why estate agency branches matter, even in a digital world

Agents with High Street branches have a unique brand-raising, trust-gaining opportunity. Now is the time to edge ahead with a new look, says Lisa Isaacs.

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Branches can work really hard for an agent. As well as keeping a name at the forefront of a local community, a physical office instils a sense of trust and permanence, provides a haven of advice for home movers and gives staff a motivational place to work. With such an important role to play, isn’t it time you gave your branch some TLC?

One of today’s greatest considerations is budget, with a number of different marketing avenues all demanding spend. Despite a tendency to be thought of a stand-alone entity, an office is a marketing tool and a crucial one at that. Unlike websites, printed materials and emails, branches are a 24/7 presence that are not susceptible to WiFi connections, the delete button or a direct path to the recycling bin.

Branding through branches

Link to Shopfitting featureA rising number of agents are already budgeting to boost their branches as they recognise that branding is a huge currency in today’s competitive market, as Michelle Farnsworth from Mid West Displays has found, “Our interior design service has doubled in the last 12 months – confirmation that estate agents are realising that their branch interiors are an important element in creating the ‘brand differential’ – an aspect that will help them grow their business, as well as see off local rivals and internet competitors.”

Our interior design service has doubled in the last 12 months – agents realise that branch interiors are an important element in creating the brand differential. Michelle Farnsworth, Mid West Displays.

If budgets are still a niggling issue, it’s worth remembering that branch creativity doesn’t have to be a one off cost. Mid West Displays is just one shop fitter that offers finance plans, such as a ‘pay monthly’ option, allowing agents to spread the cost of a refurbishment over up to five years.

Hunkering down on the High Street

The High Street may have become a battleground for retailers but it remains a pivotal part of moving home, acting a base for buyers, sellers, tenants and landlords who are dealing with assets worth hundreds of thousands of pounds – as opposed to a £12.99 t-shirt.

“Estate agents can absorb the lessons from retailers,” adds Michelle. “They too are battling with internet-only brands and discounters but their interiors combine design, tech and staff to create cool spaces that customers love, want to revisit and tell their friends all about. Isn’t that something every estate agency branch should aspire too?”

Just as familiar retail names are moving out of or disappearing from the High Street, new occupiers moving in, with the likes of eBay, Amazon and Ikea taking units in shopping destinations. At the same time there is a realignment and restructuring of estate agents, resulting in new names and new brands for whom shop fitting is an integral part of future strength and success.

Identity crisis?

MPL Interiors has become an expert in handling estate agency mergers and acquisitions, providing shopfitting services that bring excitement, drive and exposure to new ventures. Its ongoing work for the Leaders Romans Group is a prime example, with the network growing from around 80 to more than 150 branches through an acquisition programme.

If a stronger estate agency brand is taking over an agent with a lesser reputation, then the rebrand needs to be decisive and efficient. Mike Simons, MPL.

Link to Shopfitting featureShopfitting is often a positive catalyst for agency brands that are struggling or bought out. “Rebranding presents an exceptional opportunity to capture new business and take an agency in a fresh direction – a revitalised look can often revitalise fortunes,” says MPL’s founder, Mike Simons.

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Dexters by MPL.

When agents are on a large-scale acquisition trail, Mike suggests a ‘concept office’ blueprint, as it created for Leaders at its Godalming branch – a new corporate look that can be perfected before being rolled out across premises as they are acquired. Agents also need to strategise the speed at which a rebrand is executed. “This depends on the reason behind the business move,” adds Mike. “If a stronger brand is taking over an agent with a lesser reputation, then the rebrand needs to be decisive and efficient.”

Mergers and acquisitions can also be much smaller in nature, with independents joining forces and one-off, single-branch buyouts. In these instances, the change of brand can be as subtle as one agent ‘working in association with’ another, or blending two agency names to create a new, amalgamated brand. What is essential is the new name being reflected in the signage, both inside and out, as quickly as possible – for the benefit of the agency staff and local home movers.

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Excite: A London skyline design printed to wallpaper at Knight Young & Co in Hanger Lane.
Keeping up appearances

In a mergers and acquisitions climate, a glut of refreshed brands and branches can make existing agents look dated. Michelle says that the threat of being overshadowed is a distinct possibility, “If staff and customers are not engaged with your office, then now is definitely the time act – before your High Street competitors beat you to it.”

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New branding for Andrews by MPL.

Martin Quille, CDS Construction Services says more agents are asking for a new look than in last year, “The first six months have been busy given the market conditions. “We’ve certainly noticed a marked upturn in activity over the last eight weeks or so. It’s a good time for agents to get their plans drawn up and priced ready for the inevitable bounce back in the market.

“Some branches require the complete refurbishment package utilising the full range of services we can offer – ceilings, floor coverings, electrics, partitions, decorations, signage, displays, furniture. Some branches simply require a freshen up to give them a new lease of life. A simple redecoration or upgrade of lighting may be all that is required to change the dynamic of an office.”

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Kremer Signs for Coopers.

Mike says shopfitting should not be reserved for new ventures, “We applied radically new branding at 60 existing branches within the Andrews Group, replacing a dated aesthetic.” Its new look brought the agency to the attention of a new audience and made it a relevant brand – essential in a market where complacency can’t be contemplated. The Andrews project shows how it’s possible to rebrand with a makeover rather than a full refurbishment. “Think Changing Rooms as opposed to Grand Designs,” says Mike. When rebranding, the advice is to start with exterior signage, then interior branding and then cosmetics. Use elements that can be easily changed to make a statement – new window displays, wall logos, wall art, local area maps, floor coverings and welcome mats.

Lightbulb moments

Link to Shopfitting featureIf your brand blends in with the background, look at your lighting. “Illumination is key to being noticed, especially in the dark months,” says Tom Cummuskey at Kremer Signs. There is illumination for fascias, window displays, projecting signs and wall logos and many price points too. “LED illuminated window displays plus an LED fascia and an internally-lit projecting sign makes it unmissable with 24 hour exposure and a visible window is a form of marketing that can be offered to potential sellers – a place to advertise hot properties,” adds Tom. The value of an acquisition can rest in buying an agent with better market share, visibility or reputation and in these cases, the name and corporate identity of an agent may be retained but shopfitting work may still be required. “The perfect example is when The Dexters Group acquired Snellers, Fletchers and RSK,” says Mike. “MPL kept the existing brand names but standardise the quality of the signage, fixtures and fittings in step with the parent group’s ‘London look’ – that had a massive impact.”

LED illuminated window displays, paired with an LED illuminated fascia and an internally-lit projecting sign ensure that an office is unmissable on the High Street. Tom Cummuskey, Kremer Signs.

Using your location to reinforce ‘local’

The phrase ‘local property experts’ is one of the most overused in estate agency and perhaps at its most galling when quoted by online agents, who have no physical branches and agents who travel for miles to value a property.

There are many ways to counteract the online agent threat and making a branch hyper-local is one of them. Jon Edwards at Excite believes that a branch’s aesthetic can further serve to entrench a local agent’s community presence, for both independents and those who are part of a wider network.

“Including photographs of local landmarks creates the impression of an agency being an integral part of the community,” comments Jon. Examples of Excite’s hyper local personalisation include an oversized photograph of a Tube train taken in the town and applied to a glass partition at Rawlinson Gold in Pinner and a London skyline design printed to wallpaper as seen at Knight Young & Co in Hanger Lane. Both decorative treatments are relatively quick to apply and reasonably inexpensive, acting to ‘ground’ a branch in its local area.

“Personalising a branch in this way is especially important for national chains who may have a universal corporate look yet need to relate to different markets. A branch must attract the target client demographic and create a strong local presence – something that reflects the local status of the staff who work there.” Tom says one particular shop fitting aspect is playing an increasingly important role in the bid to be an authentic local agent: “Maps are becoming ever more popular with xagents, and can be supplied as a simple sign, an illuminated text flex display or as a wallpaper wrap. The use of a wall map is a nice touch for a potential client as it shows that you know the area. It can display the boundaries that you cover and can help when showcasing where properties are in relation to schools and train stations.”

Digital displays – an extra team member
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Intouch Displays can, these days, display video and drone footage .

Wallets may firmly shut at the mention of integrated technology but digital aspects of shop fitting and window displays don’t have to break the bank, especially if they repay the agent in a number of ways. Touch screens are a valuable marketing tool and can effectively become another member of the team – one whose pay is considerably less and who can work on a round-the-clock basis.

Intouch’s screens give agents a 24/7 data capture point, an eye-catching presence that looks good by day and night, and a meaningful link with the local community through the ability to promote local charities and events.

Link to Shopfitting featureSteve Blackaller, Sales Manager at Intouch, is, however, acutely aware that forays into proptech during current market conditions need to be backed up by a substantiated return on investment. “The Intouch entry level model is a 32” touch screen is offered at £195 plus VAT per month and the cost can be quantified in a number of ways or even paid-for by selling screen time to local businesses,” says Steve.

“The screens can incorporate instant valuation tools to assist in gaining further valuation requests, and we’ve recently launched our very own app that allows a valuer to list a new instruction as ‘coming soon’ while still at the valuation – with the listing appearing on screen within a matter of minutes of the new instruction being taken on.

The Intouch screens also sync with other emerging tech to maximize digital investment across the board. The screens are able to display video and drone footage, along with ‘dolls house’ images of available instructions. “It’s these types of moving image and interactive experiences – where the user can press the glass to rotate or tilt a 3D image of an interior, for example – that really catches the eye of the public,” adds Steve.

Change for the better

Shopfitting has the power to bring about agency success. Whether you change your corporate colours, your font or your entire name, changing branch aesthetics will get you noticed, generate a PR point and position your brand for where you want to be in the future.

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