Man In A Hurray

September 10, 1995|By Daniel Barkin | Daniel Barkin,Sun Staff Writer

Before he had turned 19, Alan N. Pyles was running a family car dealership in Chestertown and settling into a marriage that began on New Year's Day in 1977.

Selling Fords for a living was a dream fulfilled. "I knew what I wanted and I had the opportunity," recalled Mr. Pyles.

But by 22, his family had sold the dealership, and Mr. Pyles was in La Plata, running his own carpet company. He had skipped college; there was no time, he felt.

"My mother was concerned. She said, 'What do you know about carpet?' I said, 'Selling is selling.' "

At 26, his career took another lurch. Mr. Pyles was recruited to launch a new home warranty franchise of the fledgling, Florida-based Homeowners Marketing Services.

Mr. Pyles had zero knowledge of the warranty business. But, he figured again, selling is selling. And by all accounts, he figured right.

Newly turned 37 (on Friday ), Mr. Pyles has spent the past 11

years building a franchise that has come to dominate the real estate support services industry in Maryland and surrounding states.

Mr. Pyles' HMS of the Mid-Atlantic States franchise, based in Fairfax, Va., sells 85 percent of the existing-home warranties in .. Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia, by his reckoning. "In some pockets, it's 100 percent," he estimates. Most brokers in the Baltimore area use HMS for home warranties, according to D. R. Grempler, president of Towson-based Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc.

HMS also sells liability insurance and referral services to real estate agents and liability insurance to home sellers, among its various products.

Revenues of Mid-Atlantic and other Pyles-run franchises in the Midwest and Plains states will top $15 million this year, he says.

Nationally, the 15-year-old HMS, a collection of independent (such as Mr. Pyles') and corporate-operated franchises, calls itself the country's largest seller of real estate support services, doing business with more than 50,000 real estate offices coast to coast.

Mr. Pyles is one major reason, according to HMS corporate officials in Florida, where claims are processed for franchises.

"He's the best we've got," said Jim Beach, director of marketing for HMS' real estate division. "I wish we had several Alans to run our corporate-owned franchises. He doesn't sit and watch numbers in the office."

Some of his success can be attributed to timing. HMS launched during the fat years of the 1980s, when the number of Realtors and home sales were climbing rapidly nationwide. But the marketplace has been less forgiving over the past five years, through a recession and sluggish real estate market, and the continued growth of the Mid-Atlantic franchise is credited to Mr. Pyles' focus on customer service.

If Realtors don't like what he is selling, if they lose confidence in Mr. Pyles' word, they won't snap up his products and services, or pitch his warranties and other offerings to their clients. And the past two decades are littered with the remains of warranty firms that went bust. Their legacy has been skepticism that Mr. Pyles had to overcome in real estate offices.

His customers say he has succeeded.

"HMS is great on follow-up," said William F. Cassidy, a Long and Foster sales manager whose office covers Fells Point, Federal Hill and downtown Baltimore. "If the hot water heater goes up the day after settlement, zap, it's taken care of."

"He's an extremely capable individual," said John Evans, executive vice president of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, the largest locally owned real estate firm in the Baltimore region. "He's very accessible and very responsive."

For all his achievements, Mr. Pyles is still a man in a hurry -- maybe not the impatient teen prodigy who hawked Fords on the Eastern Shore while his friends were on campus -- but still youngish and restless.

Index cards at hand

The pockets of every sport coat, every suit jacket in his Clifton, Va., closet brim with blank 3 x 5 index cards. The night stand, at home or in a hotel, always has a pad and a pen. He is phobic that he might lose a killer idea for want of paper.

He is away from home 100 days and nights a year, traveling the road in his 1992 Lexus, relentlessly working the 1,500 real estate offices in his markets.

"He has a lot of intensity," observed Dick Eagen, president of Century-21's Mid-Atlantic operations and a Pyles customer and occasional tennis partner. "He works hard."

"If I'm awake, I'm working," is Mr. Pyles' assessment.

He has been selling since he was 15, in the family car business in Prince George's County, a tradition that went back decades to his grandfather's DeSoto dealership in the Anacostia section of Washington.

At 17, he was the youngest person ever approved by Ford Motor Co. to own a dealership, a step his father took to prepare him to take over the business in Chestertown.

Eventually, his father's illness prompted his family to get out of the car business, but Mr. Pyles' car days scuttled his plans to go to college in New Hampshire.

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