Difference should be celebrated. But in our industry it rarely is. I was on the board of a large corporate where the CEO published a set of “image guidelines”, which included that there must be no overt hairstyles and no tattoos on display.
“Wow!’ I thought, “am I at boarding school?” As a board, we were about to turn all employees into cookie cutter robots and take away any difference, any style, any personality and any creativity from the most important aspect of the business- our people.
It was a depressing and corrosive process and it led me to walk away from that company to launch Mr and Mrs Clarke.
I promised that we would be different and that we would celebrate the unique - I am proud that when I look at the company today, I have been successful in that.
Over the last five years, estate agency has been part of playground industry bickering, where corporate bosses have bashed online agencies, online agencies have ruffled feathers of the old guard with aggressive marketing and everyone has been left looking the same.
It’s been undignified and it has eroded fees for the mainstream agent. What we are now seeing is the revolution of the ‘niche agent’ - great estate agents freeing themselves from the shackles imposed on them by pinstriped fat cats, and working with companies that support them.
Brokerages like Mr and Mr Clarke, Agents & Homes, Harding Green and Hortons have been working away for the past few years and have developed great and very different platforms for people to join.
Agents can run their own business with one of these companies and provide clients and customers with a personal and unique service.
“But what’s niche in estate agency? Surely all estate agents just sell properties.” Niche agencies are defined by something they do differently.
It may be the agent who wears a t-shirt and advertises the lifestyle of the unique homes he sells rather than price per square foot. It maybe the agent who styles every home and creates advertising worthy of an interior design magazine.
It maybe the agent who just sells £1million+ country homes or the agent who just represents homes in a small postcode. These people are good at what they do and their clients love being treated as VIPs instead of KPIs.
The forward thinking businesses and people who focus on what they are great at will do better than if they try to be a jack of all trades.
At Mr and Mrs Clarke, we launched with the mantra of selling lovely homes with beautiful marketing. We have seen a certain type of client that comes to us because they like our style and they want to work with our brand and our team.
But we not the right fit for everyone - if a seller wants to get their house on the market ASAP, not have professional photography and are only concerned about paying under 1%, then they are not for us and we are not for them.
Our self-employed Partners embrace the uniqueness of the Mr and Mrs Clarke brand and are flourishing in their local areas.
In a world that is changing so rapidly, I think it will be the High Street agencies who want to sell every property in their town in the same way they did in the 1980s who will suffer.
We are seeing offices close, businesses folding and the industry changing. But if you are someone who wants to embrace change, who believes unique is positive, is great at the job and who has an overt hairstyle and tattoos - then there is a home for you in this industry.
*Paul Clarke is Founder and CEO of Mr and Mrs Clarke