Many businesses happily parade their long established credentials – Marks & Spencer frequently uses its considerable market force to remind us all of its rich heritage, having launched as a Penny Bazaar in 1884, but Portico’s business roots are even deeper, having opened 66 years earlier in 1818 in central London – as Edmund Cude.
There’s bound to be a rather big party in 2018 but meeting Portico’s Managing Director, Robert Nichols, Fiona Patterson, Marketing Director and some of the Head Office team, they already have plenty to celebrate.
I wrote a 500 page document on how our IT system should work. I gave it to a very bright friend. ‘Can you build it?’ I asked. ‘Yes I can’ he said. And he did. Robert Nichols, Portico.
Clearly, the youthful Robert was not the founding father of Edmund Cude but when he joined the single branch firm in 2002 he was the only employee. Four years’ later the owner retired and Robert bought the firm.
Within a year, he had opened a second branch and set about carefully acquiring small firms in the right locations and completing at the right time for the seller as well as for Edmund Cude. In 2008 their turnover passed the £1million mark and by 2015 it had grown to £7.5m with a healthy profit of £1.5m.
ALL SYSTEMS GO
But Portico’s story isn’t all about money. The ethos is to do everything properly, create stability and growth. The first challenge was to have a management system that really did the job, which, says Robert, wasn’t simple. “Standard IT systems were not comprehensive, I knew what I wanted but it wasn’t readily available, so I wrote a 500 page document setting out everything I needed for this system to work for us and handed it to a very bright friend. ‘Can you build it?’ I asked. ‘Yes I can’ said the friend – and he did.”
ON THE LONDON MAP
Six agencies were acquired by 2013. Then came the big one, the well-established Bushells, operating across large areas of London. This really put the company on the map as a significant, leading London agency, with 11 branches in North, South and West London.
We developed three core values to underpin the Portico brand; clients said they wanted an estate agency that was insightful, approachable and consultative. Fiona Patterson, Portico.
Managing a large agency takes great people as well as excellent systems and a strong profile. Having multiple brands doesn’t help, “We tried to find a name that incorporated Edmund Cude and Bushells, but we needed much more than a name; we needed a whole marketing strategy, so we appointed a Marketing Director, Fiona Patterson, who had worked with super brands in fashion and digital media.”
Fiona launched a major research programme, asking 1,000 landlord clients and the public which names they recognised. The end result however, was a brand new name: Portico.
Portico is defined by the Oxford dictionary as ‘a colonnade, a roof supported by columns at regular intervals’ – perfectly fitting for a strong property firm of many branches and Georgian heritage.
“It took us less than four months to complete the rebrand, once we identified exactly how we would differentiate the business in a crowded London market” says Fiona. “We wanted it to be elegant and recognisable, representing our culture and cohesiveness.
“We developed three core values to underpin the Portico brand; customers told us they wanted a different type of estate agency service that was insightful, approachable and consultative – and so Portico was born.”
As a result, Portico now has a beautiful and effective brand, including its website, for which it won Silver in the ‘Website of the Year’ and Gold in the Marketing Campaign of the Year at The Negotiator Awards 2015 – a pretty good result for Fiona after less than a year in the job.
ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE
Behind the brand, however, is the truly major element of the successful business; its staff. In 2013, in addition to winning Gold in The Negotiator Awards Letting Agent of the Year 6-15 branches, Edmund Cude won Gold in the Employer of the Year. This was a unanimous decision by the judges for an entry that showed an unusual depth of care for the team of 101. Then, as now, everyone at Head Office and across the branches, has an annual plan with comprehensive in-house training and support to achieve a relevant professional qualification.
Six monthly reviews ensure everyone has the opportunity for promotion and perhaps most remarkably, the senior team get venture capital style share options in a business that is growing and independently owned.
The team events every month, have, says Robert, “become an institution, often with 100 per cent attendance.” They also take the whole company on an annual trip to a European destination and reward the best performing office with a quarterly event, leading to experiences such as punting, karting, bowling and other larks. It’s no surprise they are currently on the look out for top talent but, says Robert, “only the best need get in touch.”
It all adds up to a lively, growing, happy business, celebrating success in many ways, including, at Head Office, a Friday afternoon call to attend social drinks, courtesy of a trumpet ‘Reveille’ by the MD!