HGTV star Scott McGillivray on building a real estate and TV empire

The #McGillibabe explains how he built a passion for real estate into a growing television empire, one plaid shirt at a time

“Income Property” host Scott McGillivray

“Income Property” host Scott McGillivray (HGTV)

When Scott McGillivray was 21, he used student loan cash to buy a rental house; today, he has bought more than 100 income properties in Canada and the U.S. and hosts Income Property on HGTV. He tells us what goes into building a rock-solid personal brand, one plaid shirt at a time.

Season 11 of Income Property is airing, you have a new show coming in the fall, plus you have a line of building products, a book and an investment advisory group. Was world domination always the goal?

Ha! That’s always just the way I’ve been. I like biting off more than I can chew. Once I get something to the point that it’s “operating with excellence,” as I like to call it, then I look for opportunities to expand.

How much of your multi-pronged success comes down to having a really effective personal brand?

Having a brand does not hurt. We’re 10 years into the show and are just figuring out the branding business model. When I first started doing the show, there were so many people telling me what to do. And every year it was the opposite of the year before: too many jokes, not enough jokes, too serious, not serious enough, not enough plaid, too much plaid.

Too much plaid? You obviously vetoed that!

We learned that people identify with consistency. At first I wore plaid because I had a lot of plaid shirts. At the end of season one, we hired stylists, and they put me in a bright yellow dress shirt. A few weeks later, the editors asked, “Who the hell told him to wear a yellow shirt?” I said, “That’s it!” We have not used a stylist since. I play myself on TV. I consciously decided to be totally authentic rather than trying to be someone I’m not.

Authenticity is such a buzzword, but it’s sort of a tough thing to chase.

It’s true—what does “authentic” really mean? Just be yourself and you’ll be automatically successful? Well, no. You have to be authentic, but you also have to be passionate. I am off-the-hook passionate about real estate. I live and breathe it; I’ve got 10 renovations on the go at any given time. Authenticity [paired with] passion really is the winning combo.

With respect to maintaining a brand, how important is saying no?

I get a lot of messages on social media from people saying, “Hey, I’ve got a project for you,” or asking me to endorse something. Some of the things are just way too off-brand. I got approached by a breath mint company that thought it would be funny if I had bad breath [in ads]. How is that good for me?

Some female superfans have taken to calling you #McGillibabe on Twitter. What, if anything, do you do to play to that audience?

I have fun with it. It’s not a horrible thing. When People asked me to do the Sexiest Man Alive thing [McGillivray made the magazine’s annual list in 2014], obviously my PR team said, “You have to go.” It was a huge audience, and I had to think about the fact that I have over 100 people who work for me. All of these things keep business coming in.

To what do you attribute your early motivation? A lot of 20-somethings are too busy partying to think about the future, but you started your first real estate business at the age of 21.

My mom says I was always the kid with a plan: I ran for student council president; I volunteered. My father passed away when I was 22. I think going through that early in your life puts an asterisk on everything, as if to say, “Hey—this is a limited-time opportunity. Life is short.”

Now you’re a dad to two daughters: Got any tips for working fathers?

Find your “things”: I take them to dance on Sundays; I give them baths every night. If you don’t carve time out and say, “This is when I spend time with my kids,” it’s going to get filled with something else.