When Humberts went bust in May last year it was good for the business, its Chief Operations Officer has claimed.
Tim Simmons says that by going into voluntary administration the company was able to exit many of its high street locations and avoid ‘exorbitant’ early termination and dilapidation costs of up to £100,000 per branch.
Simmons says this enabled the business to be bought by Natural Retreats and restructure around its much talked-about seven-hubs, six of which are off the high street in either purpose-built or service offices, and quickly reduce costs.
He also says the business continues to trade profitably, countering the many nay-sayers in the industry who have claimed that estate agencies cannot succeed without a high street presence.
“I think Humberts can take the credit for starting the hub innovation within the industry,” he says. “As a business we found that we were in buildings with very restrictive leases which were difficult to quit because of the dilapidation liability, for example, but the one good thing about going into administration is that it freed us from all these onerous commitments so that’s why we were able to adopt a hub approach so quickly.
“A lot of branches were owned by former partners who had taken on Humberts franchises. For some of our buildings it would have cost us £100,000 to leave them because they are often in Georgian town centre buildings and when you start adding up the dilapidations, it’s exorbitant.”
Simmons says its seven hubs will eventually cover Devon, Dorset, Somerset, the Cotswolds, Kent/Sussex, Cheshire and the Lake District, all of which are to be off the high street except its Cotswolds operation.
“One of sister companies is a shared office supplier so we’re doing tie-ins with a number of the hubs and, where they are quite large, it gives us licence to do all sorts of things with the businesses. We’re looking for the right opportunities to grow our network.”