Century 21 Northland Realty


Photo: Kris Kathmann

Hometown Smile

Fairmont native leaves and returns to help lead real estate business through trying times.

Wendy Emler learned early on about the power of a friendly smile. From her time bagging groceries at Hy-Vee to work as a nursing assistant at Fairmont Hospital, her cheerful disposition and natural friendliness have helped her form strong relationships with everyone she meets. Now, she’s using those people skills as a Realtor and broker at Century 21 Northland Realty to help her customers find their dream homes.

“My dad always said it’s easier to smile, or it takes more muscles to frown, or something cheesy like that,” she said. “The smile thing must have done something for me. It’s in every kind of business, even if you don’t have to say a whole lot to a person, even if you just smile and wave. It could brighten somebody’s really bad day. The smile and how you approach somebody can make or break a lot of things.”

In fact, she has grown to love her job and her customers so much she is taking over the business as its new owner.


Emler was born in Trimont, Minnesota, in 1975, the oldest of three girls. Her father worked for the County Highway Department and her mother at Fairmont Federal Savings and Loan, which led to the family moving to Fairmont when Emler was nine—and she’s been there pretty much ever since.

“I’ve been in the area forever,” she said. “I was born in this hospital [in Fairmont].”

Emler got her first job (“besides babysitting,” she clarified) when 13, working as a secretary in the Martin County Extension Office for the summer.

“I had my own desk and everything,” she said.

But Emler said her first “real job” was really when she started working at Hy-Vee when she was 15. She bagged groceries until she was 16, then moved on to customer service. During high school, she worked about 20 hours a week at the store, after school, and on weekends.

She credits Hy-Vee with helping her learn how to interact with customers.

“Hy-Vee was the helpful smile in every aisle,” she said. “You have to treat things like the customer is always right, and a smile can go a very long way. The way you say something in a certain tone of voice can mean three different things. You can say it one way and you can say it without a smile; you can say the same words another way and it can mean completely different things. Overall, I think [Hy-Vee] taught you how to work with the public. You can have some really nice people out there and some people who are having a bad day, and they’re going to take it out on you whether you deserve it or not. You just have to smile and make their day better and hopefully they leave with a smile if they didn’t come in with a smile.”


She said she also learned how to schedule her time while working at the store, since employees were responsible for swapping shifts if they needed time off, as well as learning how to multi-task. She worked at Hy-Vee six years, throughout high school and during college, coming back to work during summers and holidays.

Working at the grocery store didn’t just teach Emler skills that would serve her for the rest of her career—it also led her to her husband, Clay.

Emler said she was close friends with her co-workers, including Clay Emler, who was a grade ahead in high school. While knowing each other in school, even going on a double-date with other people, they didn’t start spending a lot of time together until at work. Then one day during Emler’s senior year, Clay asked her out (at Hy-Vee, of course). They dated about three years and married in 1996 (“so Hy-Vee was kind of a match-maker,” she said with a laugh).

“Now when you think about it, 21 was really young to get married,” she said. “Our kids (soon) are going to be grown up, and it’s just going to be the two of us, and we’re still young yet. The thought is kind of exciting, which makes timing for all of this good, too. It’s not like we’re juggling babies at home or anything. I’ve got more time to devote to the office. Things always happen how they’re supposed to. I truly believe it, after being in this business for a couple years.”


When graduating high school in 1994, Emler traveled to Duluth to study occupational therapy at Duluth Technical College. Clay traveled to Duluth to study to become a fire fighter. However, after a year and a half, Emler decided to take some time off.

“I always had to have a job [while studying], and it got pretty overwhelming,” she said. “I always said I’d go back and finish it, but I never did. I ended up with a good job at a bank, and that led me to this.”

After Clay finished fire fighter training, they moved back to Fairmont. They now live only blocks away from where her parents live. In time, both her sisters settled in Fairmont as well.

“It’s really nice to have your whole family here,” Emler said. “My dad still works for the County Highway Department, Mom is at what is now First Farmers and Merchants Bank, and both my grandmas live in Trimont. We’ve never really gone very far away from town. We moved away and did the whole thing where you’ve got to get out of town and go far away, but when you have kids, it’s nice to come back to a small community, and a good school, and all that. Fairmont’s a nice little town. We don’t plan on going anywhere.”

They also added another person to their family, son Cole, born in 1997.


At first, both Emler and her husband took jobs at Avery Weigh-Tronix, a factory that builds industrial weight systems such as truck scales and software. Clay had worked there in high school in addition to his Hy-Vee job, and he ended up taking a full-time job with the company because of its great benefits. However, Wendy Emler only stayed about a year.

“It’s a great company to work for, but I am more of a people person, so I needed to be interacting with people instead of making things,” she said.

From Weigh-Tronix, Emler found work at Wells Federal Bank, where she stayed six years. She also started working nights and weekends at Fairmont Hospital in patient care as a certified nursing assistant.

“I liked what I did, and I was pretty good at it, because I was caring,” she said. “I’m generally always a pretty happy person, and because of that, I would be so busy at work because I have a hard time saying no when asked to work extra or help out.”

During this busy time, Emler moved from her teller position at the bank into helping in the loan department. She said this switch was instrumental to her learning about real estate, and she learned property verbage such as “abstracting” and “title insurance.”

“You’d see the Realtors and interact with them,” she said. “That really got me interested.” Not only that, but her mother was working for Cavers Realty, and she shared stories with her daughter about how much she enjoyed her work.

“I’d ask her about all the beautiful houses I saw for sale, and it just kind of got to be where, I thought, ‘If I’m going to try this, I’d better do it now,’” Emler said.


Emler said she thought long and hard about becoming a Realtor. On one hand, she was interested in the independence and flexibility offered by the job—with the birth of daughter Cori, she wanted to be able to more easily plan her work around her time with her children.

“The scheduling of your time, organizing of your own time, busyness, and yet freedom you’d have, that was huge,” she said.

She had also always been interested in houses, especially since she and her husband had gotten used to buying a house, fixing it up, and moving on to a better purchase. “I was definitely that online house stalker,” she said. “I was always online looking at houses. The interest was already there.”

On the other hand, Emler wasn’t sure about jumping into a job that only paid through commission.

“It was kind of creepy to think of,” she said. “You have a full-time 40-hour-a-week job and all of a sudden you’re going to go full commission and not get a paycheck until you sell something. It was a hard decision to make, quite honestly.”

But in the end, the chance for Emler to make her own schedule and have more time with family tipped the scales.

“We had to sit down and ask, ‘Are we really ready to jump into this?’” she said. “And we just did it. It was kind of scary, but I love it.”


To become a Realtor, Emler took three weeks of real estate classes at Kaplan Real Estate Education in St. Paul. She had to take state and national exams to qualify. She also continued to work at Fairmont Hospital, saving money in case it took longer to build a career in real estate than she thought.

She started her career working at Cavers Realty in 2004, where she worked until 2011. She said it was difficult in the beginning because she had to work on creating a base of customers that weren’t already using a different Realtor, but once she was able to find a few customers, more quickly followed.

“Getting started to get your name out there, you struggle a little at first,” she said. “It can be a rough first six months or year. You might only get a sale because of a friend. But eventually your name gets out there and you know more people who are looking. Once you’ve gotten going, it’s awesome.”

Emler said the more involved she became in real estate, the more she grew to enjoy her new career—even though it presented its fair share of challenges. Every day is different. Some days, she is booked from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., while on others she only comes in for the morning. Late spring through early fall is the busiest time for buying and selling property (with deals sometimes taking months to finalize), while winter is usually reserved for catching up on paperwork and continuing education. Emler, like all real estate agents in Minnesota, needs to take 15 hours of continuing education every year, and pass required modules to keep her license. She usually takes them at Kaplan.

“Real estate is very fun,” she said. “It can be very stressful because on a lot of occasions, you’re working with a lot of different customers. You might have quite a few files going at one time that you’re trying to stay on top of. It’s an awesome, awesome career to be in, but it can be very stressful. Nothing is ever a done deal until it’s completely done and everything is signed. It’s give and take, but it’s overall very awesome.”


In 2011, Emler felt it was time for a change, so she began working for Century 21 Realty, a bigger real estate office with more clients. By now, she had become so involved with real estate that she left her job at the hospital, since she didn’t have enough time to work in both places.

When arriving at Century 21, she began working with then-owner Dale Schumann, who took her under his wing and helped train her to become a better real estate agent.

“Dale was very good at training,” Emler said. “He was so awesome. We all swore he never slept—he was constantly learning. He would do probably anything for anybody, no matter what it was.”

Under Schumann’s mentorship, Emler grew so much in her field he eventually suggested she take classes to become a broker—someone who supervises the other agents in the company and handles more of the company business. Real estate agents must have two years of experience before studying to become brokers, which requires a week of classwork.

At first, Emler only thought about becoming a broker, but, when Schumann learned he had cancer in January 2013, he urged her to start taking classes—with the hope she would eventually take over the company when he was no longer able.

“He got sick and then he said, ‘Okay, we’ve talked about this, and I hate to put this on you, but you kind of have to decide now,’” she said. “Dale thought that where Clay and I are, with our age and our family, it’d be a good fit for us to buy it from the family and be the broker—to kind of make his legacy live on. I think he built up a really good company and a really good following, and that took a long time. I think it would be silly to not keep it going, and that’s what he wanted.”


She took the classes that March and was licensed as a broker by end of spring. After that, she started working with Schumann to become the company’s new owner. Schumann passed away in October 2013, and Emler hopes everything will be finalized for her to become Century 21’s new owner within the next few months.

“It’s been a long process,” she said. “One scary part is to own something like this and have so many people under you. That is why it’s so awesome we have so many veteran agents in our office. I don’t have to worry about them so much.”

Emler said she looks forward to spending more time in the office and passing more clients to other agents.

“It was Dale’s philosophy to not take away from his agents working hard for his company, and I think that’s a great way to look at it,” she said. “I want to see everybody else succeed too in the office.”

However, she will continue to work with her regular clients who have formed relationships with her.

“You’re always going to have that because you make long-term relationships,” she said. “Buying a house is a huge deal. If people get comfortable with you, that’s nice for them to be able to come back to you.”

While Emler knows there will be challenges as she starts running the company, she also knows there are great things in the company’s future.

“We’re going to keep on rolling,” she said, “just like Dale would have wanted.”


Dale Schumann Memories

Century 21 Northland Realty agents have fond memories of Schumann:

Agent Chuck Omvig remembered how Dale loved to shop for himself and others. “And when the office would go to a class together and have to stay over, he would love to go shopping,” he said. “He loved to shop, but not for gas. I know of at least three times he ran out of gas.”

Agent Vonnie Cone remembered when her oldest daughter began learning how to cook. She said, “My daughter called Dale and invited him over with the family to eat the meal she was preparing. Of course, Dale came to the door all dressed up and with flowers for the host.”

Other agents remembered how if anyone asked for help with work or family, Dale was always there at any time—and while doing so would bring along his newest technological gadget.

THE ESSENTIALS: Century 21 Northland Realty

Address: 1010 East 4th Street, Fairmont, Minnesota
Phone: 507-238-4796
Web: century21northlandrealty.com

Grace Webb

Grace Webb

A former Editor of Connect Business Magazine

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