Alan Maguire, the principal at Maguires Real Estate, has had a fascinating past. The illegal transportation of rationed WWII goods, working in Canberra when Gough Whitlam was famously dismissed, travelling the world teaching languages and selling Tahitian black pearls - as bizarre as it might sound - has led him to where he is today. Alan spoke to Bsale Magazine about his roots and how his passion for small business came to be.
Both of Alan’s parents were business owners, his father in sales and his mother in retail which Alan credits his introduction to sales and business. Originally from Northern Ireland, Alan and his family migrated to Australia when he was 9 years old. At the end of World War 2, in a suburb just outside of Belfast, Alan’s father Jack had a corner shop.
“Just after world war 2 that’s when he met my mother. One of her friends told her to ‘go to Jackie Maguire's shop because he has got stockings’. What my father was doing in fact, was driving over to southern Ireland and illegally picking up these things because it was a ration period and selling them under the counter.” Alan said.
“My mother, who loved fashion, had a clothing shop in Belfast and got involved in the fashion industry in Melbourne as well [after emigrating].”
Alan spoke about the corner shop fondly but while his father had great customer service skills, that was also his undoing, eventually leading the family to bankruptcy because he had given too many people credit.
“After the bankruptcy, my father took a job as a door-to-door salesman,” Alan said.
Alan visiting a School in China
Despite the setback, Alan's father instilled the belief in Alan that in business, customers come first. Whether you are a business owner or a door-to-door salesman, nobody is too important not to put the customer first and this strong set of values followed Alan throughout his professional career.
Language has been a central theme throughout Alan’s life. After studying Spanish and French at Monash University, Alan found himself at ANU in Canberra in 1975 during the period Gough Whitlam was prime minister.
“I was there for Whitlam's dismissal and I was doing the first course ever in Australia for interpreters and translators. I was the only native English speaker in the course, but I qualified and passed. I was officially a Spanish interpreter and translator.” Alan recounted.
While very accomplished in his studies, there wasn’t a lot of work in interpreting available at the time, so he turned to teaching.
"I found myself teaching languages and history in a state school in Melbourne, then I had the opportunity to go to France with my family where I got a teaching position and did my masters of French literature.”
Alan presents a gift at a national expo in Pakistan
Teaching languages launched Alan into a career travelling the world teaching English to non-English speakers, particularly spending time in French-speaking countries like New Caledonia and Tahiti which led to his discovery of the black pearls which launched his small business.
Upon returning to Australia, Alan continued to work for TAFE teaching English for another ten years while pursuing other career opportunities and business interests.
“While I was in Tahiti, I discovered Tahitian black pearls. Having some time on my hands and a little bit of money from an accident I’d had, we set up a shop in the Dandenong ranges and started selling pearls.” Alan said.
All while the jewellery business was doing well Alan was travelling around South East Asia and Saudi Arabia, continuing his work with TAFE.
“After the GFC retail was a lot harder so we closed the [physical] shop and sold the jewellery from home. I went back to TAFE as an international projects manager and was able to create projects with Asia”
It was also around this time that Alan set up five bed and breakfasts in the Dandenong ranges, really showing how diverse and varied his career path was turning out to be.
“Lots of really positive experiences, once again it’s all about customer service and giving people value for money. It got to the point, after about 7 years, we were getting a bit tired [of the b&bs] and that’s when we moved more to concentrate on the jewellery side.”
It was during this time in Alan’s career where his passion for customer service and small business led him to become a business broker.
Enjoying the wineries in Victoria
“But it was all business, I drew back on my fathers' experience of business and put into effect customer service principles, which my father was very good at. I drew from that experience and we had successful businesses.”
Alan describes his entry to business broking as something he “kind of fell into”, after meeting a business broker who was renting from him in 2014, who asked Alan to work for him.
“During that period, I studied my certificate IV in property services and after a year of being with him, I set up my broking business in Mornington.”
Along with this new business working as a broker at Maguires Real Estate, Alan was still working with TAFE and “selling a whole pile of different businesses” and much like everything else that interested Alan, he found he had a knack for brokering.
“Could be one day I’m talking about selling chicken schnitzels and the next day talking about waxing in a salon.” Alan laughed.
“It was the same basic principles. Because I’d been through it myself with the jewellery business, I knew the concerns of small business people and also the reason why they might want to get out of the business. Not always because of how it’s going financially, but because they quite often get to that period, that 7-year itch where they are tired of being in the business and are ready to move on.”
Alan found that having a strong background in communication and teaching had many transferable skills to brokering, particularly combined with his business background.
“Pretty quickly I was successful at making sales and listings. I have built a reputation in the Mornington peninsula as somebody who is fair and understands where people are coming from.” Alan said.
Business brokering is different to real estate, “It’s enjoyable, it’s getting involved and solving peoples problems.” Alan said.
“The vendor has put in all this hard work and they want to get something back when they are ready to leave. They are just so stressed and they’ve been there probably two years too long.” Alan said this is where empathy is important in the problem-solving process. “You think to yourself, ‘yeah I gotta do a good job for this guy’ and then many buyers have never bought a business before and they trust that you will do the right thing.”
“When I work with a vendor, I feel like we work as a team” Alan Maguire
Open and honest discourse and disclosed information is important to Alan during business sales, “when I work with a vendor, I feel like we work as a team”, he has no concerns or insecurities about buyers contacting the sellers directly and in fact, he encourages it in some instances.
Alan visit to Chinese Automotive School
“I’m not panicking if they [the buyer] find an email address of the seller and I might even say to the buyer if they want to ring the vendor directly, for the technical details, I’m quite happy to share that. When you sell a business what you want is support from the seller when you start the business yourself when you take it over so you need to build a good relationship between the vendor and the purchaser and the broker is there to assist.” Alan said.
Sales during the pandemic have been surprisingly positive despite lockdowns. Alan said that there is an expectation that “they must be selling for cheap” but this is not what he has experienced:
“I’m getting the prices and sometimes, more than what people are asking and that is not really the case normally with selling businesses.”
For example, Alan told Bsale about a factory business he is selling in Dandenong that had an amazing amount of interest interstate, even though the buyers couldn’t actually view the property due to the various lockdowns.
“I had to arrange zoom interviews with each of them as the owners walk around the factory, I was zooming the owners and the machinery. I said if you’re interested, put down a holding deposit and fill out a form.”
“ Two days later I had four offers! One at the price they’re asking and three above it.” Alan said. ”Similarly, you’re putting something on the internet and all of a sudden you have 10 enquiries the next day.”
Surprised, as he had never had that kind of situation before, times really are changing and impacting the way businesses are run, sold and bought.
“You can have Amazon and so on and it’s convenient, but I would expect that there will be a little bit of a return to personal service in the coming years. Even retail might benefit from it at the moment retail isn’t too great but things can turn around because you know.” Alan said.
“Your best referrals are definitely word-of-mouth. People think there is an element of trust already built and they pass it on to somebody else so you know that is more or less what I rely on these days.”
At the end of the day, business brokering really does all come down to customer service, according to Alan. Business is not just ‘numbers’, it is people and their life experiences. This is something that Alan is intimately aware of and is part of what makes him such a good business broker.
“Communication, if anybody asks me and I wouldn’t be just saying it, but to me, customer service is central to everything you do.” Alan said.
“You need to follow your instincts, your talent, your background. Despite my mother saying ‘just go to uni and don’t worry about ‘this and that’ I couldn’t help getting attracted to sales. Even in education selling degrees overseas.” Alan said.
Harnessing a life's personal experiences to appreciate people and where they end up in life makes for an interesting business helping others enjoy their new business lifestyles.
“I’ll move on if I’m not interested, my work really has to be something I am keen on but I’m open to new things so the real estate was always something in the back of my mind but didn’t feel I was ready but now feels quite comfortable. I’ve been lucky to be able to use my languages and teaching skills, it’s all linked together.”
Caitlin has a background in media and communications, studying journalism at University and doing various freelance writing and production work over the past 5 years.
Having grown up in a family business, Caitlin understands and values the importance of small business. Particularly creating and encouraging opportunity for people from all backgrounds and experiences to follow their dreams, and not only be welcomed into the world of business, but succeed.