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Exclusive: LSL estate agency boss reveals more about branch reduction decision

Helen Buck tells The Negotiator why the company decided to reduce down to 144 keystone branches and how half the staff affected have been redeployed to other parts of the business.

Nigel Lewis

helen buck

Your Move and Reeds Rain parent company LSL has told The Negotiator that the decision to cut its network from 308 to 144 directly-operated branches has been vindicated.

Helen Buck, who is the company’s Executive Director of its estate agency division, says the process of closing branches or transferring 39 offices to David Newnes’ company National Home Move is now complete.

The former Sainsbury’s senior executive also says the company’s 144 ‘keystone’ branches are up and running. These offices, which serve larger areas but have bigger teams, have also grabbed more market share, she claims.

Buck says although the loss of jobs was regrettable, many people were transferred to other branches and that half of the people lost from the business have been re-employed elsewhere.  This includes at its Homefast conveyancing admin centre in Cheadle or at its growing part-exchange hub in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire.

The average staff count at Your Move and Reeds Rains branches has also increased from 5.5 to 7 people.

Sustainable

“We looked at the portfolio and tried to focus on the ones that had the ability to be sustainable given that the days of big house sales volumes ended following the financial crash,” says Buck. “So we wanted to retain the branches with the best scale and local shares of the market.”

She says a lot of branches were ‘trundling along’ but weren’t really contributing, even though they needed a large infrastructure to support them.

“By cutting back to the keystone branches we were also able to resize the central functions and for example we moved our lettings centre in Cheadle to Southampton to create a bigger, better hub,” she says.

Buck says it’s been a painful experience to lose people, but she feels LSL is now a more ‘right-sized’ business.

She’s also been busy communicating and reassuring staff about the new direction of the business. This has included a programme of roadshows to plug the message that LSL overall is now ready to take advantage of the much-hoped-for market upturn expected this year.

“There are a lot of buyers around and there are properties coming on but it’s too early to tell,” she says.

But Buck denies that competition from online agents was a factor in the decision to cut the two brands’ branch networks.

“We’ve watched the online agents take some market share, but we think the high-street based format will continue to dominate for the foreseeable future,” she says.

Read more about the branch reduction programme.

February 19, 2020

One comment

  1. Helen Buck talks a lot of sense, many larger companies allow mediocre branches to go ‘trundling along’ despite that fact they …’weren’t really contributing, even though they needed a large infrastructure to support them.’

    2020 is not the time for legacy approaches to agency, if a branch last made big profit a decade or even five years ago, might it be kinder to cut it? You can always open in a better marketplace.

    Countrywide plc, maybe they should take the Helen Buck strategy and roll it out – I certainly would, no one likes redundancies, but not much fun working in a zombie branch either.

    In the 1980’s – early 2000’s physical branch networks were key, post the smartphone and amazon, customer care and a good service are now key.

    I do not care if you have 6-offices in a 20-mile radius, do you sell or let, do you provide other services and are you value for money, Oh and I used my mobile and social media to work out which agent I want to use so how big is your digital footprint.

    The UK real estate space is changing, pioneering times Riccardo Iannucci-Dawson and co-founder Craig Massey are through YourKeys getting new homes exchanged in 168-hours, 7-days. Residential second-hand conveyancing will soon follow

    Proptech is re-defining agency – creating massive efficiencies, so it is time that those in the C-suite started to realise that their networks of agencies need the same ideological treatment.

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