Manitoba·Winnipeg Famous

Rod Peeler: The man behind the bus bench

Real estate agent Rod Peeler's resemblance to musician Rod Stewart has had Winnipeggers doing double takes and testing his "I never sleep" slogan with late-night phone calls for 35 years.

Real estate agent has been getting double takes, late-night phone calls for 35 years

Real estate agent Rod Peeler has become 'Winnipeg famous' for his resemblance to musician Rod Stewart and for his slogan, 'I never sleep.' (Bridget Forbes, CBC )

Rod Peeler came face to face with Sir Rod Stewart once.

"He did a triple look," chuckled Peeler.  "It wasn't just a look — it was, like, 'What?'"

It happened decades ago at a Winnipeg hotel and while the British rock star didn't talk to the Winnipeg real estate agent, that didn't dampen Peeler's enthusiasm for the musician — to whom he bears more than a passing resemblance.  

It's the image of that likeness — coupled with Peeler's slogan, "I never sleep" — plastered on bus benches and billboards all over Winnipeg for the past three decades years that have made him "Winnipeg famous."

Peeler said he started getting mistaken for Rod Stewart when he was about 50.

"I think it had a lot to do with my hair, because I like to spike it up," said Peeler, who is a big fan of Stewart's music.

The now 70-year-old grandfather sometimes performs as a Rod Stewart impersonator for charity events in the city, most notably at the Winnipeg Realtors Gimme Shelter events.

"I didn't say I was any good," laughed Peeler.

Slogan leads to prank calls

Peeler's sense of humour has served him well as he has spent years dealing with prank calls in the middle of the night from people testing out his catchphrase, "I never sleep."

The inspiration for the slogan came from an ad in San Francisco, and from the lifestyle Peeler was leading 35 years ago when he got into the real estate business.

"We did not have all the technology," recalled Peeler, "so if you needed a signature from somebody you couldn't email it to them, you had to drive it over. If you wanted to show houses to buyers from out of town and they wanted to see 20 houses, you had to pick up 20 keys from 20 different places, phone 20 different agents."

Peeler says his 'I never sleep' slogan reflected the life of a busy realtor before cellphones. It also inspired pranksters who called at all hours to test the catchphrase.

All of that made for long days. Peeler said he would regularly arrive in the office before 7 a.m. and not get home until after 1 a.m.. "If you wanted to do business, that's what you had to do."

He said on weekends, his pager would go off two or three times a night as cheeky Winnipeggers called to see if he was up.

"I would call them back and they were laughing and they were at parties and all that," said Peeler. He insists he never got sick of it and that he returns the late-night calls. "I'm too much of an extrovert," he admitted.

Or maybe he recognized himself in the pranksters.

A self-described bratty kid who liked to play tricks, James Herbert Roderick Peeler grew up on a farm just outside Neepawa, Man. — 170 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

When he was 10 years old, his parents split up and he moved to Winnipeg with his mother and three siblings.  

It was like I came from a place where we had everything to a place where we had nothing.- Rod Peeler

"It was like I came from a place where we had everything to a place where we had nothing," recalled Peeler.  

The family moved into a one-bedroom apartment in what would become Osborne Village.

"Looking back now, I think, 'Oh my goodness, how did we do that?'" Peeler said of those financially difficult years. "But you know, it wasn't hard at all. I just had a ball."

Lifelong salesman

After graduating from Kelvin High School in 1965, Peeler went from a sales position at the Bay to Eaton's, where he became a buyer and a merchandising manager.

The father of three spent 15 years with the department store, flying across the country making deals with distributors.

Then the company centralized their buyers in Toronto, and the jet-setting stopped.  

"I could have cried because it was such a good job," says Peeler, who considered moving to Toronto but was scared off by the high cost of housing. 

Bored and frustrated with his scaled-back role, Peeler resigned from Eaton's in 1979.

'First month, I didn't sell anything'

After a brief stint with a jewelry company, he landed in real estate in 1982, starting at Delbro real estate, a company owned by his brother-in-law, Harry DeLeeuw. 

"First month, I didn't sell anything," Peeler said. "I had three little kids, my pension money is going, and I have to feed them. When it's just you and a telephone and nothing else, it's almost like you're naked. What are you going to do? I had to start making it happen."

He pulled out all the stops to make his first sale, which was on Academy Road. "I had the signs up on the road, flags going on," Peeler recalled with excitement. 

"I would stand in front of the house going, 'For Sale! Rod Peeler!'"

It worked.

At age 70, Peeler now has more bus bench ads than active listings. (Bridget Forbes)

"It was satisfying. It was incredible. I wasn't thinking of the money," said Peeler. And his client list grew quickly.  

"Before you know it, you're busy with about 20 clients. By the time the year was finished, I couldn't believe how much money I had made."

People think that I'm kind of phony.- Rod Peeler

Despite a successful career, Peeler doesn't think the Rod Stewart image has necessarily helped him as a realtor.

"I do feel that several people think that I'm kind of phony because of that," said Peeler. "They think I'm more about me than I might be about their house. They're absolutely totally wrong, but that's what I have to live with because that's who I am."

These days, Peeler has more bus bench ads — 10 — than active listings (four). 

"At 70 years of age, I don't want to work like I did when I was 35," said Peeler, who has suffered a heart attack and a stroke in the past 10 years, but still regularly golfs 36 holes a day.

"I don't want to do 75 or 80 deals a year. I'm happy if I'm doing 25 and live a good life, a balanced life," he said.

While he may have reduced the amount of business he does, Peeler insists he has no plans to retire anytime soon.