced at a future date.

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