Property passion fuels business buy

By David Porter

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New owner of Professionals McDowell Real Estate Steve Lovegrove, with wife Melanie. Photo / Stephen Parker
New owner of Professionals McDowell Real Estate Steve Lovegrove, with wife Melanie. Photo / Stephen Parker

Steve Lovegrove, the new owner of Professionals McDowell Real Estate in Rotorua, wasn't interested in becoming a property agent when the opportunity first came up as he was looking for a career change.

But "one thing led to another" and after getting his licence, in 2011 he joined his brother Geoff's company in Manurewa, which was part of the Professionals group. "I found I absolutely loved real estate," he said. "Everything snowballed from there."

In his first year he won the Professionals' Rookie of the Year award for top sales for a newcomer, both in Auckland and nationally. He also got into the top 2 per cent for sales commissions across the country, going on to repeat the performance in three of his first four years, giving him Gold Club status within the firm.

Professionals Manukau sales representative Paul Billinghurst said Mr Lovegrove was exceptionally personable and talented.

"He's very good at getting deals across the line," said Mr Billinghurst, adding that he had been "dominant" in the Manukau area of The Gardens, where he also lived and seemed to know everyone.

"He's generous with sharing his knowledge and time and helped me and a number of other people to succeed."

Mr Lovegrove said that as he began to peak in his real estate career he started to hanker for his own business.

He had a long-term love of Rotorua, where the family had holidayed for years. Through connections across the Professionals network, he knew that Ian McDowell - who led the family business - and his part-owner Phil Hereford, were interested in transitioning out of their company. After a year or so of negotiations, the parties reached an agreement at Christmas for Mr Lovegrove to acquire the business. Mr McDowell is staying on until the end of the year on a part-time basis to provide continuity.

"It's a heritage business," said Mr Lovegrove, noting four generations of the McDowells had sold real estate for more than a century in Rotorua. Out of respect for that history, he felt it appropriate to have a transitional period while he settled into the new role.

While he's a newcomer to Rotorua, Mr Lovegrove has extensive experience across a variety of businesses. Born and brought up in Pukekohe, he left school in the seventh form and joined a Pukekohe accounting firm as a trainee. But after 18 months he left, finding that back office work didn't suit him.

His father was a long-time insurance broker and local politician in Pukekohe, and it soon became apparent Steve had sales in his blood. Initially he went to work for Brightway Products, a business the family then owned, which specialised in making wooden education toys.

Then he joined a Whitcoulls branch in Pukekohe, before progressing to a job as a sales representative for Paramount Trading, a wholesale housewares company.

"I was young and given a car and went out and sold around the lower North Island," said Mr Lovegrove. He wound up opening and running a branch in Lower Hutt for the importer, which sold products such as Thermos and Browns Brushware to retailers.

In 1996, at the age of 26, he decided it was time to start his own first business and with a friend bought two milk run franchises from NZ Dairy Foods (Anchor Milk).

"Everyone laughed and told me it was a dying business," he said, but they were thinking of traditional home milk deliveries.

However, the franchises were focused on major industrial companies and dairies in Onehunga, Penrose and East Tamaki. The partners finished up with six trucks selling 250,000 litres of milk a month.

"We did it for seven years," he said. "But it was a 24/7 business, starting at 2am and very hard physical work."

With his wife Melanie pregnant, he sold out in 2004 and returned to Brightway Products, which had also acquired the wholesale distribution and manufacturing for the iconic Buzzy Bee brand.

However, suffering from the impact of the global financial crisis, and after relinquishing the Buzzy Bee licence when it parted company with the IP owners over the direction of the brand, the family sold out of Brightway in 2010.

That was the point when his wife and many friends asked him why he didn't try real estate. Despite his initial reluctance, he began working with his brother and clocking up sales. One of his recent highlights was achieving an international award for ranking number five for sales throughout the Professionals worldwide group of 3500 agents in Australasia, Asia Pacific and the US. "Now we're trying to get the same results with the Rotorua office," he said.

Mr McDowell said he had wanted to sell to someone who would keep operating the business under the Professionals banner because of his affinity with the group. "Steve was a very successful salesperson, his brother owns a Professionals office in Auckland and he was dead keen to come Rotorua, so he was the ideal person. He's young with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of talent. We're very confident he will carry the business on in a very good manner and further build it up."

Steve Lovegrove:

* Role: Owner, Professionals McDowell, Rotorua

* Born: Auckland, New Zealand

* Age: 46

* First job: Trainee accountant

* Recently read: Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull

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