Coile to expand Champion Realty


July 25, 1993|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Staff Writer

It was to an Alpine lodge, nestled in the forest of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., where Chris Coile and 20 of his senior managers retreated earlier this month to map the future of Champion Realty. And, not surprisingly, the route outlined by Mr. Coile -- the Wunderkind of real estate from Anne Arundel County -- calls once again for a Baltimore-wide expansion of his real estate empire.

"When people say, 'Why expand?' I say, 'Why not?' " Mr. Coile said in an interview last week. "When you've pretty much saturated your market area, it's time to move on. In real estate, you either grow or shrink. That's just the nature of the beast."

The 48-year-old real estate executive intends to use his Anne Arundel base as a springboard to a metrowide real estate company, just as he did in 1977. The next areas where he expects to open up offices? Probably the Towson section of Baltimore County, the Columbia-Ellicott City area of Howard County, and the Bel Air corridor of Harford County.

It's been nearly seven years since Mr. Coile returned from a self-proclaimed retirement on a 5,000-acre ranch in Montana with an itch to begin rebuilding the Baltimore-area real estate business he began in Severna Park in 1969 and sold to Merrill Lynch for $2 million in 1980. Once again, he has the urge to go metrowide.

"Maybe it's the 'seven-year itch,' " he quips, emphasizing that his expansion plans are still being formulated and that no element of the program is yet final.

With 400 agents working at 10 offices in Anne Arundel County -- selling $400 million worth of real estate in 1992 -- the always-entrepreneurial Mr. Coile is not satisfied. Mr. Coile may have matured and become a bit more risk-adverse since his early days. But his drive to grow a company certainly hasn't lessened.

"Chris has a lot of charisma. I guess that will get him agents. And, in this business, you're only as good as the agents you have," says Mary Bell Grempler, chairman and co-founder of Grempler Realty, the Towson-based real estate chain.

The exact timing of Mr. Coile's expansion has not been set -- probably within a year -- but he says his move must come with a splash.

In 1977, when Chris Coile & Associates swept around the Baltimore Beltway, opening eight offices all on the same day, his old company mounted a $300,000 saturation ad campaign, which quickly gained in two years 10 percent of the fragmented home-listing market in the metropolitan area.

He would move just as quickly, spending at least as much, if not more, to take Champion metrowide this time, he says.

"If you're going to go, you've got to go big. You really need to spend quite a bit of money," Mr. Coile says.

At this point, Champion does almost no Baltimore-wide advertising -- buying little space in The Sun and almost no commercial time on Baltimore-area television stations. But Mr. Coile reckons that both advertising outlets would be necessary to make his big move. And given the pricing on such ad mediums, he says a sudden expansion to many additional offices would be necessary to support the expenditures.

"The minute we go into The Baltimore Sun and the minute we go into metropolitan TV, we're throwing our message in a circle, and we want to take advantage of that," he says. Rather than opening eight medium-size offices -- as he did when he last used Anne Arundel County as his springboard -- Mr. Coile anticipates opening three large offices beyond the county's boundaries.

"Our concept has moved to larger, more fully supported offices," he says, noting that the increasing complexity of the real estate business now requires more of a critical mass at each location -- to make economic use of computer equipment, graphics support, direct marketing programs and other resources that are now part of the mix.

Tapping old loyalties

To staff his new offices, Mr. Coile hopes to draw heavily on agents who worked for Chris Coile & Associates in the Baltimore area before the business was sold to Merrill Lynch. He estimates that 200 to 300 agents who worked for him outside Anne Arundel County are still involved in the real estate business in the area and that some of them could be brought back into the fold.

"We're not going into a brand new area where I'm not known," he said.

Even so, Mr. Coile won't take any chances on recruitment. Drawing on master lists of licensed real estate agents and brokers, he expects to write to every Baltimore-area agent and sales manager outside Anne Arundel County to make his pitch -- though the timing of the crusade has yet to be determined.

Mr. Coile ticks off several reasons why expansion is on his mind.

For one thing, Champion has developed labor-intensive departments -- such as a graphics unit that produces sales brochures and advertising material -- that have excess capacity. For another, Champion's commercial realty arm is developing and looking for new markets.

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