Okay Re/Max… Enough is Enough!
Most of you who are regular readers know that I’m a pretty easy going guy. I don’t get on many rants, and it is pretty hard to ruffle my feathers. That said, if you happen to be one of my readers who is also a Re/Max agent, I want you to know that, in what I am about to write, I have no ill will toward you. To Re/Max? That’s another story. But if you are a Re/Max agent, I actually feel sorry for you because in all likelihood you have no knowledge of something your corporate office is currently doing. I didn’t know about it either until I got a letter from them in the mail. Before I tell you about the letter, I’d like to share a true story that will help me set the stage and ultimately make my point.
Back in 1969, I was a fourteen-year-old junior high school kid in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Now I don’t know about you, but I should probably tell you upfront that I can’t stand a bully. And because I was very small for my age, there was this one bigger kid who used to bully me on pretty much a daily basis. I hated it, but he was a lot bigger, so what could I do? Finally one day I told my dad what was happening to me, and my dad said that while he didn’t condone violence, occasionally violence was all some people understood.
He told me, “Son, you need to stand up to that bully, and when you do, there’s a good chance he is going to beat you up. But if he beats you up, you just make damn sure he knows he was in a fight.” I thought to myself, “Thanks a lot, dad. Thanks for nothing.” I was terrified. I certainly didn’t want to get beat up, so I continued to endure the daily bullying assuming that he would eventually lose interest in me and stop.
Well one day during our lunch period, the bully approached me and demanded that I let him have a drink of my Coke. I came from a poor family and I had just spent my very limited lunch money on a soda at the concession stand and was planning on nursing that Coke, making it last through my entire lunch. Well he demanded, so as much as I hated to, I handed him my cup. He took one sip, and then promptly hawked up a loogie and spit it into my Coke! Nasty!
I was furious… so furious that I was shaking. But he was 6 inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than me. I walked away in shame as my dad’s words continued to burn in my mind. And as I burned I also quietly followed him outside, and as I followed him, something in me just snapped. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I walked up behind him quietly, and then I called his name while at the same time I swung my fist at his face with every ounce of effort I possessed. It was like something out of a cartoon.
The bully turned to face me just in time to receive my fist directly on his jaw. I hit him so hard that it knocked him backward about six feet and he was stunned. As he recovered we circled each other with fists up and I prepared for the inevitable beating I was sure I was about to receive. But strangely, it never came. He kept circling, threatening and swearing, while I continued to face him down. Soon some teachers came running and the fight was over. One punch, and I threw it.
The moral of the story is that my dad was right. That bully never bothered me again. And more importantly I learned a valuable lesson that day. As much as you would prefer not to, you have to stand up to bullies. Is it fun? No. Is it scary? Absolutely. But it is just plain the right thing to do. Not only because it stops the bullying behavior, but because it often emboldens others who are also being bullied to stand up as well.
So why am I telling you this story from my childhood? Here’s why. Forty-three years later, I am once again being bullied. It seems that Re/Max corporate suddenly has me in their crosshairs. “Why?” you ask. It seems that they don’t like my company’s yard signs. Many of you will recall that two years ago I was served with the first of a series of cease and desist letters demanding that I immediately stop all use of red-over-white-over-blue in my yard signs. Seriously. Stop laughing.
It seems Re/Max claims to own a trademark on all uses of red-over-white-over-blue and that anyone else who also uses red-over-white-over-blue is infringing on their trademark. More importantly, they have embarked on a very aggressive campaign to enforce that “trademark”. But do they have the trademark they claim? Well upon reading their official trademark filing, it seems that Re/Max does, in fact, own a trademark on one very specific use of red-over-white-over-blue in a yard sign. Not on all uses, but one, very narrowly defined by an included drawing, use of red-over-white-over-blue.
If you don’t know and are interested in the history, please feel free to read the entire saga at the following locations on my blog: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 To date, I have received four separate “final notices” from both Re/Max legal department. First they said they were serious. Then that they were really serious. Then they were really, really serious. Finally they have retained an independent law firm, who tells me they are really, really, really serious. They have also prepared a civil complaint they have threatened to file against my company in US District Court. To read their latest letter and the complaint click here: Letter | Complaint
Of course, my position still remains the same. FavoriteAgent.com also uses red and blue on a white background for our logo and has since its founding. It looks nothing like the Re/Max logo, other than being red and blue. The proportions of red and white and blue are also different. The shades of red and blue are different. The relative placement of the company logo is different. In other words, they two are completely different.
While I certainly respect their (or any other company’s) legitimate trademark or trademarks, I absolutely oppose their expansion of those trademarks by what can only be described as bullying and intimidating other smaller companies. When I say bullying I mean any activity of repeated, aggressive behavior intended to harm another party, whether physically, financially, or emotionally. Re/Max is a bully, plain and simple. Why do I say that?
As a result of my publishing the prior three articles about my Re/Max saga, I have been contacted by numerous other company owners who have similarly been threatened by Re/Max, many of whom have already abandoned perfectly legitimate sign designs and replaced perfectly good signs in order to avoid extremely expensive litigation. And the more cases of this I discover, the madder I get. I have decided that it’s time to stand up to this bully, not only for my sake, but for the sake of those others who are unwilling or unable to fight.
Here is what I intend to do. First, I have posted my answer to their latest threat. My Answer Next, I would like to discover as many different cases of their “expansion by intimidation” business practice as I can find. Third, if you haven’t previously weighed in, I would like to solicit your opinion as to whether or not you find our two signs to be the least bit confusing. You can vote by clicking this link to our Facebook Survey.
Finally, I would love to hear your feedback, your suggestions, names of any media personnel who might be interested in this story, and even your recommendations of a law firm specializing in trademark law. I feel certain that there are some who might like to explore the possibility of a class action against Re/Max, particularly given the extent to which they have used this practice and the type of national publicity this lawsuit will bring.
The simple fact is that my company is tiny compared to Re/Max, but I still remember my dad telling me that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. I hope that I don’t ultimately have to punch this bully in the mouth like I did in junior high, but I’m prepared to fight as long as I can. If I don’t stand up to them, I won’t be able to look at myself in the mirror. I say it’s time to stop this bully and I am just crazy enough to give it a shot. So please vote, comment, and stay tuned…
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Matt Jones is the founder and CEO of FavoriteAgent.com, nationally syndicated columnist, broker, and best selling author of LCM: The Secret to Success in the New Age of Real Estate, The Ultimate Listing Presentation, Traffic: How to Sell Fast and Net More, Becoming a Mega-Producer, The Science of Online Marketing, 10 Steps to Real Estate Success, 20 Questions: Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Real Estate but Were Afraid to Ask, The Virtual Office Model, Max-Bang!, and The NEW Ultimate Listing Presentation. Jones' North Carolina-based company has been profiled by major media outlets as an innovator and a pioneer in the industry, and CNN's Pulse on America claimed FavoriteAgent.com is "changing the way real estate is being done in America." This article is syndicated in the following locations: iTunes, YouTube, Stitcher Radio, BlogMattBlog.com, RealBlogging.com, NewsGeni.us, TheCommissionCheck.com, RevampedAgent.com, and now Amazon Kindle.