West London estate agency Orchards is the latest to embrace hubs after closing its four branches in West London and relocating the business and its staff to a single open-plan office.
Orchards is owned by parent company The Hogarth Property Group which also has a financial services arm and a design and build company working in both the residential and commercial sectors.
Its decision to close Orchards’ branches in Ealing, Acton, Chiswick and Shepherds Bush and centralise its services within a single hub overlooking Hangar Lane (pictured, above) follows hot on the heels of a decision by Humberts to focus its business around half a dozen hubs.
Orchards is an award-winning London agency founded in 2009 by Group CEO Paul Connolly (pictured, below) in his front lounge, a business which later expanded and become The Hogarth Property Group.
“When we had the High Street branches, we were continually investing and we will continue to do so,” says Connolly.
“We put a substantial amount of resource into improving systems and processes but had always felt that there would be further benefits gained if we had the entire team based in one location.
“With High Street footfall falling year on year we were questioning for some time if it was necessary to have multiple offices and had planned ahead by ensuring we had break clauses in our leases and could be fleet-footed when we felt the time was right to make changes.
“I remember four years ago our Group MD Liam Doherty asked me if I would do anything differently if I was starting from scratch and I said yes, I would reduce the number of office and centralise covering a larger territory without the need for multiple high street premises.
“Then it got to the middle of last year I said it was time to merge all the branches into one central office where we could have all of our cars, staff and technology, and so here we are.”
The company says it was able to make the move because it could exercise break clauses at two of its branches; the third one goes back in the middle of this year and the other it has had to re-assign.”
Orchards’ staff headcount has remained the same during the changes and the savings have been invested back into the company, including pay increases for staff and a rebrand of the business to appeal to a more middle-market customer.
He also says the financial benefits of centralising its services are already becoming evident and told The Negotiator that The Hogarth Group plans to open more hubs in the future.
Are hubs the future?
Consultant Michael Day (left) of Integra Property Services, who helped Orchards make the move, says: “High Streets simply do not have the footfall they once had although they can still have a value if an agent applies themselves differently to better utilise the strengths that still exist.
“Most agents windows are static and easily ignored. Many agents also have not planned ahead and are tied into long leases and so cannot easily change their approach except at great cost.
“Quality engagement with customers remains the key and this may mean more flexible businesses in terms of locations and opening hours, and hubs may well prove the answer for many.”
Read a more in-depth look at what Orchards has been doing in the next issue of The Negotiator magazine.