When you first meet Albert, you can’t help but be drawn in by his genuine wide-eyed expression. It’s as if he is in search of and excited to get answers. He didn’t start out to be an entrepreneur or real estate investor. Nonetheless, his twenty-year journey in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana real estate market has encountered interesting twists and turns. He jokingly says that he is mastering his lazy gene.
I can tell you there is nothing lazy in his process. In fact, he has efficiently mastered how to simplify, leverage, and execute his investment strategy. He has artfully purchased, maintained, and sold various pieces of his real estate portfolio. He’s applied knowledge and experience in the residential, multi-family, and lastly, the commercial leasing space, which he has discovered is more lucrative compared to his housing revenues. This two-part story is about how desire, need, and opportunity can be leveraged when you cultivate your mindset.
Albert attended Louisiana University in Baton Rouge. Albert was a full-time student and stumbled upon and developed a college business. Upon graduation, he decided to make Baton Rouge his new hometown. As he shares his journey with me, it is clear Albert was resourceful. “Growing up, money was tight; and I found a way to pay for my cable, stereo equipment, model trains – the nice things which, if I wanted, I would have to hustle for them,” states Pellissier.
In New Orleans, because of its swampiness, the soil sinks 2”-3” every year. The soil would, at some point, be lower than the house’s concrete slab. To this day, it is customary for property owners to have a load of dirt dumped in their front yard. Its Mississippi River silt or river sand and dirt. The silt is spread to fill in the gap. At Age 12, Albert would knock on the doors where he saw the dirt piled in front. Obvious to him, the property owner didn’t want to do the work. He would negotiate a price for spreading the silt. Plus, he also mowed lawns.
Albert was the only boy in his neighborhood who would babysit “I’d charge $2/hour, watch their cable TV, eat anything in their refrigerator and all of their snacks,” Albert recounts. When his parents had a garage sale, he didn’t have anything to sell so “I would buy fudgesicles, a block of dry ice and sell ice cream instead”…always making a return on his investment. The entrepreneurial spirit has always been in his DNA. “What do people need?” was Albert’s approach.
When Albert attended college, he originally majored in electrical engineering. His counselor told him a year into the engineering program that his profile didn’t fit the engineering curriculum. In other words: rethink engineering as a career. Albert was three years in before finally admitting that his counselor was right. Albert shared, “I came to the realization that college can brainwash you into this status quo of getting a job, work for a company, do your 40 years, get your retirement, and get your gold watch.” What contributed to the wake-up call was his best friend, Ken, from high school, who was also his college roommate, observing how he missed Albert’s starting “all these crazy businesses.” He realized he’d totally given up and bought into the system.
That was a significant marker in Albert’s life. He was part of a fraternity. Each of the fraternities and sororities would turn in a phone list to the Greek council in case an officer had to get a hold of someone. This was pre-cell phones, landlines only era. It was how you reached everyone, via a landline. The cost of copying the list required selling ads to offset the cost of printing. Albert asked if the council would be open to him selling more ads to print more phone lists. The ads “sold like hotcakes,” states Pellissier.
He raised enough money to more than cover the cost of the required 200 copies. In fact, he raised enough money to cover the cost of 3,500 copies so each regular member could have one. The Greek Directory, as the list was now called, became a coveted little black book. Albert sold $3,000 more than he needed to print the directory. He was given a task, make the copies, and cover the cost of printing. The cost of the project was covered, and Albert made the extra money.
In the 1980s tuition at LSU was about $300 a semester. You could pay your room and board and your tuition for about $1,200 a semester. Albert was able to pay for a whole year. When the semester changed, people changed roommates, so he asked if an updated copy of the list was needed and Chris, in charge of the project said “Yeah, yeah sure if you’re willing to do the work.” Albert went back out, sold more ads and his profit margin consistently increased. So much so that by the time he graduated, he was generating $30,000 a year working only three months out of the year. He expanded this new publishing business with a coupon book, known to most of us as the entertainment book, which he distributed at three neighboring universities. After distribution Albert was off again until the next semester.
At the end of a six-and-a-half-year college experience, Albert graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance. Special note, this included a one-year expulsion, but that’s a story for another article. In a reflective tone, Albert shares, “You can’t pigeonhole someone based on their circumstances or current performance because, for all intents and purposes, was a college misfit by their standards, and on the other hand, in real life extremely successful and self-sufficient. As an entrepreneur, I was a business owner making ridiculous money for someone that age, at that time. So, success just depends on whose criteria you’re using.”
Albert graduated college. He got married, even became a homeowner, and continued to run his publishing business. Albert now in his 30’s starts thinking about his future. While he had been able to support his wife and himself in his publishing business, in his words “Your mid 30’s, you start to feel you’re definitely an adult. And, with your 40’s on the horizon, your life is you know, the path is sort of revealing itself. Right!? And, I remember just thinking to myself, if I wake up at 50 years old and, all I’m still doing is just hustling coupon advertisements, I’m going to be disappointed in myself. This was all I’d ever done, and the leisure was nice, but I knew long term I wasn’t going to be satisfied with that living.”
Another significant marker occurs. Children. Albert knows that in order to support his family how he wants, he’s going to need more than the $30,000 the publishing business was generating. While strolling through an outdoor market, Albert saw a 30 day Tony Robbins program. The kind that was sold as an infomercial back in the day and retailed for $200-$300.
Albert shared how he remembered viewing the infomercials and knew that if he purchased the program, it would likely just sit on his shelf unused. This time he rationalized, “Seeing it at the flea market was like, oh, what’s 12 bucks? I’m probably not going to listen to this one either, but you know, it’s only $12, so I’m not wasting that much. I bought the course and took it home. I knew it would take an effort to not wake up in my 50’s still slinging coupon ads for a living. I said, okay, I’m going to at least dedicate myself to this and listen to this 30-day tape course and do the homework. I popped the tapes in and began digging into the work.”
Albert responds very differently from when he was in college. This time he completed all the exercises. One of the things that stuck with Albert was writing down ten things he would do if he had ten lifetimes. Real estate was on his list. He even considered becoming a real estate agent. But, after speaking with a local real estate agent and considering his plan, he decided investing as an individual would provide more latitude and ability to purchase properties without having property owners think he was taking advantage of them. Pellissier started going to open houses, seeing over fifty properties to get a sense of the market. He knew what he did not want to take on complicated renovations. He was aware of his abilities and limitations.
His first opportunity presents itself when he is strolling the neighborhood with his then 2-year-old daughter. A for sale by owner duplex within two blocks from his own home. The price was within his budget at $40,000. At first sight, it looks like a lot of work. However, he has a real estate agent that he trusts and asks her opinion on the investment property. What happens next is unexpected.