A post-Christmas treat this week, as I carry out a Q & A with one of the leading figures in property, Countrywide’s Sam Tyrer.
Sam joined Countrywide in September 2015 after many years in the retail sector with Dixons Carphone and record store giant HMV.
Her current title is Managing Director, Retail & London, with a job spec of delivering the “transformation of Countrywide’s sales and lettings business across the UK”.
So, without further ado, I think it’s time for those questions...
How have you enjoyed your time in the property industry so far?
It's an exciting time to be in the sector and I'm enjoying the experience immensely.
Buying a home is hands down one of the most important decisions that people will make during their lifetime. And whether you’re buying or letting, it can be a complex transaction. My teams do their best to make this process as seamless as possible.
I'm incredibly fortunate to be supported by an amazing group of people. I'm proud and inspired by their commitment to go out of their way to help the people that choose us to help them buy, sell, or lease their property; or to rent a property through us.
We've accomplished a lot over the last 12 months, and have delivered some incredible achievements in a tough market; we are winning market share across sales and lettings and building the model that will become the future of our business.
What is your approach to 'PropTech' and what are some of your favourite PropTech solutions?
There are some excellent examples of new technology in the property sector that are making life easier for consumers.
Fixflo is a very good example. It is a clever tenant reporting app which provides a significantly better, more convenient way for a tenant to report maintenance problems. We successfully launched the Fixflo app to our lettings customers in August 2016 and the feedback so far has been very positive from both landlords and tenants who appreciate the improved communication, speed and control.
Moreover, ValPal is another example of simple tech that does a great job of converting web traffic into vendor and landlord leads.
It was recently confirmed that you're closing 59 branches. What happens to the agents working in these offices?
Following consultation with colleagues, we made the decision to close some branches. This was part of our ongoing ‘Building our Future’ strategy, which focuses on having the right people in the right places and the branch network we need to meet our customers’ needs, as well as for future growth.
We've worked hard to redeploy colleagues into other locations.
What do you really mean by the phrase 'retail' and how do you see this style of thinking benefitting the estate and letting agency industry?
It’s about listening to our customers and giving them what they want in a way that works for them. It’s also about being a responsive business in a changing industry where people are telling us they want more information, more services, more choice and more convenience.
For example, last year we invested in research to get a better understanding of our customers and on the back of that, in June, we launched our new multichannel pilot which combines the traditional strength of local expertise and trusted estate agency with the control and convenience of an online system.
Sellers can track the progress of their property or sale online, using a range of online tools that we’ve developed in-house. It gives people more flexibility and control over the process and they can check online from the comfort of their home at a time that is convenient for them.
Nothing so unusual in an online selling system, you might say – but under our plan, sellers won’t lose out financially if they decide they want to switch to the full in-branch service at a later stage.
The industry has evolved, and with it our customers’ needs. So we’ve adapted, too. Countrywide’s strength is that we are a nationwide business with strong expertise in branch as well as a wide portfolio of increasing services online and in financial services and B2B.
We’re making it easier for people to access all of the services they might need from us - whether you’re a tenant, landlord, or you’re buying or selling a home – in one place, be that in branch or online.
Most industries adapt to grow over time.
How would you describe the success or otherwise of this hybrid service trial? When will you be rolling it out across the county?
We’re delighted with the results of the multichannel pilot, which has been live now for six months.
We have seen strong results across the key metrics and we are rolling the proposition out across our UK brands.
You ruled out further acquisitions in the summer. Will Countrywide be re-entering the expansion market next year?
In April last year Countrywide acquired Finders Keepers, the very successful family lettings agency in Oxford. The business has an outstanding reputation in the city and surrounding region.
In addition, we purchased Mortgage Bureau, which has a team of very successful professional consultants and access to a broad spectrum of the UK’s mortgage market.
These businesses and our other acquisitions help accelerate our growth and strategy. However, going forward we will be focused on more organic growth - providing a better service to customers with more efficiency through our existing branch network and doing what we do, better.
What do you regard as your biggest achievement since joining Countrywide?
Countrywide has been pursuing a bold strategy that gives us greater resilience to navigate the current and foreseeable market. There have been many successes, but top amongst them are launching our multichannel pilot, seeing fantastic results and then building the plan to roll it out across our brands.
Completing our largest ever investment in colleague training has been a big deal, our people are such a large part of the future of Countrywide and we know our colleagues are and will remain core to agency.
Bringing our sales and lettings businesses so much closer together in the way they work has paid dividends for our customers and the business. Getting really focused on our customers has also paid off as is shown by our growth in market share of listings and exchanges for both sales and lettings.
Great answers, Sam. Some really excellent insights there.
Before I go, time to wish everyone a happy and successful (but hopefully less tumultuous) 2017.
Remember, dreams are only dreams until you wake up and make them real. Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty more pearls of wisdom (nicked from Google, admittedly) like that to come this year!
Until next time…
*Nat Daniels is the Chief Executive Officer of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today