In the vacation property world, Sarnia native Keith Trowbridge is a giant.
When conventional property sales were going through a rough patch in the ‘70s, Trowbridge devised a concept to attract more buyers at a lower price.
He calls it ‘vacation ownership’ but it’s more commonly known as timeshare and it’s a big business. At least three million North Americans own timeshares around the world.
“When I came up with this, Europe had timeshares, where people leased their place to people who took their vacation the same week every year,” the 81-year-old Trowbridge explained via phone from his Florida home.
“I took it a step further, where you owned that week so you could buy it, rent it, or trade it to go elsewhere. The key word is ownership.”
In 1974, Trowbridge developed the first timeshare resort in North America on Sanibel Island in southwest Florida. All 31 units sold in 18 months.
Skeptics initially didn’t understand the advantages of owning their vacation, he said. But it didn’t take long before consumers embraced the idea of sharing the property taxes and maintenance of their vacation property with 50 others.
Sales took off at Trowbridge’s Captran Resorts International Inc. What began as a $500,000-a-year business earned $50 million annually and employed 800 at its peak.
By the time Trowbridge sold Captran, he had developed 35 timeshare resorts in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean, and life had taken him and his family far from his Sarnia roots.
Trowbridge was raised in a home on Lakeshore Road and graduated from SCITS.
“When I grew up there, I thought Sarnia was the greatest place in the world,” he said.
He left for Bowling Green University in Ohio, where he became student president and was named Outstanding Male Student while earning a degree in business.
Trowbridge returned briefly to Sarnia to sell life insurance, but admits he didn’t enjoy it. When offered a scholarship to earn an MBA at Bowling Green, he was gone again, and went on to earn a PhD at the University of Michigan.
Trowbridge eventually left for a job in Miami and still lives in Florida, enjoying the year-round warmth and continuing to work as founder and president of a timeshare industry headhunter company, Executive Quest, Inc.
Though he dislikes Sarnia’s climate he’s still in contact with his sister, Doreen Robertson, and other family here.
In 1981, during his busiest years in the business, Trowbridge wrote a book called “Resort Timesharing: How You Can Invest In Inflation-Proof Vacations for Life (Simon and Schuster Publishers, and still available at Amazon.com).
“I wrote it when I was going public with Captran Resorts and wanted a lot of publicity around the company,” he explained. The book sold 40,000 copies and landed him on The Today Show.
Trowbridge is now writing an autobiography. His early life in Sarnia includes the family story of his grandparents, Tom and Jean Kemsley, who owned the Bluewater Inn at Lakeshore and Murphy Roads, which burned down when Trowbridge was a young child.
The book will also reflect on his professional life and the timeshare industry, he said.
“When others didn’t think there was a future in vacation ownership and preferred to sell whole ownership, what they didn’t realize is that they could sell one or two timeshares a day, rather than one whole ownership a month,” Trowbridge said.
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