A ‘brand’ new branch
If you travel around the southern neighbourhoods of London it’s not hard to spot Lee Pendleton, whose distinctive features regularly stare out from huge billboards overlooking roads, bridges and roundabouts.
He helped launch James Pendleton in 2003 and now has ten branches in a tight pattern across many of the key areas of South West London, no mean feat in London’s notoriously competitive market dominated by corporates such as Foxtons, Hamptons International, Savills and Knight Frank.
It’s at its new Battersea and Riverside branch that he’s been rolling out a new look for his business in partnership with Viscom based in Farnborough, Surrey. The latest branch is a base for the company’s New Homes team headed up by Sam Wylie, but it will also have a residential sales role too.
“Most of the houses around here go for between £1m and £1.5m so it’s a great residential market, but really it’s all about new build in this area,” says Lee. “For example, there are five or six really big schemes being built at the moment including 90 units around the corner and a 120-unit Barratt tower nearer the river.”
The feminine touch
What’s most interesting about the new look Lee has commissioned for this branch (which will be rolled out across the rest of his branches this year) is that it’s been specifically designed to appeal to women with a soft design more reminiscent of a John Lewis store than an estate agent.
Steve Leah of Viscom says, “We’ve started to wrap our displays in fabric because we’re trying to soften the look. More and more agents, like Lee, have realised that it’s women who usually make the decision to move, pick the agent and decide which house to buy. So we’ve been trying to soften up our look and make it more feminine.”
And there’s plenty of research to back Steve’s belief. For example, a survey recently by home buying service QuickMoveNow. com revealed that women have the final say when it comes to buying a new home. It asked 2,000 homeowners who are in a relationship about who took the decisions and found that in 68 per cent of cases, the majority of the decisions to buy had been made by the female.
Seven out of ten men said they were happy for their wife or partner to take the lead when it came to choosing their dream home.
Also, apparently one in five men have agreed to buy a property on their partner’s say-so without even seeing it and three out of ten men have bought a house they disliked just to please their partner.
But Lee’s also been working on a secondary strategy – to commission exclusive purpose built displays for the Battersea branch. The idea, Steve says, is that the displays have been designed to be so distinctive that eventually people in London will associate the ‘look’ with James Pendleton and therefore a ‘brand’ will have been created.
Essentially, the property details displays are round – to chime in with the company’s logo – but have white LED lights around their edges so that, at night, they stand out like beacons.
What’s unusual is that Steve has agreed to only make them for Lee. This, he says, was very much the strategy Foxtons has followed in the past; to create a unique bold branch window design that potential clients immediately recognise.
But ironically, Steve says, while Lee is adopting this ‘be unique’ strategy, most independent agents are moving away from the cold corporate look pioneered by Foxtons.
“A lot of agents don’t want to look like corporates; they don’t want to look like Foxtons,” he says. “That used to be the big request; to ‘look like Foxtons’ but the last one I did of those was about two years ago.
“Now everybody wants something that looks more personal, homelier, more about ‘us.’ And that includes another recent job we did, for Anthony Pepe [in North London], whose brief was ‘Swedish cool meets loft apartment’. So that’s what they got.”
The team player
If you ask Ian Mitchell, founder of Plymouth Homes, why he recently got his cheque book out and completely redesigned and refurbished his main branch after 16 years, you won’t get the response you might expect.
Ian says his customers were only 20 per cent of the reason why he spent a small fortune gutting and refurbishing the property. Instead, he says, the real reason he did it was to retain his staff.
“I don’t expect to sell a single additional home because of the refurbishment, which I know is an odd thing to say, but for me it was all about retaining the great team I’ve got by giving them a much nicer working environment – I felt they deserved it,” says Ian.
Plymouth home’s residential branch office is near the centre of the city and for many years Ian’s business has focussed on smaller family homes but, recently, he made a “strategic decision” to move upmarket and go for larger family homes.
“The refurbishment of the office was partly linked to that; I felt that the office was letting us down,” he says. “Around 80 per cent of our sales are family homes although we do also handle properties further down the market.”
Keeping up appearances
Jon Edwards, of interiors company Excite which completed the refurbishment and redesign of the office, thinks the other reason why Ian chose to do something was to maintain market share.
“It was very dated and like so many agents who operate in their offices for many years, he didn’t notice how bad it was until he started looking at it afresh,” says Jon.
“His brief was quite simple but he was worried that his company’s market share might drop after his competitor’s refurbished their branches so he I think he was very conscious of retaining his leading position in the local market too.”
But what prompted Ian to make the commitment and spend the money? He says that even though the economy has been improving, in recent years the good times were only ‘spikes’ of activity and it was only last year that he felt the Plymouth market was in a good enough place to justify the spend. “I always been very proud of my business but now I’m also proud of my office,” says Ian.
If you’d like to brighten up your workplace there are several excellent specialist agency designers that are happy to help:
Crucial Projects www.crucialprojects.co.uk
Excite Interiors www.exciteinteriors.co.uk
Fairfield Lighting & Displays www.estateagencydisplays.co.uk
InTouch Display www.intouchdisplay.co.uk
Mid West Displays www.midwestdisplays.co.uk
MPL Interiors www.mplinteriors.co.uk