SPOTLIGHT ON: Phyllis Lerner
Mary Prenon | August 2019
From ‘Hummel’ Beginnings To a Successful Career
Phyllis Lerner is a successful Realtor and also one of five Broker/Owners of William Raveis Legends Realty Group in Briarcliff, Tarrytown and Irvington. She is HGAR’s Education Council Chair and is very active with the Hudson Gateway Realtor Foundation.
However, a little-known fact about this Pocantico Hills resident is that she once made her living selling world-famous tiny figurines before selling enormous Westchester properties!
Lerner began her career with the W. Goebel Co. in Tarrytown as an administrative assistant. Goebel held the rights to manufacture the heartwarming Hummel figurines, which were actually based on the artwork of Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel, a nun with the convent of Siessen in Germany.
“A friend brought me in and I started working there part time, but I soon fell in love with all the products,” recalled Lerner. Over the years, she grew with the company and eventually became the manager of the Tarrytown Gallery, handling marketing and promotions for the company. “I actually had the opportunity to go to the factory in Germany and see how the figurines were designed and created. There were literally thousands of designs.”
In fact, the Tarrytown location on Route 119 was home to the world’s largest Hummel display at over eight feet tall, standing outside of the Hummel Gallery. “That one was ever larger than the display at their Germany location and people would always joke that everything in America is always bigger,” said Lerner.
Lerner soon began traveling all over the U.S. making presentations to retailers. “We visited almost every state in the U.S, going to gift shops and malls,” she explained. “We’d also set up displays in malls with a sculptor, mold maker and painter to demonstrate how the products were made.” It was on one of those trips that Lerner met her husband Hans, who was a Hummel designer in Germany.
Some years later, the Hummel Gallery in Tarrytown moved to New Jersey, so Lerner decided to try her hand at selling Swarovski Crystals. She sold the impressive jewelry pieces to shops all over the New York metro area.
Her next step was the Disney Company, selling collectibles to regional retailers. “It was a new line at the time featuring figurines like Cinderella, Bambi and other movie characters and it was very exciting,” she recalled. Twice a year, the company would hold a sales meeting at Disney’s parks in California or Florida, and after the park closed, they’d have scavenger hunts for the sales staff and dinner under the Tower of Terror.
Lerner even attended “Disney University,” a training event that featured Disney costumed characters, bungee jumping, dancing and other recreational activities. But after a while, Lerner tired of all the traveling. “I was always interested in homes and decorating, so I just decided to give real estate a try,” she admitted.
It was 2003 when she earned her license and began working with Hudson Homes in Tarrytown. Her foray into her new career was a bit challenging. “It was very different because in real estate you’re independent and I felt kind of alone,” she remembered. “When I was selling products, I had my own territory and no one else could come in, but in real estate everyone is selling everywhere, so you have to create your own network.”
Because she started during the height of the market, Lerner did very well in her first year. After four years, she was approached by a group of women who wanted to start their own firm. In 2007, Legends Realty Group was born in Sleepy Hollow. “I was flattered to be asked, and I’ve also had an entrepreneurial spirit,” she added.
Just one year later, the market tanked, but Lerner and her business partners worked through it. In 2011, the company affiliated with William Raveis and today their three locations have about 80 agents. “William Raveis seemed to have the same goals that we had, and they’re a family company,” she said. “We wanted to be able to offer the best technology to our amazing agents.”
While Lerner spends most of her time managing and training, she’s still involved with listing and selling properties. She likes to spend her free time with her family—a grown son and grandson.
Of course, Lerner still likes to travel, but this time it’s for pleasure, not business. She and her husband often visit Germany to see family members, and France is also a favorite stop. “I just love looking at real estate in different countries,” she said. “I’m always looking for new ideas.”