Are Countrywide becoming the floundering Tesco’s of Estate Agency?

10 years ago – Tesco’s could do no wrong, the darling of the stock market, huge profits, they were invincible ..  but now, still huge – Tesco’s are not the force they once were. Tesco’s Senior executives were pushed out of the business which also suffered a culture change which was “not for the better”.

.. and that made me think, the of the possible similarities between what happened at Tesco’s and what appears to be happening now at Countrywide

For years, anyone who had dealings with Countrywide would come away with respect for the apparent clinical efficiency of its business model. One company, many brands. The senior management team had so much depth of experience .. both a mile wide and a mile deep. Countrywide played hard but fair with its staff, it played the estate agency game hard, had an open chequebook for acquisitions and the impact it has on UK estate agency over the last 30 years has been immense… in fact, one of their main brands is Bairstow Eves (BE) and everyone works for BE is righty proud of their nickname … ‘Ba$t*rd Thi*ves’

.. but over the last few years, big names such as Bob Scarff, Nick Dunning, James Poynor, Steve Hinshelwood and Peter Wallace have “left” Countrywide and on a separate note, now they are offering a dual estate agency package (online and High st).

.. all this rang alarm bells ..

… is Countrywide going through now what Tesco’s has gone through in the last five years?

Or is doing something revolutionary to save itself – to make itself 21st Century proof against the online/hybrid onslaught?

Is the Senior Management of Countrywide doing something insightful to take their 1,000+ branch estate agency into the 21st Century or are they running around like headless chickens, throwing out the £100k+ a year old guard Directors and panicking about online/hybrid agents and their ilk and offering an online package to counter the Purple-menaces?

Well its not for me to comment about people leaving, but to talk about a High Street agents offering Online packages .. that’s right up my street.

So Countrywide offering an Online package.. I actually heard they are doing quite well it, converting people who called them for the cheap fee online package into the High Street fee package … but word on the street says they have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds to market the ‘cheap’ online fees package (although I believe they are only piloting the dual package in a handful of areas in the UK with two or three small of their regional brands) … so of course you are going to get shed-loads of Free Vals if you spend hundreds of thousands of pounds in three very small pockets of the.

… and whilst we are talking about spending money, Purplebricks, they spend £1m a month on advertising  .. of course that is going to get you free vals .. loads of free vals … it could be said PB and Countrywide are buying the FV’s with their expensive advertising. Problem is – what happens when the money runs out?

One might ask if Countrywide became overconfident in the early to mid 2000’s, having such a huge network which in turn has led to overreach?

Has Countrywide increasingly found themselves in a no man’s land of estate agency. Have Countrywide become like the ‘Tesco’s’ of UK estate agency .. gods 10 years ago but they have lost their way in the last few years? Tesco’s got lost between the deep cost cutters such as Aldi and Lidl and the quality brands such as Waitrose, leaving it with a weaker, less distinctive offer, while also fighting off its near rivals Sainsbury, Asda and Morrisons… and I think Countrywide might have lost their way… thus could they be clutching at straws ditching the experienced Directors and offering the dual estate package?

.. or have they been very clever? As they offer the dual estate agency package approach and ditch layers of expensive management, are they protecting themselves against the new hybrid world, as they adopt, adapt and improve to counter the PB threat?

You see, Countrywide, though wounded, remains by far the UK’s biggest estate agent. But if, as a result of its travails, it closing of branches, the off loading of expense senior management, its new online offering … it means it is then reduced in size, the market opens up to some degree and we learn the lessons of its imperial overreach, that would be good for British Estate Agency as a whole.

When big goes bad, it hurts far more people. That is something we learned from the banking crisis. Mistakes get magnified and the blinkered, macho pursuit of growth and profits above all else distorts the business and the economy, and can end up cannibalising the very system on which it depends.

Instead of looking to return the Countrywide swagger, Alison Platt (CEO of Countrywide) should reflect on how empires often make their worst mistakes as they scrabble to avoid collapse.

Countrywide – The worst could be yet to come …. or the behemoth could just be on the cusp of even better things, going from strength to strength?  Only time will tell my friends.

Christopher Watkin

Other Blog Posts you might be interested in …

The Estate Agent Dinosaurs Who Deserve To Be Made Extinct

Purplebricks and Yopa – Should you be worried?

Should High St Estate Agents offer an Online Option?

Part 1 – [4 min VIDEO] – How to become a Property Guru

Christopher Watkin

I teach, guide, support, mentor, consult, counsel, partner many hundreds of UK Estate and Letting Agents in their quest to grow their estate and lettings agencies business. Old school techniques of touting, landlords wanted leaflets, ring us for a free valuation, we have sold this in your street leaflets don't work anymore. There are too many competitor agents .. meaning cheap fees are epidemic, overvaluing is almost a norm to get the stock and don’t even mention about the online/hybrid threat. So a few years ago, I set about looking around the UK and spotted that certain agents (not many mind you) in certain towns were still seen as the ‘go to person on property’, the person the newspaper editor rang up every week for a comment and I looked at what they did and they were doing some thing quite remarkable…. Only one thing but they were doing it so well .. and reaping the reward in terms of decent listings and decent fees, happy staff, decent sales pipeline and exchange income, managed lettings portfolios in the many hundreds .. but more importantly, they really enjoyed the job… they enjoyed getting up in the morning and people looked up to them Over 400 agents around the UK are on a mission to change the way our Estate and Lettings agency profession is perceived and looked upon, doing it town by town, city by city. I guide these 400 agents, teach them, mentor them and support them to be seen in a different light, to be seen as the ‘go to person for property’, actually be the ‘local property expert’ and prove it. Christopher Watkin 07950 147 572 christopher@christopherwatkin.co.uk

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