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Oak Park and River Forest has its share of family-owned and operated real estate agencies, but come Oct. 1 two major players will join forces.
Gagliardo Realty of River Forest and Prudential Premier Realty of Oak Park will merge under the Gagliardo name, and just like any business, the merger of two distinct offices is carried out like a marriage of sorts. Two different families, two different names, two different spaces all merged into one, and just like a real marriage, the likelihood of long-term success depends on the compatibility of the parties involved.
In many ways, Gagliardo and Prudential share the same backstory. Both are firms with long roots in the community and strong family ties. Gagliardo is currently owned and operated by Andy Gagliardo, a third generation realtor. Tom Poulos, the managing broker of Prudential Premier, had the role passed onto to him by his mother, Bess Poulos.
Gagliardo's father and grandmother started the business over 50 years ago, and he's been running things since 2002. Prudential Premier formed as result of a merger in 1998 between Bess Poulos and Century 21 Oliver/Redas. Bess, who still sells homes, worked her way up through the industry following World War II. The families have always shown mutual respect for one another. "My mom was a friendly competitor with Andy's dad, Joe. Andy used to pal around with my younger brother, Lou, in grade school," said Tom Poulos. "There's always been lots of mutual respect between the two families."
The recent merger of two other local firms, Baird & Warner and Pilgrim, may leave some wondering if larger firms are just the wave of the future, but Gagliardo insists that this merger has been in the works for a long time.
"Tom and I have been talking for a few years about this," he said. "At one point, I was strongly considering putting a satellite office in Oak Park because even though we did work in both River Forest and Oak Park, some people thought we were purely a River Forest business."
The timing and the naming of the new firm come down to logistics, according to Gagliardo. "We're making this merger in line with Tom's Prudential contract and lease coming up. His background is as an independent realtor as is mine. We want to emphasize the family spirit of the business.
"We talked about different names, but decided to stick with Gagliardo. It's a local brand name already, so we thought why change the local flavor?"
Poulos agrees that there was no need to change the name. "The Gagliardo name is synonymous with integrity and honesty," he said. "Everybody knows that Poulos is a family approach that we all value."
Not a franchise
Both Poulos and Gagliardo stress the importance of their decision to remain an independent, locally-owned brokerage.
"The big question is to franchise or not to franchise. I've done both before, and today's franchises are just providing technology and support that we can get anywhere," said Poulos. "Really, franchises just end up taking money out of the company. An independent name is strong in a community. Agents like it, and our Oak Park and River Forest clients like the local connection too."
Gagliardo agrees. "There is no smaller to mid-size independent real estate firm like this in the Oak Park River Forest area. We can really offer something that the others can't. There's something to two family businesses coming together. We're going to keep that family presence that you might lose with a franchise."
Merging two firms is not without its challenges and changes. For the time being, the two offices will combine in Gagliardo's North Avenue office space.
Gagliardo says an Oak Park office is in the works for in the not-so-distant future. "We will have an Oak Park office for a bigger presence in Oak Park," he added. "The challenge now is putting everybody under my roof until we find that Oak Park space. There may be some changes as to whether all of our brokers work in the office or from home, but everyone will adjust."
Prudential and Gagliardo each have approximately 30 brokers in their current offices, and Gagliardo expects they will all remain in the combined firm.
"I'm really excited about the move, and Tom's really excited. It will be good for our agents and our clients. We've been successful on our own, and we want to take it to the next level."
Poulos echoes that sentiment. "The joining of our forces will just make things better. We know how to satisfy homeowners, and this will just enhance the business. Our combined market share will be bolstered. I think that things are starting to trend better in real estate, and we're positioned well for the upcoming market."