The seeds of family businesses are often sown from the rich soil of dreams and nourished by hard work, risk-taking and resilience. This was the fertile ground from which Laurent Demeure, founder and CEO of Coldwell Banker France & Monaco, planted a new vision for the real estate business started by his grandfather in the 1920s.
“In 2010, it became clear to me that my company had to integrate with a large group, with a real corporate culture and international reach,” remembers the award-winning real estate expert. “I chose to join Coldwell Banker.”
Today, Demeure has transformed the family business into a multi-million dollar international franchise with 45 offices backed by one of luxury real estate’s most legendary names. His company now has 350 agents, including his top-producing wife Vanda Demeure, a Global Luxury Ambassador who has been recognized as the No. 1 International Sales Associate in the Coldwell Banker network for 10 years in a row. Since 2010, the company has sold nearly 10,000 units, resulting roughly in $9 billion USD in sales volume — ranking it among the top three international high-end real estate firms. Now, Demeure has grand plans again. To mark his company’s 10-year anniversary with the Coldwell Banker network, his sights are set on a bold new expansion into Europe’s three French-speaking countries: Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
Craig Hogan, vice president of luxury for Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC, recently caught up with Demeure from his main office in Paris to ask him about his European expansion plans and how he made the transition from a local leader to an international real estate star.
Craig Hogan Why do you feel now was the right time to expand beyond France?
Laurent Demeure This expansion is very important for the brand, as we have a lot of buyers from these countries who are especially attracted by the South of France and the Atlantic coast. After ten years of successful presence in France, it is the right time to go conquer new territories. We worked hard to leverage the brand in France. We took leadership in the French real estate market and I feel ready now to expand outside France.
Craig Hogan Will your company’s name change?
Laurent Demeure Yes. We are becoming an international brand, so we will be changing it to Coldwell Banker ® Europa Realty.
Craig Hogan What is your timeline for opening offices?
Laurent Demeure As CEO, I would say, “the sooner the better”! We’ve just opened a new office in Luxembourg, which was No. 1 within another brand. We have locations in Strassen, which is a close suburb of Luxembourg City. We plan to open another office in Luxembourg City soon with the same franchisee. I am also expecting to open a new office in Switzerland within the next six months. We are targeting Lausanne, Geneva, and Montreux, known as the Arc Lémanique, a very high-net-worth place. Our Belgium office opening is anticipated for September. We are targeting Brussels, as it is the capital of the European Union. We are also looking to expand in the Italian part of Switzerland and in the German part of Austria in 2 to 3 years.
Craig Hogan What was the strategy behind choosing these specific locations?
Laurent Demeure When we talk about Belgium, Luxembourgian or Swiss clients, they choose France, Italy or Spain for their vacation homes, where we have Coldwell Banker offices. We have an important presence in the south of Europe. Expanding to the north and central part of Europe will bring a lot of new buyers. There is a huge commercial and marketing opportunity for us.
Craig Hogan Tell us a little more about your background and family history.
Laurent Demeure I was born into real estate. My grandfather, my father and my three uncles were all in the business. I tried to escape this destiny at first. I started my professional career as a business counselor, then I worked in auditing and later in recruitment. I got into real estate by accident. I was in charge of diversification at a consulting firm, and due to the Gulf War repercussions, was the victim of a massive layoff. I settled in my father’s office and decided to get into the real estate industry.
Craig Hogan How did you start your entrepreneurship?
Laurent Demeure I started my real estate entrepreneurship adventure in November 1992. After having worked in the big offices in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, I had to move to the suburbs and go door-to-door. In the early 90s, I started to learn the business side, managing seven employees. I took over the management of my father’s local agency, which at that time was part of the ORPI network that my father created. I became very quickly independent in directing this office. As soon as I understood the fundamentals of the real estate business, I wanted to set up the procedures I learned in the consulting strategy firm I worked in. I decided to recruit a young and dynamic team. My goal was to launch at least 10 offices in the best Parisian locations.
In early 2000, I opened a luxury real estate office on Avenue Montaigne, one of the most luxurious avenues in Paris, because I saw the market expand at the international level. So, I put all my cards into the luxury real estate market.
The company has grown quickly. The arrival of the internet dynamically changed the relationship between agents and customers.
Craig Hogan You’ve said before that the internet was one of the catalysts that led to your alignment with Coldwell Banker in 2010. How did that happen?
Laurent Demeure Prior to this, the large franchise networks were very focused on field-oriented prospecting methods. During this period, our sales revenue was high, but our market share declined. So, I had to rethink my strategy. It became essential to exist on Google. The big brands had this capacity that the small local agencies didn’t have.
At the time, I was the local leader, so I could remain known at the local level or move forward to an international level. The 2008 subprime crisis broke out and hastened my decision. My office didn’t make any sales and I almost lost everything. I centralized my business to one single office with a smaller team. I managed to get through the crisis, but it was still necessary to rethink my business strategy because the economic model was no longer sustainable in the long term. This was when I decided to invest a lot more in luxury real estate to reorient the group in this direction. In 2010, I made the commitment to join Coldwell Banker. I’ve never looked back. It was the best decision I ever made.
Craig Hogan Returning to you where your business is today, what is the advantage that the Coldwell Banker Global Luxury name brings to your expansion markets?
Laurent Demeure The Coldwell Banker Global Luxury name is very powerful in the real estate industry. It roots back to 1933. Coldwell Banker Global Luxury is one of the dominant players in luxury real estate. We know that implementing the Coldwell Banker Global Luxury name in new territories will be highly successful.
Craig Hogan You believe strongly in digital marketing, but you are also a strong proponent of print. Looking ahead, what are the ways you are planning to reach affluent buyers in new European markets?
Laurent Demeure Digital marketing solutions permit us to better reach buyers thanks to data. Therefore, we can target our prospective buyers with the right message at the right time. On the other hand, in this strong digital world, print magazines and mailings bring a sense of rarity. We want our clients to feel special and privileged. Print advertising helps us build a strong luxury image.
With digital marketing, we have developed both inbound and outbound marketing tools to reach all buyers, bring them to our website and share their contact information. Then we can send them newsletters and e-mailings thanks to a marketing automation strategy. We also reach them where they are: on social media, with content promotions. Today, some of our agents in the U.S. make more than 70% of business thanks to Instagram. We are proud to have become the strongest real estate brand on social media.
We have selected two types of magazines to advertise in: some niche magazines with a small but very strong audience on UHNWI and UNWI, and some with a larger audience. We also create content for the Coldwell Banker Global Luxury program’s flagship magazine, Homes & Estates. This medium is one of the most important marketing tools we use to build the luxury image for the brand.
This year, we launched our very own European version Homes & Estates. We have placed these magazines in our offices, free of charge, so our clients have an opportunity to see the beautiful properties for sale all over the world. It’s been an enormous hit among our clients and agents already!