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October 19, 2023

A Portland developer’s rebrand reflects a wider scope of business

2 people sitting in front of brick walls Courtesy / Reveler Development Reveler Development’s Tom Watson, left, and John Laliberte said a company rebrand aims to express the sense of revealing value through development.

Earlier this year, developer Tom Watson changed the name of his business, Tom Watson & Co., founded in 1993, to Reveler Development — in order, he said, to shift the focus away from the company's founder to the entire team. He also wanted to express the sense of revealing value through development. 

Reveler, a real estate investment, development, construction and management company, has 2,000 housing units in Greater Portland and Wilmington, N.C., and another 2,000 in the construction or planning stages.

The company's Maine projects include the historic rehabilitation at Riverdam in Biddeford, four developments together called the Levee in Biddeford, and a mixed-use property called the Armature in Portland’s West Bayside neighborhood. Reveler is the parent company of Port Property, which manages the properties Reveler owns and develops.

Reveler’s CEO, John Laliberte joined the team in 2018 to lead acquisition and development. Watson was a 2023 Mainebiz Business Leader of the Year and was a panelist on a recent Mainebiz CEO Forum.

We asked Watson, Reveler’s president and CFO, and Laliberte about the ideas behind the rebrand and how it moves the company forward. Here’s an edited transcript.

Mainebiz: What’s the name change about? 

Tom Watson: Port Property is a property management company. We wanted to put together something that encompassed management, acquisitions, investment, development, repurposing and construction. We felt we were much more than a management company and whatever Tom Watson & Co. was. 

We also wanted to appeal to our investors and future investors. We needed to let the investors and debt and equity people know who we are. 

MB: How are you getting word out about the rebrand?

TW: We’re not out to make a big splash. I will say, though, that we brought on Traverse Fournier [a Portland real estate lending advisor], with whom we’ve been working for years. He’s reaching out to our current equity group and future potential equity investors.

MB: When did you begin working on a new name?

John Laliberte: It’s been an evolution. When I came on, I was Tom’s first acquisitions and development hire. He wanted to focus more on the acquisitions part of the business. We now have 10 or 12 people in our acquisitions group and built our construction group to 10 people. We continue to gain more investors. And the management side continues to be a great asset. 

A couple of years ago, we started to talk about making a more accurate picture of ourselves in the development world and the investment world. A year ago, we said, ‘It’s time. Let’s start thinking about how to position ourselves.’ We did a lot of work with Jess [Jessica James, principal with Portland communications consulting firm Longfellow Communications] and others to come up with the brand. 

TW: We worked diligently with the VIA Agency [in Portland] for about a five-month period on developing the new brand, logo, name, colors etc. VIA was critical — a good part responsible — for coming up with the name and logo.

MB: What does the notion of ‘reveler’ convey?

TW: There’s the line that real estate is not what it is, it’s what it could be. We’re constantly looking for what can we do with that piece of land, what can we do with this mill, what can we unearth, what can we reveal. The other meaning is that we wake up in the morning and get excited about work. We revel in it. We enjoy each other’s company. 

MB: What are you envisioning for further growth?

JL: We’re targeting growth on our investment side through new equity partners and more partnerships to keep up with our growing portfolio. Right now we have a lot of projects in the pipeline and a number of things coming down the pike. 

MB: What’s your portfolio worth now?

JL: We have about $160 million in development now. With our existing projects, around a half billion.

TW: It will probably be a billion in the next four or five years.

JL: If everything in the pipeline comes to fruition. 

MB: It looks like Reveler has a nice website to showcase your projects. I don’t recall a Tom Watson & Co. website.

TW: We didn’t have a website. Looking back, I was a guy in a pickup truck. I was picking up these buildings, going in and renovating them, and then needed to start a management company — someone to fix the roof and lease the apartments. It was organic. The website — it only took 30 years to figure it out. 

MB: It seems like the website is a great way to draw attention to projects. 

TW: A lot of investors would say, ‘I invest with this group,’ but they would have nowhere to show people where they were investing. They’ve been telling me that for years. 

JL: We’re finding there are a lot of people interested in investing in this type of product. We were kind of a hindrance to ourselves when we weren’t showing the world what we’re producing. 

We have two focuses. We’re serving the people who occupy our buildings first. And by doing that well, you create value for your investor partners. It’s a natural, inherent relationship. 

MB: We hear of companies rebranding away from the founder’s name in order to acknowledge the team. Is that part of it?

TW: At some point, you come to a place in the world where you have a company and you realize you’re an active participant, but you also see you’re a guide or a mentor. You have to think, ‘What is my role now?’ Guide, mentor — or sometimes you have to disappear. Here’s a group of younger folks who are really smart, work really hard and we all share the same values. ‘It’s your turn.’

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