A horse-riding accident taught David Alfin how to listen, an invaluable skill in his real estate business.
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The pit in his stomach formed almost immediately.
There he was, a 20something David Alfin, the boss’s son, stammering in front of cameras, questions, hot lights. He was supposed to be unveiling the company’s latest perfume — something blue and tropical. This was supposed to be big, the kind of launch that puts pricey new products on the map.
But this was back when he was still “long-haired and rebellious,” a couple decades before he’d become president of his father’s company. This was before he would sell it, too; run a Boar’s Head distributor; sell that; have five kids; get his Realtor’s license; and move to Palm Coast.
This was the beginning. And it was a disaster.
“I’ve got an anxiety about failure,” Alfin says, in a board room at Watson Realty Corp on Palm Coast Parkway.
His office walls are crammed with plaques and awards and frames with the words “Honor” and “Volunteer” displayed inside. There’s a cork board overflowing, education certificates fanning out over the sides. He hands over a menu for Island Grille, of which he’s part-owner. He teases about possibly running for local office.
“But I try my best to learn from them.”
Cowering behind the reporters and their cameras that day, though, after calling up his dad to take the mic and save him, Alfin knew he blew the press conference. But worse, he let his dad down.
“There was an expectation that the kids would exceed (our parents’) achievements,” Alfin said, “which was a lot, because this was not a blue-collar family looking to put their first kid through school.”
Alfin’s mom was a fashion model. His dad won a Bronze Star in Korea, ran Chanel then started Alfin Fragrances Inc. He traveled the world. He was “demanding.” They both were. But Alfin likes to think of it more as “idealistic.”
“I certainly know today that the reason I am the way I am is because of that,” he says. “Tell me No and I’ll find a way to do it. … I can’t quit. Once I’m in, I’m all in.”
That’s clear when reviewing the list of nonprofits in which he’s active: the Palm Coast Citizens Academy, the Flagler County Education Foundation Board of Directors, Volunteer Emergency Services, NOAA’s Advanced Storm Spotters, the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce and several real estate groups.
“If you’re a part of the community, you have dedicate yourself to that community,” he says.
He’s the same way professionally.
Starting in the warehouse at Alfin Fragrances, he worked every position in the company before running distribution to 62 countries. When he got into the meat business, he owned the Catskill Mountains territory in New York before selling.
And although he got into real estate in 2008 — he needed a job with flexible hours at the time, since he was also his mother’s caregiver in her final years — the down market only served as motivation.
This time, though, success meant something more interpersonal.
“The nature of this business invites you into a personal part of people’s lives, for a short time, and you need to be careful of that responsibility,” he says.
Instead of managing the sale of perfume or bologna today, Alfin manages clients’ anxieties. Most of his buyers are on the cusp of the biggest investment of their lives, and navigating the stress surrounding that makes for intimate working relationships.
Not every sale works out, but for him, success starts with getting back on the horse. Literally.
“A loving rider” and owner of two horses, Dancer and Lotte, Alfin sees many parallels between his work and favorite hobby.
“Owning horses is a two-way commitment,” he says. “You spend a lot of time grooming the horse before the riding ever starts, and there’s a reason for that. It’s a physical sign of commitment and trust.”
Even after 10 years of riding, though, mistakes can still happen.
Alfin was out with his wife, Tammy, a few months back when Dancer went left and he went right.
“I found myself still on the saddle, underneath the horse,” he says
Dancer was scared. Alfin was scrambling, his foot stuck in the stirrup. After some wrestling, he freed it and landed safely. But it taught him to listen, watch for nonverbal cues.
Now he holds the reins not tighter, he says, but with more direction. He takes control. She’s more comfortable, and so is he.
And just like that, the anxiety vanishes.