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Partnerships

The Property Brothers' Business Empire Depends on One Thing: Their Very Strong Partnership

Drew and Jonathan Scott have conquered the real estate, design, and entertainment worlds. And they know that they're better together.
The Property Brothers' Business Empire Depends on One Thing: Their Very Strong Partnership
Image credit: Jake Chessum
Magazine Contributor
11 min read

This story appears in the March 2019 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Drew and Jonathan Scott were about to enter their first-ever escape room. This was a decade ago, before the rooms -- containing a series of puzzles that must be solved before time runs out -- had become an international trend. The identical twins and hosts of HGTV’s blockbuster series Property Brothers were traveling through Budapest, and their mother suggested they try the activity. So the brothers made their way into the basement of a building and apprehensively asked how it works. 

“We lock you in; you try to get out,” the owner replied, in what Jonathan describes as a menacing Eastern bloc accent. 

“We thought for sure we were being kidnapped,” he adds. 

Instead, the brothers became each other’s worst enemy. Drew barked orders at Jonathan, while Jonathan obsessed over small, inconsequential problems. They made it out -- but barely. 

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The ironies here come in sizes small and big. Small: The Scotts’ brand is all about creating rooms you’d never want to escape. On their flagship show, Property Brothers, they help buyers purchase a fixer-upper and then spend a couple of months on renovation and design. The two are dynamic partners and charmingly goofy, which keeps viewers going until the end of each episode, when there’s a big reveal, TV-worthy gasps, and joyful tears. It’s a formula that has worked for 13 seasons and counting, and has inspired six equally hot HGTV spin-offs (the latest of which, Forever Home, debuts later this year).

And here’s the big irony: The brothers may have stumbled over each other in the escape room, but their entire professional success relies upon their strong sense of partnership. By moving together as one, they’ve been able to build upon opportunities like a bricklayer stacking bricks -- turning a real estate business into a TV show, then that one show into six, then using those shows as a platform to launch a production company called Scott Brothers Entertainment, then using that platform to build Scott Living, a furniture, decor, and housewares brand that helped their company clear a half-billion dollars in sales in 2018, and now, launching a consumer-­facing design platform called Casaza.

The Scotts say they’ve done all this by treating their partnership as a gut check. “Sometimes you’re running toward your target so hard that you don’t stop to reassess,” Jonathan says. Together, they’re able to slow each other down, take a long, hard look at opportunities, and then make the right choice. Their partnership isn’t just about building; it’s about stopping to listen.

All of which is why they still go to escape rooms. In fact, they’re fixated on them -- and they’ve found their groove. “Now we’re the Dream Team,” Jonathan says. “We’ve learned to look at problems in [fresh] ways, and we naturally divide and conquer. It’s funny, because it really does tie into what we do with our business.” 

Image Credit: Jake Chessum

On a frigid Monday in December, the brothers arrive in New York fresh off a five-day Caribbean cruise -- dubbed Sailing with the Scotts -- in which fans paid to float around the ocean, attend design workshops, and perform karaoke with the brothers. Mere hours after they disembark, they cohost the Today show with Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford, then head off to a meeting with Sunham Home, a textile company that’s helping them with some Scott Living products. 

There, they talk through patterns for pillow coverlets and towel thread counts -- details they could easily outsource but insist on reviewing. They compromise and make changes in seconds. Drew questions the beading pattern on a pillow, and just as he’s about to scrap the design, Jonathan suggests an alternative idea. Drew approves, and they’re on to the next.

This is the Scotts’ life now: a fast, efficient, high-profile series of opportunities that keeps them constantly together. It’s a strange version of their childhood dreams. Though back then, their visions didn’t necessarily involve real estate -- or, frankly, each other.

Both brothers dreamed of fame. Drew wanted to be an actor; Jonathan, a magician. But in 1996 they weren’t really either -- just broke high school grads in search of a side hustle. As a way to make cash, they started flipping houses. It seemed like a good plan; the two were handy (they’d learned from their father, who built the family home in High River, south of Calgary), and a provision in Canadian real estate law allowed them to take over someone else’s mortgage without personally qualifying. They made $50,000 on their first flip. It was addictive. 

Over time, they honed a divide-and-conquer approach. Drew did most of the buying and selling, which suited his gregarious nature. Jonathan, who preferred to work behind the scenes, went back to school for construction and design. They picked up various acting gigs here and there, but the business was becoming too much of a cash cow to deny. In 2004, they made it official by creating Scott Real Estate, a one-stop shop for buying, selling, and renovating. 

Just more than a year later, though, Drew felt unsettled. “I remember thinking, Real estate isn’t my only passion,” he says. He had to give acting another shot, and announced he was moving to what’s known as Hollywood North: Vancouver.  

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Jonathan was blindsided. “When your business partner tells you he’s leaving the province, you freak out,” he says. “We’d never had this kind of money or success, and you want to move away and do acting?” Jonathan considered his options. He could guilt Drew into staying, or he could support his decision. He settled on the latter. Yes, Drew’s leaving might kill the business -- or just kill Jonathan, who now had to work 18-hour days -- but if Drew stayed and came to resent Jonathan, both the business and the relationship would be in peril. He couldn’t risk it. 

Drew went to auditions and networked his butt off for nearly a year but had secured just a few small bookings when he realized he’d racked up $140,000 in debt. “It was the first sleepless night I’d ever had,” Drew says. As he lay awake, a song by Jim Cuddy came on the radio: “Pull Me Through.” Drew realized he already knew how to pull himself out of this situation, and thought of his brother and their real estate business. “I went back to my roots, ” he says.

That very night, Jonathan received an email from his brother asking for Scott Real Estate’s marketing template. “That’s when I knew,” Jonathan says. “He’s back.” Acting, it seemed, was an ambition of the past. Whatever came next they would do as a team.

Image Credit: Jake Chessum

To their surprise, Drew’s failed Vancouver expedition ended up being a huge win for the Scotts’ growing business. Those costly dinners and networking events left him with a fresh Rolodex of valuable contacts that allowed Scott Real Estate to expand to a new province -- and their new clients’ proximity to the entertainment industry got the brothers wondering if they could merge their old dreams with their new success. 

They started pitching a cohosted renovation show. Despite promising meetings, production companies passed. Finally, they found a taker: Cineflix, a midsize Canadian production house that developed the idea for Property Brothers and sold it to Canada’s W Network after a female exec’s feedback: “Two young hot guys in tight jeans, renovating? Sold.” The show debuted in 2010 with strong ratings, HGTV picked it up in the U.S., and viewership skyrocketed. (Today, the majority of their audience is female.) 

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Some of what came next was the natural extension of having a hit TV show -- the production company, the retail opportunities, and, frankly, the money. “There are probably less than 100 actors who make more than we do across our empire,” Jonathan says, surprised at how things turned out. “We thought it was the bee’s knees to be a successful actor, but pursuing that would have never opened up this world to us.”

To juggle it all, they share responsibilities fluidly. Drew has more downtime during filming, so he’ll work on Scott Living while Jonathan is on set. “Between shots, we’re always on email,” Jonathan says. “Our team knows that we divide and conquer; if Drew has responded [to an email], I don’t.” The success of that system has kept them keenly aware of the importance of partnerships. They’re better together -- and sometimes, better with others as well.

Over nine years of making TV, Drew and Jonathan have come to rely on the scores of local contractors and designers they work with as they film in cities throughout North America. As a result, those entrepreneurs’ profiles have risen. And that, the Scotts realized, created a new opportunity worth capitalizing on.

In October, the Scotts launched a consumer-­facing design platform called Casaza. It showcases rooms designed by people the brothers have personally vetted. Every item is hand-selected and available for purchase. Eventually, the Scotts say, users will be able to hire the site’s featured designers along with local “Casaza pros” who will come to someone’s house for measurements, while Casaza will refer contractors to do the work. Unlike other home sites that charge designers for viewer eyeballs, Casaza showcases them free of charge. 

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Featured talent is already seeing results. Jessica Davis is a Nashville-based designer whose firm has been featured on Property Brothers six times. She sees Casaza as a way to further legitimize her work. “Clearly, if these very successful professionals are willing to work with me, I might have an idea about this industry,” she says.  

Keia McSwain feels similarly. She’s the owner of Denver-based firm Kimberly + Cameron, as well as president of the Black Interior Designers Network. Casaza, she says, is one of the few platforms that seems explicitly interested in showcasing minority designers. “Who else has reached out to us as far as being inclusive?” she says. “Nobody.” The site has already brought her new clients and business partners. “They’ve given me confirmation and affirmation. With them it’s less about the ‘say’ and more about the ‘do’. ”

Image Credit: Jake Chessum 

The Scotts love hearing feedback like that. At this point, the value of partnerships just feels like a truism to them. “We want our company to be the easiest relationship anyone’s ever had,” Drew says. “A lot of talent on shows are high-maintenance jerks. At the end of the day, people want to work with who they like. We have the same thing between us.”

In an hours-long interview that stretched throughout their busy New York day -- before and during breaks at the Today show, through their time at the textiles company -- they were pressed repeatedly about the potential fault lines of their partnership. But the honest answer, they say, is that there’s no drama to speak of. They faced it already; they saw what it was like working solo and then what blossomed when they were together. 

“There is never one defined right or wrong brother,” Drew says. “We each have our individual truths. But together we’re the better truth.”

 

Listen to the Property Brothers offer up advice on building a business with a co-founder on this episode of Problem Solvers

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