BRADENTON -- For its 75th anniversary party on Friday, one of Manatee County's oldest real estate agencies chose to celebrate the past by destroying part of it -- the part that nobody wanted.
Although tradition dictates that Wagner Realty should have marked three-quarters of a century with diamonds, it made the novel choice of bringing a paper-shredding truck to a sun-drenched celebratory picnic in the parking lot of its Manatee Avenue office. More than 100 guests, including current and former clients and agents from a raft of other agencies, brought stacks and boxes of paper to be shredded on Wagner's dime.
Call it a bit of payback for two decades of sales growth.
"We pride ourselves on community service," said David Eckel, Wagner's owner and president for the past 19 years.
What growth the company has had in those years. Eckel, a New York native who first came to Florida as a vacationer, bought Wagner when it had just one office and fewer than 10 agents. At the time, he was looking to retire or semi-retire from owning and leading one of New York's largest commercial agencies, Stovroff & Herman.
Today, the commercial and residential brokerage has 10 branch offices, over 200 agents, and stakes in the property management and title services industries. Its commercial arm operates throughout the southeast United States. Marquee clients include Walmart and Walgreens, both of which use Wagner for site selec
"I felt that wasn't for me," Eckel said.
Wagner Realty opened in 1939 when founder Dick Wagner started the agency in Bradenton Beach. At the time, the company sold residential real estate only on Anna Maria Island. Eckel and his wife, Joanne, purchased the business in January 1995, shortly after Wagner's death. The Eckels expanded the business quickly, purchasing Kevin Levins Realty on Longboat Key in 1995 and merging with David Tyler Realty in Palmetto in 1996.
David Moynihan, an agent who has been with Wagner for more than 30 years, said the agency's change in ownership and direction helped build his sales. He is one of the company's top performing agents year after year.
"That's all been a good synergy for the company," Moynihan said.
Although Eckel doesn't disclose his company's sales figures, he said that 2014 has started strong. The company's best year was 2005, followed by 2013.
One indicator of the company's growth is its hiring. Ron Cornette, Wagner's marketing and training director, said the company hired about 40 agents last year and has already picked up another 10 this year.
Eckel said the company is making plans to continue beyond his leadership. He did not say how the ownership structure may change in the future, preferring to keep the focus on the past -- at least for part of one afternoon.
"It's very significant when you can keep an organization together for 75 years," he said.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.