Real Estate Pioneer and Century 21 Co-Founder Dies

On the eve of an initial public offering of Century 21's Chinese operation, Art Bartlett, the co-founder of Century 21 Real Estate Corp., died at age 76.

Best known for their trademark yellow blazers, Century 21 was the first franchise-based real estate company to take off in the United States. Mr. Bartlett sold his share in 1979, but today, the company has 120,000 employees in 67 countries.

Today, the franchise model is employed by RE-Max and most other national powerhouses, and is easy to be taken for granted. But when Bartlett and his partner Marsh Fisher started in 1971, it was a novelty. The model pioneered by Bartlett and Ray Kroc of McDonald's is now a ubiquitous in the hotel, fast food and other industries.

The national franchise model eventually brought us to within spitting distance of a national MLS, where you can look up the information of any house for sale, anywhere in the country, without any kind of login or password.

Mr. Bartlett also attempted to launch a franchise-based home improvement company called Mr. Build in the 1980s, but was largely unsuccessful.

While we think of businesses such as Zillow or Redfin as the innovators now, Mr. Bartlett and Century 21 were at the front of the last wave of innovation in the real estate space, almost 40 years ago.
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