By Jennifer LoConte
It’s not very often that a business and its founder make a mark in the world that is not only memorable and life-changing, but also long lasting, especially in a time of instant gratification. If 33-year old CEO Don Wenner continues on his track of determination and remarkable achievements, his company, DLP (Dream, Live Prosper) whose purpose is Living our Dream to create prosperity through innovative real estate solutions, will be destined for lifelong success.
In 2009, Don, a Lehigh Valley native, launched his company, DLP Realty, and has steadily continued to add real estate solutions to the DLP name. Today, DLP includes a family of companies: DLP Realty, DLP Capital Advisors, DLP Direct Lending Partners, DLP Property Management, DLP Builders, and DLP Interactive Media; with offices located in PA, NJ, and FL. This past summer, for the fifth year in a row, DLP made Inc. Magazine’s prestigious list of America’s fastest-growing private companies, Inc. 5000, ranking 785 and Don is confident that 2018 will be the sixth. The Wall Street Journal also named DLP Realty as the #9 real estate team in the U.S. Locally, we are now #6 on Lehigh Valley Business list of the 45 fastest growing companies in the Lehigh Valley.
The question that Don is most often asked is twofold, “How did you become so successful so quickly and what’s your secret?” To answer that, one needs only to take a look back at Don’s earlier years to see where his determination and strong worth ethic took shape.
A story Don recently told at a DLP Capital Advisors investor dinner is one that his father told guests at Don’s wedding. When he was in first grade, Don insisted his parents pack him a 6-pack of Hostess Donettes in his lunch every day. Little did they know that their young entrepreneur would individually sell each donut for 50 cents to fellow classmates, that is until the principal found out about Don’s lunchtime money making business and put a stop to it with a phone call home. When he was in his pre-teens, Don began a summer lawn mowing business, first with a few lawns, and then increasing, through his own marketing flyers and door-knocking, to almost 40. Throughout his adolescence, Don worked two and three jobs simultaneously, maximizing the amount of hours one who is underage could work. While still in high school, Don moved out of his family’s home and even paid his way through college at Drexel University by working 60+ hours a week at accounting firms and waiting tables.
Although Don had decided in eighth grade that he wanted to become a financial advisor, his path took him to the world of real estate by way of an early employer, selling security systems. The owner of the company convinced Don, then a college student, that he would make $2000 per week. Don looked forward to this opportunity with excitement, knocking on hundreds of doors each day. Don comments, “I made over $5000 in my first two weeks, selling door-to-door and continued to earn between $5,000 and $8,000 every two weeks. Not long after, my boss who was also a real estate agent, convinced me I should get my real estate license.” Don completed his real estate training and was fully licensed before his 21st birthday. During his first 9 months, he sold 67 houses. By his second year in the business he was already the number one agent in the entire Lehigh Valley. He hired his first assistant four months into the business, his second at six months, two real estate agents at eight months, and launched DLP shortly afterwards.
An avid reader, Don applies the knowledge that he learns from inspirational business and leadership books towards his leadership at DLP. Favorites like Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth, have had a lasting effect on his approach to business. He also believes that long term success comes from a very simple resource, great people. He comments, “People are the asset that drive us and we are successful because we have great people. It’s about the right people in the right seats. People who share our core values and have a passion for our purpose.” What are those core values? There are eight of them at DLP – Driven for Greatness; Leadership; Grit; Enthusiastically Delivering Wow; Living Fully; Innovative Solution Focused; Twenty Mile March; and Execution & Excellence. His favorite being the Twenty Mile March, Don states, “Many companies allow the outside world or market to dictate their activities. We do the opposite. By controlling our own growth, we focus on marching forward day in and day out, and continue to maintain high growth year after year.”
Being Innovative Solution Focused, Don quickly learned that great companies solve problems. During the early days of DLP Realty, Don was faced with a major problem – homes were not selling. Don created an innovative solution, the 68-day home sale guarantee. This program solved the “Catch-22” in real estate – if you buy a home prior to selling your first home, you’re stuck owning two homes; an expensive and daunting realization. Or, if you sell your home prior to purchasing a new one; you suddenly have nowhere to live. Don comments, “The Guaranteed Home Sale program gives you the certainty to the sale of your home in any market and for any home. If we do not sell your home in 68 days, we buy it.”
Don has created most of his family of companies with this mindset of creating innovative solutions. DLP is currently the largest real estate investor in the Lehigh Valley and is one of the fastest growing real estate investors on the entire east coast. Don’s first investment purchase was a memorable one. He represented a buyer who was purchasing a home to “flip.” On the day of the closing, he sat across the table from the seller, an elderly woman. His buyer phoned, stating he could not come up with the money and was no longer able to buy the home. Realizing she would now not be able to afford to stay in her assisted living, the seller became distraught. Don, wanting to help, stepped in, and bought the home that day. Since that first investment, DLP has purchased more than 1,000 homes and apartment communities and has flipped hundreds of properties.
Looking forward, DLP has set very aggressive goals to achieve by 2025. As a whole, the company plans to grow from $350 million in assets today to over $2 billion by 2025. With a young and successful CEO running this team of talented individuals who share his drive and effort, there’s no doubt that the DLP Family of Companies will continue its’ drive for greatness and achieve high levels of success into the foreseeable future.
On a personal note: Don resides in St. Augustine, FL as his primary home (with a second home in the Lehigh Valley), along with his wife Carla and their two young sons, Don, Jr. and Alex. They continually strive to instill GRIT and the rest of the DLP core values when raising their sons, telling them to never give up and work hard towards their accomplishments. Don believes in living fully, meaning to make time for all of your obsessions in life. He is even more obsessed with being a great father and husband, than being successful in business. He comments, “At times, it can be difficult for all of us to disconnect but finding time to live fully is the key to true fulfilment, happiness, and prosperity.”