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What’s gone wrong?

Our industry, says Frank Webster, has lost its sense of purpose, but as more regulation sweeps in, there is a chance to rediscover its purpose and create a respected profession.

Frank Webster

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I recently read a great book about how a values-enabled culture can inspire business to a sustainable profit. That’s exactly how the property business that I worked for 33 years was created, why I enjoyed working there, why it became so enduringly successful. We lived our values and our clients and our staff understood why we did what we did.

We must focus, adapt to meet a fast changing world and become a respected profession.

Sadly many business leaders now look at profit before people and to a large extent, that’s why businesses are failing. You only have to look at the High Street to see it is changing.

Mountain Warehouse is a great example of a business that is doing well when others aren’t. It has 200 shops, sales and profits are up. What’s their secret?

They are customer centric, very selective in store location, privately owned, not beholden to shareholders; they take their time, make their own decisions. They’re constantly experimenting and innovating with fresh ranges – thoroughly tested before launch.

They almost exclusively sell their own label products. Neither expensive or cheap, very good value. “best gear, best service and the best prices”.

In addition, they are making a contribution to society, providing a solution so people can comfortably enjoy their leisure time, employing people, paying £millions’ tax to the Government – they’re not a charity but it’s constructive, there’s a purpose.

WHAT’S GONE WRONG?

Selling or letting real estate is a simple business. Our job is to help put a roof over peoples’ heads.

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Frank Webster

I may be ostracised writing this, but I believe that greed, selfishness and short-termism (plus a blinkered fear of the online proposition) is now so pervasive that it has resulted in an attitude (and an environment) where we’ve simply lost the plot. We no longer make people feel valued – our customers, staff and our community.

This misguided approach has most certainly seeped into the corporate real estate world, where brand damage control and power can blind good businesses with politics and bureaucracy, resulting in little integrity left in many of the larger brands – and sadly little trust.

We’ve taken our eye off our core purpose. It is not all about maximising return to owners and shareholders.

The property business I helped to build at Finders Keepers was successful because our focus was always about giving the best honest advice – not telling people what they wanted to hear. The right advice for that particular client. Our purpose: to help landlords and tenants with their property needs. It focused our energies and built lasting and trusting relationships.

We delivered on our promises, put people before profit. Cementing relationships through efficiency and effectivity. Our business evolved to offer our landlord client property expertise which extended to helping tenants, making them comfortable so they could get on with their lives, their jobs. We treated them with respect, as equals, showing that we valued them.

Many of our tenants became landlords. You couldn’t get a better validation of our ethos. Many sub-contractors used our services and invested in property. Institutional investors came to us and our staff remained loyal. These were the rewards for respect and fairness. They were our values, our culture, our sense of purpose.

We were competitive but it was about working with the right people who would appreciate us for what we stood for.

We employed staff and contractors who would understand and live these values. Reputation is hard to gain but easily lost.

WHAT NEXT?

Estate Agency still has a vital role in our lives. It should be broad but focused on helping people with their property needs. We should be at the centre of the community, with a positive desire to make a difference to people’s lives.

With the impending, game-changing world of regulation, the real estate business has one chance to return to its roots – focus, rediscover our core purpose, adapt it to meet a fast changing world. But it must add in a new measure of success –one based on happiness, motivation, integrity and trust.

For those willing and able to enter this new world, it is a golden opportunity to regain a sense of purpose – our purpose will become our ultimate authority – to finally become a profession that is respected within our communities.

Frank Webster’s entire career has been in property; formerly Vice Chairman of Finders Keepers, a leading privately owned property company based in Oxfordshire, which was acquired by Countrywide PLC in 2016. Frank now provides consultancy support to the real estate industry and business in general through advisory and NED roles. fw@frankcwebster.co.uk

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