Franchise profile: Estate agency board specialist Agency Express
Almost half of all “For Sale” boards in the country have been put up by franchisees of Agency Express, which dominates its market. The company was recently named Franchisor of the Year 2015 and has won a slew of other awards this year for its service.
Q&A subject: Ben Brookes, franchise director of Agency Express
Franchised since: 1999
Number of franchisees: 111
Turnover growth last year: 31 per cent
(1) What’s the position of Agency Express in your marketplace?
Agency Express are the largest “For sale” board services provider in the UK. We service over 40 per cent of all UK offices, which equates to over 95,000 visits to residential properties every single month.
(2) Is there still room to grow further?
Of course! Although we hold the largest market share in our sector, there are over 50 per cent of UK estate agencies and lettings agencies who would benefit from using Agency Express. The commercial sector of our industry also continues to grow, offering an excellent additional revenue stream.
(3) How did it feel to be named the UK’s Franchisor of the Year?
It hasn’t really sunk in yet. To be awarded the highest accolade in the franchise industry is truly an honour, and represents the culmination of many years’ hard work. This award is the pinnacle of success for any franchisor, but when taking into account the fantastic brands also listed as finalists this year, we really couldn’t be happier.
(4) A suitable culmination to the last 12 months?
It’s been a record year for Agency Express, and our franchisees. Not only have we have won all three of the major UK estate agency supplier awards – a first in our industry – but our franchisees continue to strengthen, reporting record profits and client activity. We celebrated our busiest month ever in June 2015, successfully conducting over 100,000 visits to properties on behalf of our clients.
(5) Property was hit particularly hard in the downturn – did that impact the business?
Having the benefit of working with both lettings agents and estate agents meant the property downturn had little effect on Agency Express or our franchisees – while it’s true to say the sales market suffered, the lettings market flourished.
Working closely with all franchisees to ensure they held an even client base with both sides of the industry ensured we experienced continued growth through this period, and accelerated growth once the sales market regained its momentum.
(6) How important has technological innovation been to the business?
Roughly ten years ago we recognised our franchisees were limited on the amount of work they were able to complete each day by the sheer volume of paperwork and manual route planning involved, and a solution was required.
Signmaster, Agency Express’s online board management system, was created shortly after to ease the daily procedures for clients and franchisees alike. An immediate effect was noted, with a dramatic increase in the amount of visits an operator was able to conduct each day, a faster turnaround and higher number of life cycles for each board.
We have continually developed Signmaster since, implementing new initiatives and ideas on a regular basis many of which have come from our franchise network itself. We are now in the third revision of the system, Signmaster3, which offers a multitude of exciting tools for our clients including full system integration with their in-house software. Over £1.5m has been spent to date on this development, and counting.
The most notable change has been the introduction of “Route Optimiser” – a complex algorithm-based route planner which calculates the most fuel-efficient route for a franchisee to take each day. The system takes into account traffic, road closures, events and more to ensure we are as swift as possible, whilst ensuring the lowest carbon footprint.
For our franchisees, Signmaster3 has become a complete business management system, from daily route planning to invoicing and credit control and even their interaction with each other through our online Signmaster3 forum – an open topic chat room developed to breed a stronger community amongst the network. Most importantly, all of these developments and advancements are implemented at no cost to our franchisees.
(7) Why did you franchise rather than growing organically?
Franchising has been an enormously successful route for us, and has enabled stable and sustainable growth to be achieved in a relatively short timescale. We require all our franchisees not only to invest financially in our business model, but also to invest personally, adopting our ethical approach to business, and ensuring the highest levels of quality and service are met at all times for all clients.
Building these partnerships has been the route to our success – this personal investment ensures everyone involved at Agency Express has the same drive and passion to succeed, and the same vested interest in the brand they represent.
(8) Name three key attributes you look for in your franchisees?
Our franchisees have come from a variety of backgrounds, from board members of blue chip companies to a warehouseman from Ikea, but they all share key traits that are a pre-requisite to joining the network:
Passion – Many skills can be taught, but passion for what you do is innate. We look for candidates who are passionate about being part of our franchise
Diligence – We have built our brand on excellence, and we expect the same diligence and “eye for detail” from our franchisees
Team spirit – Every member of the network must be a team player, and be happy to go the extra mile (sometimes literally!) for their compatriots.