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In 2012, Billy Duncan retired from a decades-long career at Dow Chemical. Six months later, he knew he hated retirement — and that he had to get back into the business game. But this time, he wanted to build his own operation, something that could create generational wealth for his family. So in 2014, he opened a Real Property Management franchise in Zachary, La. Now, at 65, he runs it with his 28-year-old daughter, Tayla Duncan. Together they manage more than 200 residential properties, working to keep owners and tenants happy. The family affair has been a learning experience for both generations — but one they’ve navigated together, embracing each other’s skill sets and keeping an eye on the future.
Billy, what was so tough about retirement for you?
Billy: I’d been going 150 miles per hour in the global purchasing world, where we had $10 billion in annual spend and 500 direct reports around the globe. It was hard to go from that to zero.
When you decided to reenter the workforce, why did you explore franchising?
Billy: Because we wouldn’t have to start from scratch. Franchising gives you the model, process, and training. And Real Property Management rose to the top for us because it didn’t require major investment in terms of equipment or number of employees. We visited the franchise management office, met the team, met with who would be supporting us, and spoke to a number of franchisees who really reassured us about the ability to create a profitable franchise.
Related: 5 Keys to Successfully Leading a Family Business
When you first opened, what were some of the early challenges?
Billy: That was a very scary time. You open the doors and have zero properties and the phones aren’t ringing. So you go out, shake hands, get your online marketing platform in place, network, and expose your company. Plus, when we were starting out, we were paying a premium to have a lot of our accounting and books managed by outside vendors. Tayla took a look and said, “I can save us a few thousand dollars a month and take this on myself.”
How has the business evolved since?
Tayla: We’ve developed a really strong online marketing strategy, and the majority of our clients find us through Google, where we have really positive reviews. As a result, we’ve attracted a lot of overseas partners who need a really good property management company on the ground.
Billy: One of Real Property Management’s strengths is its online portal. We can easily communicate with our property owners who live overseas, and it becomes very hands-off for them — what investors call mailbox money. For us, the more difficult owners are the ones that are local, looking over your shoulder.
Image Credit: Julianna Sohn
What do you do about tricky clients?
Billy: Our core values are respect for people, and integrity. If we have a property owner who’s being disrespectful, do you walk away from that business? Or do you try to work with that owner and come to a better understanding of how to do business together? Those are tough decisions, and you have to decide whether you make them based on values or your bottom line.
How do you two balance your relationship as father and daughter and business partners?
Billy: There’s no off switch. We do business 24-7.
Tayla: Our family is the foundation of the company, and we bring that relationship into our business as we grow and learn. It actually helps us stand out.
Related: Why This Entrepreneur Left Tesla to Open a Tech Repair Franchise
Do you tell your clients up front that you’re father and daughter?
Billy: It’s a great selling point! We’re working together to achieve generational wealth for our family. And Tayla, she gets no pass because she’s my daughter. Because she will someday inherit the business, the bar is actually set higher for her.
How will responsibilities shift in the years to come? Billy, do you think you’ll ever consider retiring again?
Billy: No, but I do want to get out of Tayla’s way. I don’t ever want to lose her because this business isn’t giving her enough growth opportunities. I can support her from a distance but really let her put her fingerprint on the business.
Tayla: The legacy part of this is what first attracted me to it. I hope our business stays in our family forever. I don’t have kids, but someday I want to pass it down to them — and then, to their kids.
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