"How I Got Started..." with John Jay Schwartz, The Man With Square Feet®
John Jay Schwartz is the founder of Have Site Will Travel, a commercial real estate brokerage and consulting firm. Best known as VCU's 1st Ultimate Ram and The Man With Square Feet®, John created the first VCU Men's Basketball radio network, is known as the 1st Ram Voice, and he has promulgated 45 million square feet and counting of commercial real estate experience across the country.
We are so glad to have been able to sit down with John and learn about all that he has accomplished from his time serving our country, his work with Virginia Commonwealth University, and The Man With Square Feet®.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I grew up living above a grocery store, Manny's Market in Church Hill, owned by my father. Although I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, I did live in both Florida and Washington D.C. for several years before returning to Richmond.
Q: What are you passionate about in your personal life?
A: I’ve been married to a wonderful woman for 48 years now, and we have three great kids who are now raising my six grandkids. Some of them live in Florida, but we visit each other and we FaceTime often, so we’re able to stay really close.
Q: What college did you attend and what did you study?
A: I graduated from VCU with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting. I was on student government during my senior year and established VCU’s campus because, prior to that, there was no actual campus. I’ve since remained extremely involved with VCU in many, many areas, serving on a number of boards and in support of many areas of the university management, fundraising, and development teams. I really want to serve on the VCU Board of Visitors and be elected to the Sports Hall of Fame one day soon.
Q: Tell me about your early career.
A: In college, I interned at Markel in their accounting department and doing some special projects for the Executive Management team. That internship was better than any MBA I could have gotten. When I graduated from VCU in the Spring of '69, I decided to enlist in the army and serve my country. After two years, I came home and moved to Florida where I worked for my cousin in the music industry, but that wasn't for me. So, I came back to Richmond and worked in the family grocery business until I was able to get my commercial real estate license. After I got my license, I went to work for a company called Davenport Realty Services and then for James River Realty. I started Have Site Will Travel in the mid-80s.
Q: In your words, what is Have Site Will Travel?
A: We are commercial real estate brokers and consultants. We represent users, owners, and occupants of real estate. We have worked with clients like General Motors, General Mills, TGI Friday’s, Wendy’s, the U.S. Department of Justice, Dominion Resources, McKesson, Value City, The Good Feet Store, RCG, Family Insight, and many others, resulting in promulgating in excess of 45 million square feet mostly in 25 counties/cities in the Commonwealth of Virginia as well as 41 states across the country.
Q: How long have you been in business?
A: I have been in business for over 40 years now.
Q: What was the transition from your career to entrepreneurship like? What sparked you to start your company?
A: I was born an entrepreneur and the commission-based real estate business means you work for yourself regardless of the company structure. There is no salary in this business! An illness and accident of the President of the company forced me into control of Davenport Realty and Service Company when I was 29, and frankly, I was not ready for that responsibility. I sold the firm to James River Realtors and became their VP for Commercial Real Estate Department. After those years under the leadership of James River, I was ready to expand into an exclusive commercial firm structure.
Q: What was the biggest surprise as a business owner from working as an employee?
A: I’d say the fact that it changes every day. When you own a business, you have to be prepared for the unexpected and for change, which comes all the time. When you’re in a business like mine, your income is determined by performance only. You have to always be on your toes.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges in growing the business? What have you done differently as a result?
A: Getting people to recognize you and then getting business through recognition was definitely the biggest challenge. The key to entering a business is that you’ll get certain clients who are loyal to you, and that’s what carries the business for you. Operating under The Man with Square Feet® has made a world of difference. When people call, I know they’ve seen my billboards, my print ads, my radio ads when they ask for The Man with Square Feet®.
Q: As a successful business owner, do you have work / life balance? How have you managed to improve the joy and fulfillment in your life?
A: I have it balanced pretty well, but it’s very difficult. I need that balance because I’ve got a lot going on, and it wears you out. That comes with success, though, which is a good thing. When I first started out, I was always on call. I didn’t really have time off. People were trying to reach me at all hours of the day and night, but I finally managed to end that. I had a family that I needed to spend time with, so I learned to turn my phone off and separate work and family time.
Q: What can we and others in the community do to help your business grow and be more successful?
A: Natalie is an example of someone who has done a great job with that by creating ideas and programs that get me exposed to people who need my services.
Q: What advice would give other entrepreneurs / small business owners?
A: Keep your eyes open. Keep your ears open. Keep your mouth shut. You learn more from listening than you do from talking. Observe, listen, and then make a conscious decision that fits in your and your client's best interest. That being said, don’t be afraid to take two steps back to go four steps forward. Be open to challenges and to taking risks; just be prepared for the consequences of those risks. Ask questions. Seek people out who can give you good counsel and whose interest is only to help make sure that you do things right.
“How I Got Started...” is a blog series that spotlights the entrepreneurial and life journeys of various small business owners and professionals. The content of this blog was curated by members of the CreativeMktGroup team.
John Jay Schwartz