By Danny Astoria
A man of humble beginnings, as a child Anthony Lolli dreamed of bigger things.
It was a promise that he made to his mother of a mansion to live in that set him on course to becoming the driving force behind one of the fastest growing real estate franchise companies in the country.
In just over two years, Rapid Realty — a rental based firm — has grown from a single office in Park Slope, to 51 franchise locations in all five boroughs.
The company recently opened its first location in New Jersey and has a second planned by the end of the year. By 2013, an ambitious Lolli says he will have 50 more locations across the nation in key markets like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston.
“We want to be the go-to company that people think about when they are on the hunt for an apartment,” said Lolli. “If someone is relocating from New York City to LA, we want to be the resource for them.”
His ambition doesn’t stop there. Lolli plans to expand his current portfolio of multi-family buildings across Brooklyn with a move into Manhattan.
And, he says he will soon launch Lolli Brands, a company with sub-brands that may include a line of hotels and restaurants.
“Why limit yourself?,” he said. “Investors are always reaching out to tell me that they are impressed with my success, they want me on their side.”
It’s all a far cry from his childhood growing up in Brooklyn Heights.
Lolli recalled how his mother, Gladys, would take him window shopping to New York’s high-end department stores. “She would try on dresses and perfumes, but never buy anything,” he said.
On one such shopping trip, Lolli eyed an $18.00 watch that he begged his mother to buy him. “Finally, she looked at me said, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t afford it.’
“This was a shock to me, because I always felt like we were rich. But I looked at her and said, ‘Don’t worry, mom, one day we’re going to be so rich, you’ll be able to buy anything you want, and I’m going to buy you a white limousine with a chauffeur and a beautiful home.’ She said, ‘Okay, honey, I know you’ll do it.’ And we never spoke about that day again.”
As a young adult, Lolli did what he could to help his family financially, taking jobs as a bike messenger, selling sunglasses, and installing alarms.
When a family friend got into the real estate business and started making money almost immediately, Lolli’s interest was piqued. He thought that real estate could hold the key to making his childhood promise to his mother come true.
At 19, he took a series of real estate courses and recalls a lightbulb moment from the classroom. “The instructor constantly talked about how much money there was to be made in real estate, but something about it did not sit right with me. So, I asked the instructor why he was not out there doing it himself, instead of teaching. He replied that he did not just teach at the school, but that he also owned it.”
Lolli took a job with a small neighborhood brokerage, but quickly saw an opportunity to go it alone as the recession tightened its grip.
“Rents were low, and landlords were hungry to fill their commercial spaces,” he said. “I went out with franchisees and personally tracked down landlords, drafted proposals, and got my franchisees the best deal possible. When others told me I could not do it, I proved them wrong.”
“With every challenge that a franchisee faced, I faced it with them. From fickle landlords, construction delays, to hiring. I knew that if the franchises failed, it would be a direct reflection on me, and I would not allow it.”
Today, Rapid Realty is the second largest rental-based real estate company in the city, and the first rental company in New York to expand using a franchise model.
With offices all over the city, the company has listings in nearly every neighborhood and, with an “assembly line system” it also means that, no matter how many different areas a customer may want to see, one Rapid agent can help them throughout their entire apartment search.
Lolli explained that his assembly line starts with a customer finding an apartment they like with a listing agent. They then move to the next stage in the “line,” when their application is handled by an agent who has been specially trained in working with landlords to get tenants approved quickly.
The idea, according to Lolli, is that at every step of the rental process, a customer is working with someone who is an expert in that particular aspect of the business, whether it’s finding a property or getting the lease signed and the keys into the tenant’s hand.
“We have unique, boutique-style, contemporary offices that make the task of finding an apartment very easy for renters,” he said.
And the rewards for the agents and franchisees are there for the taking, he said.
“I enjoy watching people join the company, many with backgrounds similar to mine, some who’ve been turned down for employment elsewhere, and then they become success stories inside Rapid Realty, and end up owning their own franchises,” he said.
He said the secret to his success has been keeping his promises.
“I bought the mansion I told my mother I would buy her,” he said. “Promises are important, I made one to my mother, and I make them to my franchisees and employees when they join Rapid Realty. I won’t fail them.”