Countrywide’s former senior management rejected an invitation to buy 10 per cent of eMoov for £100,000 five years ago, according to the online agency.
“To think that in 2011 I offered Bob Scarff, then managing director of Countrywide, 10 per cent of eMoov for £100,000. That may well prove to be their very own Blockbuster moment” says Russell Quirk, eMoov’s founder and chief executive.
His reference was to the US video rental firm’s decision 16 years ago not to buy streaming company Netflix - then a fledgling firm experimenting with new technology - for a snip.
Quirk reveals the approach to sell part of eMoov - and the rebuff he received - in an article on networking site LinkedIn. In the piece, he describes the recent decisions by Countrywide to close 59 branches and substantially rebrand its London offices as “the disintegration of the UK’s largest estate agent.”
“What Countrywide and its insane multiple of brands are experiencing was inevitable as of a while back” he claims, describing the group’s appearance in recent years as being “a bloated organisation with less than optimal customer service and an ever increasing push for higher fees at the expense of the consumer.”
But he is equally critical of the steps taken by Countrywide’s new management in a series of reforms announced piecemeal over the past 18 months.
“Countrywide's initial answer to the 'Amazonificaton' of the estate agency industry was to kick their experienced team members out on the street, badge themselves as some kind of 'retail' organisation (they are not) and to reorganise the UK into labelled zones as if such re-ordering would in itself make them a more efficient proposition or indeed a more attractive one toward the public” writes Quirk.
He then reveals eMoov’s more recent dealings with Countrywide.
“I have twice met with Countrywide executives to extoll the virtues of the digital model and, save for shaking them by the lapels to make them understand it and indeed the inevitability of its growth, have been met with mere apathy and scepticism both times.
“My suggestion to them was that Countrywide should invest in eMoov to then get the inside track on our customer focused technology platform (built and optimised ages ago now), the cost reduction and customer empowerment that such technology allows; our rather unique approach to marketing and, obviously, owning a chunk of a business that has now gone on to grow from a £1m valuation to very arguably £40m to £50m now (our valuation in September 2015 when we raised £2.6m via Crowdcube was £21.6m).”
Now - as revealed earlier this year on Estate Agent Today - Countrywide has committed to offering a pared-down hybrid sales and lettings service from a quarter of its surviving network by the end of 2016.
Quirk believes this will not cut the mustard in an increasingly digital-friendly customer base.
“What [Countrywide chief executive Alison Platt] has instigated by ignoring us and rolling out a misconceived low cost option alongside traditional brands is no more than an accelerated cannibalisation of her shareholders' business and which will speed up further as we now hear that her hybrid 'platform only, no people' model is to be expanded across more branches.
“To use a Titanic-inspired analogy, today's 59 office closures are not only the tip of the iceberg but an iceberg that the ship itself is navigating ever closer to” concludes Quirk.