The Ray White Story
The name Ray White has now become an alternative
to the phrase real estate. All built from the beginnings of one man.
So, what do we know about him. Do we know what he stood for? His history and achievements? Did he have any inkling that his efforts might lead to the company becoming the size it has? What visions might he have had?
Ray was born in Hobart in 1878 - the eldest son of a family of three boys and a girl. His ancestor, Marine Corporal Daniel Stanfield, arrived at Sydney Cove with the First Fleet, aboard the flagship “Sirius” in 1788. When just 16 years old, Ray’s family was urged by his ailing Uncle George to take over the prosperous business he had established in distant Thargomindah. It was an arduous journey. First by ship to Sydney, then overland all the way to remote western Queensland. But Joseph, Ray’s father, was not the right man. His teetotal beliefs, from his strict Methodist upbringing, prevented him from maintaining the sale of liquor – the main profit earner. The business quickly failed. (Fortunately, Joseph’s descendants did not share his teetotal habit!!) After the fiasco of the general store, Joseph left town and moved east to Crows Nest – another small country town. There he opened a drapery store.
Ray, now a young man, was restless and displaying his career characteristic “let’s get on with it” drive, rented a disused shed on the town’s railway siding. He opened the doors, determined to engage in any business where he could bring value to the community. He was prepared to do anything. Sell farm machinery. Sell insurance. Sell new motor cars and any items of equipment. The town was the district centre for many German immigrants. The Germans were dairy farmers, the key by-product of which was skimmed milk, ideal for pig production. Ray saw an opportunity to provide a service to those farmers and, at the same time, to create a broader spread of clients. He opened a weekly pig auction “venue”. He was the first to understand the benefits of offering a broad range of services to a committed client base. The local newspaper the “Crows Nest Record” of July 5, 1907, showed Ray’s selling diversity: - a buckboard buggy and double set of buggy harness, a Belling piano (a bargain - cost £53 - will sell for £38), a Bunyip Forest Devil and a Dover stove were advertised.
Ray White’s success grew and he added land sales to his repertoire. Ray’s first important land sale was advertised as “Twelve grand building sites on the Nokomis Estate! A sound investment, well-situated. For sale by Public Auction on 7th December 1907”. Ray had competition. The well established McDiarmid Agency was right in the centre of town in prominent and impressive premises. Descendants of McDiarmid esq. tell stories of the irritation felt towards this new competitor – a competitor who was changing the game rules, when he had the effrontery to operate from such an unsuitable building.
Humble beginnings. They were as basic as you can get when opening in a disused railway siding shed at the end of the line.
More opportunities emerged. He had become a sales agent for International Harvester Products and New Zealand Insurance - our first association with our antipodean cousins!
He insured the organ in the local Methodist Church.
The first Model T Ford sold in the district was by Ray in 1921. Soon he created sub agents selling Model T Fords throughout the district.
The young auctioneer had begun making regular trips by horse and sulky to nearby Toowoomba. Soon, the Toowoomba Chronicle was to report “on December 26, 1906, Ray White, aged (26) auctioneer, wed dainty Florence Wilcox (25), daughter of Emily and Robert Wilcox, gentleman, of Campbell Street, Toowoomba”. The Wilcox house still stands in Toowoomba today. Their family of two boys and two girls – Max, Alan, Marjorie and Joyce – were all born in Crows Nest. Florence White took no part in her husband’s business, although she frequently accompanied him on his trips to country properties. Ray was clearly an innovative marketer. He developed and had an innate understanding of the auction process and its benefits.
Ray White was renowned for his community spirit; many stories of him assisting those in need. Ray was particularly generous if they were clients of his! Pig farmers had their butcher/grocer accounts covered by him during periodic hardships. Part of the legend of Ray White was recalled among the people of the Crows Nest district. During Ray’s time amongst them, more than one impoverished family was known to have taught their little ones to pray each night - “God Bless Father and Mother and Mr Ray White.”
Ray worked hard. Alan White remembered the home life of his youth as a happy home.
“My father came home at the end of each day and told the stories of all his various activities. What memories we have. As children we roamed ceaselessly through the town and the district with a freedom that is unimaginable today.”
Then the move to Brisbane. What a major and momentous decision, at 46 years old, to start again in an unknown and much larger market - how big Brisbane must have seemed!
Family lore has it that the move to Brisbane was for the education of his children. Perhaps it was his restlessness and a need for a bigger challenge. He set up business in the “Colonial Mutual” building in Brisbane’s main street, next to the General Post Office. Such was the location of the building that General MacArthur commandeered it as his headquarters during World War II. This location “next to the GPO” identified him with the most important establishment in the City. He always claimed that identification gave the business great recognition.
Ray’s first advertisement in the Brisbane Daily Mail (in the same edition as he was announcing he was “open for business”) was a “just listed country jewellers’ business” and “an old - established store in a prosperous district”. Still trying to cover a broad market, Ray resorted to giving good quality Electroplated Nickel Silver (E.P.N.S.) teapots with a Diablo cream separator to entice prospective buyers to his door. By this time, several other agents had begun to copy the Ray White “sells anything” approach but none could quite match the “human interest” style of the Ray White advertisements.
Real estate quickly became his core focus. Advertising property from Surat in the West to Mackay in the North. A suburban picture theatre, a banana farm lease, even a medical practice. Ray retained his country connections and so Brisbane’s Show week in August became the biggest week of the year.
Ray was clearly an instinctive marketer. Quick witted, never at a loss for words to change the momentum of a discussion. Sound principles in seeking to find answers for people’s needs. The company’s beginnings continue to be an inspiration. “Ray just loved the competition, the challenge of business.
Ray died in 1966 aged 87 years.
The depression years challenged all businesses. Financial records from those times attest to that. A “property exchange” technique became increasingly common to complete transactions. But Ray never lost respect for the auction technique he so clearly mastered.
The Second World War was another challenge. Restrictions hampered all businesses. The revival of Ray White post war was in the hands of Alan and his brother Max. Fresh energy and a renewed determination revitalised the family’s post war business. Market leadership was wide open and Alan’s hands on drive created Brisbane’s front ranking firm. One way this was reflected was through the domination of Brisbane’s Courier Mail. Ray White had well and truly become a stand out agency in the 1950s. Suddenly there was confidence in the post-war optimism and Alan was the right man in the right place. Under his leadership, Ray White Real Estate expanded to include 15 company owned offices through Queensland, the first of which was the Chermside office opened in 1968.
“Alan created the springboard. The job of the 3rd generation was to jump on it and take the company to an international operation. But the strongest fulfilment of our company’s ambitions will come through the fourth generation.”
The Shed did not survive in its railway location in Crows Nest. The railway line was torn up; the buildings dispersed. As the company’s Centenary approached, we became desperate to find the missing Shed. Eventually, it was located on a farm some distance away. It was now just a feed barn. After acquisition, it was removed and restored in the beautiful historical village of Crows Nest. Ray’s family home was also acquired and it, too, now sits next to The Shed in the same village. It was Alan’s 90th Birthday present from his sons. Ray White’s “Shed” has hosted several milestone events for the family and the company. In June 2002, over 1300 members of the Ray White Group travelled to “The Shed” as part of the company’s Centenary Celebrations.
Ray White Today
The company has continued to test its potential. New services, new locations, and the momentum continues with a constant restless determination. A superb group of key executives is now moulded into the new and broad Ray White family.
The company is the clear leader in residential sales across Australasia and Indonesia. Increasingly significant in Commercial, Rural and other non-residential agency activities.
Now the Loan Market, a major mortgage broker, enables buyers to be presented with their best finance options. The company is determined to be at the cutting edge of Property Management skills and services.
Ray White Invest offers funds management to the Group’s clients. The Group includes Ray White Constructions, Insurance and many other specialist areas.
With the success of its Indonesian network, progress is being made in many other international markets.
Underlying all of this is the family’s continued ownership of the Group and the day to day commitment by the third and fourth generation descendants