Skip to main content

Houston County Living

Golden Opportunity

Jan 06, 2021 09:57AM ● By Renee Corwine
Back in 1979 folks were calling Gwen Giles and Jean Coleman “silly women.”

“When we started, people called us silly women. They said, ‘They’ll never survive because they’re silly
  women and you know women can’t get along,’” Gwen said about opening Golden Key Realty  “From the start, we proved them wrong; we just didn’t stop. God has just blessed us. We have been blessed from day one.

A testimony to their staying power, 40 years and thousands of houses later, Gwen and Golden Key are still going strong.

“We’re dedicated. We have the nurturing instinct to help take care of people and solve problems, and so we just work,” Gwen said about her business.

But real estate wasn’t always at the forefront of Gwen’s career path. In fact, it was a series of happenstance that led her in that fateful direction. A lover of math and numbers, Gwen was working as a bookkeeper for Jerry Flowers at Motor Contract Company in Macon. Jerry was studying to get his real estate license but found the reading terribly boring. Gwen started to read the book and summarized the chapters.

 “I thought the book was fascinating and interesting, and he thought I was crazy because I liked that stuff. He told me, ‘You’re the one who needs to take the test.’ But I didn’t want to sell houses,” she said.

That all changed when Gwen’s husband, Larry, befriended a realtor in Warner Robins. Knowing Gwen grew up locally and wanting someone familiar with the area on his team, he heard Gwen had already studied for the test, and so he sponsored her taking it.

“At that time, people had to be sponsored by a broker to sit for the test. It was in Atlanta in a room with hundreds of other people–a very scary ordeal,” Gwen said. “But I passed the test and went to work!”

Six years later, Gwen and her friend Jean were ready to form a corporation and do business on their own. They wanted their own company with the freedom to make their own choices and operate a business as they saw fit.

“We were dedicated to doing it our way,” Gwen said about opening Golden Key in October 1979.Part of 
 that dedication involved choosing just the right name. “We wanted something that represented houses, and keys are pretty important for that. At first, we thought of calling it Brass Key. We’d call each other on the phone and practice saying it, but Brass Key sounded like ‘braskey’ all run together and we didn’t like it. So, we came up with Golden Key,” she said. “In the month before we opened, we kept running across antique keys, and so we started a collection of them. As it turned out, our customers loved our collection of keys, and if they happened to be on a trip somewhere and saw an old key, they’d bring it back to us. If you notice in our lobby, we have some of those original keys framed. For all these years, we’ve kept the key motif going.” Right from the start, Golden Key was a success. After a stern warning from her accountant that the business wouldn’t become profitable for a year or two down the road, Gwen and Jean got to work.

“The very first month we sold and closed enough that we paid our overhead! My CPA was shocked,” she said with a laugh. “It’s because we had so many people who were waiting to do business with us, and at that time there were many assumable loans that closed quickly.”

 What started with two women and four independent contractors in 1979 has grown to include 19 principal agents, five administrative assistants and five full-time employees working for Golden Key’s property management company.

“People who were working on the base and who were getting transferred didn’t want to sell their property. They would call us asking if we would manage their property for them; they trusted us,” she said. “Now, we manage 350 houses.

The physical aspects of the business have grown as well. Their first small office on Hospital Drive is now 
 a sprawling structure on Houston Lake Road. Having lived in Warner Robins since she was 12, Gwen, who is now 71, has seen the area grow and change over the decades. She met her husband, Larry, when she was a cheerleader at Northside High School  A few years older than her, they started dating after Gwen graduated, and were married two years later. They have two sons, Mark and Mike, three grandsons and one great-granddaughter. And of course, thousands of extended real estate family.

“When you buy or sell and home with us, you’re part of our family, and we keep in touch. Even years later, when people have long moved away, they’ll call to say hello. It’s because it didn’t matter who they walked in and talked with, they were made to feel welcome; everyone here is important,” she said.

But the most important man in the room, Gwen said, is God. “God sends me business. I have strangers who will call and tell me, ‘The Lord told me to call you.’ It just doesn’t get any better than that–I love it when He refers me business,” she said with a laugh.

Crediting her faith for a large portion of her success, Gwen said faith grounds her and keeps her focused on the right things.

“I don’t get involved in industry gossip and shenanigans,” she said. “I stay focused on what I’m supposed to do everyday.

Part of that focus is a desire to help the next generation of realtors through mentoring.

“I have learned that because I love it so, and it’s such a perfect fit for me, I think anyone can do this job, but it takes the right mindset and skillset,” she said. “I’ll talk to anybody, they can call me and I will tell them the good, the bad and the ugly.

Gwen knows that being a realtor is a lot like an algebra equation. You have to be, in equal parts, a numbers person and a people person. Then multiply that with a strong work ethic.

“When you start out, and this is my biggest frustration, you do everything you know to do–set up the 
 books, buy the things you need– and then you sit and wait. But sitting and waiting is not the way to get a business off the ground. If you don’t have a good sales strategy, you won’t succeed. Marketing is key. You have to know your clientele, tell them who you are and where you are. Do not shirk the responsibility of marketing yourself effectively,” she said. “When you come into real estate, you’re an independent contractor who is associated with a company. But they are just an umbrella; you are going into business for yourself. I can give someone a great reputation to work under, but if they don’t have a good work ethic, they won’t succeed.”

Even from those early days in the industry, Gwen has believed there’s a right way and a wrong way to do business. It was the desire to do things their own way that led two “silly women” to accomplish so much.

“To me, buying and selling houses are like math problems. It’s fun and each one is different,” she said. “Houses have personalities just like people do. And so, every day is interesting and different and new. It’s always a new challenge, a new opportunity to help somebody–that’s the reason I still have the passion I have.

 In her 46-year career, Gwen has proven that staying busy–and working with honesty and loyalty–will pay dividends. But she openly admits it hasn’t always been easy.

“Sometimes people get the impression that because Golden Key has been around a long time, that it has always been easy and there were no major pitfalls. In business, as in life, there are always pitfalls,” she said, adding that the company has been both embezzled and defrauded over the years. “When we opened the doors in October 1979, the financial market took a swift turn and interest rates went to 13.5 percent by December of that year. They went up from there to 18 percent, and it was very difficult for buyers to get financing during those days. The assumable loans already in our inventory allowed us to survive very challenging times. Unexpected things will happen, and you have to be prepared for that. And you do that with the help of other people who will mentor you and advise you. And you are blessed if you have those people and those relationships in your life.”

It was just such a relationship that led Gwen to put Golden Key online–one of the first companies in 
 Warner Robins to do so.

“My California client said you’ve got to do this. He was instrumental in forcing us to get on the Internet, and almost immediately I had military personnel from around the world contacting us, because we were the only real estate company near Robins Air Force Base that was online,” she said.

As technology continues to advance and Houston County continues to grow, Gwen said she’s not sure what will come next for Golden Key. But she is sure of one thing: She has no plans to stop.

  "I thought when I had 12 agents that this company was the perfect size. Now, I have a lot more and I think this is perfect size. So, it could grow and it could still be a perfect size,” she said. “Most people work for 30 years and retire, but I’m working on my second 30 years in this business with no plans to retire. As long as my energy is good, my health is good and people still want me to help them, I’ll be here."

Photography by: Tinika Bennett Photography