I’m a sucker for a creative business idea. Wrap it around a special season, a sense of tradition, push it along with a few prayers . . . and I’m all ears.
That’s why, every few years, I check in on a Modesto, Calif., couple who took a real estate marketing idea to a higher (pun intended) level. Phil Cates and his wife, Karin Reenstierna, say they have sold more than 200,000 “St. Joseph: Underground Real Estate Agent” kits.
The “Original” goes for $9.95, the “Large” for $13.95 and the “Dual Kit” (One pewter, one resin) for $18.95 with free shipping inside the United States. You can get yours by visiting www.stjoesephstatue.com, calling 1-800-326-9183 or by writing to P.O. Box 577622, Modesto, CA 95357. Instructions, statue and the proper words to be said while burying the saint are included.
“The pinnacle of Joe was in 2007,’’ said Cates, who along with Karin and two daughters run the aptly named “Inner Circle Marketing” from their home's basement. “Things got really bad about that time, and sellers were pulling out all the stops. But when the market is good, sales can really fall off.”
Nearly three decades ago, when home prices plummeted along with the hopes of many would-be sellers, I wrote about a Federal Way couple, Kevin and Maggie King, who buried palm leaves in the four corners of their lot to help to help speed its sale.
“We had heard about the idea from another family member,’’ Kevin said. “I thought ‘why not?’ A few prayers never hurt anything.’’
The Kings not only got a full-price offer, but they heard from other folks who had buried religious articles in their yards - statues, medals, holy cards - in the hope of luring some divine intervention. One message contained information about the St. Joseph statues and Cates’ and Reenstierna's venture.
Spring always seem to be a popular time of year for the St. Joe kit. That’s probably because the traditional spring selling season is around the corner, and St. Joseph's Day was March 19 - the same day the swallows return to Capistrano. The Irish remember because it's two days after St. Paddy's Day and the Finns know it follows St. Urho's Day. St. Joseph is the patron saint of the family and household. (If you are really desperate, St. Jude is the patron saint of impossible situations.)
“I'm not Catholic, so I was really new to all this,” Reenstierna said. “But I had a friend buy a statue of St. Joseph from a religious supply house and the salesperson said it was the very last one. ‘People,’ the salesperson said, ‘bury these in their yards and we can't keep them in stock.’”
Reenstierna did some checking and found other stores had similar stories. She invested in some statues, came up with a logo and explanation sheet, and gave the business a whirl.
“My husband is a mortgage broker and he decided to give a statue to some of the Realtors that he does business with,” Reenstierna said. “Well, you would have thought he was giving out gold bullion! Everybody wanted one and the word quickly spread.”
One legend has it that some European nuns, desperate for additional land in the 1700s, buried statues on their property in order to get the attention of the Big Agent in the Sky.
“We've got people from Albuquerque sending them to friends in San Diego . . Catholics to non-Catholics . . . people sending them to others who have had a tough time selling their home,’ Reenstierna said. “Sales are really up recently, but I can't really tell you why.”
While trying to digest all of this information, my mother-in-law called to interject that her mother once buried St. Anthony upside down in the mud so that he could “think about that new house” she wanted to buy in 1931. When everything worked out, she replaced the statue that had done the dirty work with a more expensive one from Italy and housed him in a beautiful garden grotto.
St. Anthony? (“Tony, Tony look around” . . . for a house?) Did she mean St. Francis? What about the hard cash people have been paying for St. Joseph? Just how tough must it be for St. Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes - to enter the picture?
“How it got to be St. Joseph I don't really know,” Reenstierna said. “He certainly took care of his family.”
Palm Sunday is March 28. Palm leaves soon will be plentiful in Christian churches. But say palms aren't your style. You could instead head to the nearest religious supply store and ask for a small statue of St. Joseph. You won't be the shopper seeking St. Joe.
As author, nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and talk-show host, Tom Kelly has carved a niche as one of the leading real estate and finance journalists. His book “Cashing In on a Second Home in Mexico: How to Buy, Rent and Profit from Property South of the Border” was written with Mitch Creekmore, senior vice president of Stewart International, and is available in retail stores and on Amazon.com. He and his wife, Jodi, Dean of the Humanities College at Seattle University live on Bainbridge Island, WA. Their four grown children are spread out around the world and their first grandchild, Myles Thomas, makes them goofy with joy. You can connect with Tom on his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/tom.kelly.37604303, or check out his website at http://tomkelly.com.
Tom Kelly’s novel “Cold Crossover” is now available in print at bookstores everywhere and in both print and Ebook form from a variety of digital outlets. Follow real estate agent and former basketball coach Ernie Creekmore as investigates the disappearance of his star player on a late-night boat. Check out the national reviews and put “Cold Crossover” on your list.