It’s the most obvious visual medium high street agents have at their disposal, and for many decades has been absolutely pivotal for marketing, branding, advertising and luring in customers passing by.
We’ve all seen those time-honoured images of people peering in to an agency’s shopfront, but do agency windows still hold as much importance in a modern, highly digital world? Do they still hold a purpose? Are they still as important in an era where the majority of people start their property searches online and the high street is suffering a downturn (albeit with agents bucking this trend) and a possible threat to its very existence?
To discuss what makes for a great estate agency shopfront and what value they hold in an increasingly tech-obsessed world, I got in touch with two experts in the field – Harry Simons, Partner at MPL Interiors, and Jon Edwards, Managing Director at Excite Interiors – for a quick Q&A.
What is the single most important feature of an estate agent window display?
Harry Simons: This changes in line with the property market. At the moment, the emphasis is on transparency, with an uncluttered window allowing for the general public to see into an office. This reinforces the point that high street agents have a tangible presence in communities and are there in person during the moving process. In contrast, a more buoyant market calls for an increase in display pockets so that stock can be showcased.
Jon Edwards: Display of property details while allowing great vision lines into the office! Generally the public don’t like entering spaces into which they can’t see.
Are estate agency windows still as important as they were?
HS: Windows are an important branding tool that can be seen 24 hours a day and they probably surpass any online presence in terms of local area visibility. There’s a certain degree of ‘digital blindness’ developing as we become saturated by online content, so an agent’s window is a great customer engagement platform that can’t be deleted or scrolled past.
JE: Yes, like any business on the high street, it is the window dressing that identifies what type of business it is and helps promote it to a certain demographic.
What features are most likely to attract passers-by?
HS: Moving images catch the eye and agents using street-facing LCD screens or digital property displays that rotate through images will really stand out, especially after dark.
JE: Again good lighting, and large clear attractive photographs. Text other than price is almost irrelevant. Once interest is excited then it encourages action and opportunity for the estate agent.
Should the window display be bright and colourful or more subtle and minimalist?
HS: Standing out doesn’t necessarily mean being brash. By far the most effective way of generating interest is by using clever lighting to highlight whatever is being displayed in the window. This could be LED display pockets, overhead spotlights or even on-trend naked light bulbs.
What’s equally as important is refreshing a window display so there’s regularly something different to see. One of the easiest ways to do this is by applying customized vinyl decals that can be easily ordered and swapped in line with marketing messages, property trends or even seasons.
JE: The window display needs to be attractive and eye-catching, but shouldn’t overwhelm the shopfront. The display should lead clients into the office and present it as a welcoming, professional, safe place to visit.
With most people now starting their property search online, should agents still be prioritising a window display?
HS: Granted, many moves are premeditated but window displays play a huge part in planting the moving seed. When you have offices in key locations – high traffic routes, by bus stops or at pedestrian crossings – you have the ability to showcase your brand and properties to a huge number of people whose head just might be turned. In fact, a large percentage of walk-in custom can be attributed to something someone has seen in the window.
A window display is an almost comforting presence as it’s attached to a physical branch and real people. A window shows an agency is selling houses, taking on new instructions and continuing trading in a local community.
JE: Today a high street office is more about attracting potential vendors than a place for buyers to browse. Vendors are looking for an attractive, professional, established and trustworthy firm to sell their most valuable asset. The office and its displays create brand awareness
With the rise in serviced offices of late, how can agencies make this space their own? Do you think serviced offices/hubs are the future?
HS: There are dangers attached to disappearing from the high street altogether so a sensible step for agents looking to consolidate their physical presence is to move support staff to a central serviced office – admin, finance, HR and property management – and retain a select number of high street branches. We have already helped a number of agents create a ‘super office’ in a particular region, with the closure of smaller, loss-leading satellite offices facilitating the opening of one all-singing, all-dancing mega branch for an ‘all under one roof’ experience.
Serviced offices often come with modification and decoration restrictions, so it can be hard to infuse the space with branding. We recommend replicating an in-branch interior design theme for brand consistency by way of personalised office furniture, corporate colour matched accessories and an arrangement of space that mimics a high Street office as much as possible, especially if clients still need to visit the office to sign paperwork or collect keys.
Achieving brand impact will involve smart space planning to create recognisable branch components, such as a reception, a soft-seating waiting area and a private office for more sensitive conversations.
JE: Except for the window displays, the requirements for fitting out a hub office is much the same as it is for fitting out a high street premises. The goal is still to create an inspirational environment to inspire and retain staff and a comfortable place for clients to visit. Hubs have a place in estate agency for housing back office staff, but without a high street office the market presence is diluted.
Thanks for the insightful answers, guys!
Operating in the same field, but offering something a bit different, is Intouch Display – who are ‘through glass touch screen specialists’, with touch screen display systems designed specifically for estate agents.
Founded in October 2012, and based in the Somerset market town of Highbridge, it allows agents to display their entire property portfolio in their window for people to view 24/7. The interactive screens – which include internal and external touch screens, through glass touch screens, internal lecterns and internal tables - also enable customers to register their details, request a viewing or book a market appraisal at any time of the day and night.
Brightness is prioritised at all times, with the ability for touch screens to be seen even in bright sunlight. This is especially useful given the company’s operations in southern Spain, where the touch screens have apparently gone down a treat.
An app appearing on the App Store is set to be launching in a matter of weeks, which will enhance the company’s reach and appeal more than ever before.
Hundreds of agents across the UK use the touch screens, and with the way the world (and the high street) is going there is every chance no shop window touch screens could become more commonplace in the years to come.
Before I go, quick shout out to The ESTAS Conveyancing Awards 2018, where big Phil Spencer was once again handing out the gongs. Good night, as ever, as the pics below attest to.
Until next time…
*Nat Daniels is the Chief Executive Officer of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.