VTUK: An Inside Perspective (A Q and A with Managing Director, Peter Grant)
It’s VTUK’s 25th birthday, initially what made you, Edwin Godden and Matthew Bowden go into the property software industry?
‘That’s an interesting question. The first product we launched was a system that checked people’s bank accounts for overcharging, this was called Bank Check. This proved ever so popular, as it was launched during the first big recession. Barclays bank then actually bought our system, to check its own overcharging, so that, effectively left us without a product. From then on, a friend of mine, who owned an agency down in London, in Regents Street, explained to us how he needed a piece of software that actually could manage a letting agency. This then led us to produce a piece of software called Pro Track (Property Tracker). About 2 months later we then produced an upgrade, which was version 2. I actually thought that would be it, from a property software point of view. Since then, we’ve released 1.2 million lines of code and a total of 136 upgrades and are still going’.
VTUK have a variety of solutions, used to help property professionals over the last 25 years. As there are many solutions VTUK provide, could you outline each one and the benefits they provide?
‘Yes, absolutely. Over time we’ve actually had a variety of different products, which haven’t always focused on the property industry. We’ve had products for the plastic moulding industry, for training courses, solicitors, mail order handling and many more. It was only in 2002, we decided to sell off all of the other sections of VTUK and focus just on the property market. In doing that, we wanted to create something that wasn’t just a piece of software, but something that actually provided all of the tools that property professionals needed, to drive their business forward, in whatever the market conditions. So that’s when we focused on lettings and management, estate agency, providing the client portal and automation, in line with the four key drivers of the business. We feel the four key drivers come first as they will examine where the business wants to go, how it can be protected, how it insures client and supplier relationships, makes as much profit as possible and of course, how the business grows. That’s exactly what our four solutions do.’
Gemini, Aquarius, Scorpio, Taurus and Pisces. Why are all of VTUK’s solutions named after star signs?
‘In 1989, the first software we introduced was something called Pro Track (Property Tracker) and we also had Sales Track which was the estate agency system. In 1996, we introduced the first ever estate agency automation. We wanted to show how our solutions handled double the amount of work. The way we did this, was through a marketing campaign based around twins. These twins were obviously Gemini, so the product was renamed being an amalgam of the two. In 1996, we actually had people looking under the table to see if we had someone sitting under there texting, because the concept of automation and what it could do, was so far in advance of where people were. In 2002, PWC and KPMG, released a whitepaper that detailed that business automation, process management and management by exception would actually be the future of technology. At that point people stated to catch on again, that our automation was something worth having. By then, we’d already given up selling it, so then we re-introduced the automation and had to give it a different name, hence in became Taurus, taking the bulls by the horns of business, which then led to all of our star signs.’
Out of all of VTUK’s solutions, what would you say is your favourite?
‘I do like Gemini, I have to say, it’s very cool. For letting and management we have been the industry leader for 25 years and I suppose it like your first born child. However, in the last 12 months we’ve seen a market change and in actual fact, the different solutions aren’t being bought separately they’re being bought together. We’re actually thinking of having a rebrand, and naming all our products under one hub, which will be ‘’Anthology’’, representing a collection of the greatest works of our time. This will actually substantially change our branding and deliver the solution for the current market conditions. This is a completely holistic and synergist approach between sales, letting and management, automation and of course total client involvement, 24/7 data on demand.’
On VTUK’s website, you state ‘come on in and discover the difference’. What makes VTUK different from any other software supplier?
‘A multiple things is the answer to that. I think the two things that stand out, are firstly our agility, the way we pre-empt things that are happening in the industry and the way we react to changes in the industry. The second one would be our service, what actually happens when you become a client at VTUK. That actually comes through straight away, when you visit our website, it’s not immediately apparent how to buy the software but when you become a client of VTUK you’ll be immediately driven into the family hub. Where we look after suppliers for you, your training and the service you receive, as well as the way your business is actually being challenged or is growing.’
You recently held a roundtable debate, on the topic ‘online vs traditional’ agents. What would you say is your overall opinion on the debate?
‘Well the debate was very interesting and it was the sixth in the series of roundtable debates to be held. What became clear to me through the discussions was that the ‘’online agents’’, as they call themselves are becoming mature, which means they are changing their model and are having to increase their pricing. However, the traditional agents are feeling threatened by the ability of online agents to respond 24/7. So what we wanted to do was combine the two, by which I mean the better quality service of having a high street agent who knows the person, who knows the area, who knows the property in that area, and can deliver real service of selling your most valuable asset. As well as incorporating, the functions of online, which are, that you can communicate totally 24/7 and also have a real interaction with your clients. So for us, an online will only ever be an online agent, whereas a traditional agent in the high street or certainly with a local presence does have the ability through a client portal to deliver everything an online agent can.’
Do you have any regrets or do you feel you could have done something differently throughout VTUK’s 25 years?
‘Yes for sure, regrets is probably a word too strong, because everything we’ve done has brought us to the point where we are now. It’s either taught us to be better or has led us to be where we are now, and by reacting to any mistakes we have made we have become stronger. I wouldn’t say there are any regrets. I always think if you don’t make mistakes then you’re not making much at all.’
What future developments are VTUK working on, if so can you revel them?
‘Yes, okay, I can allude to them, but I cannot give you a lot of specifics. Initially, what we’re looking at is the way in which companies grow. So by bringing together an anthology of all our products and the environment that it creates, this allows each agent to focus on marketing, on growing their business and increasing the value of their business. We feel a lot of this will be done online through the use of big data, and also with interaction pre-market instructions with vendors and also landlords. So what we’re doing is creating portals that will actually enable that to be facilitated, in other words to generate leads for our clients. Once these leads are generated, we’re then looking at how we can create quite a strong marketing group between all our 4,500 branches that use the software to work together and become stronger together. So that’s actually the future of VTUK.’
Thank you for your time, Peter. Do you have anything else you would like to add?
‘All I’d like to add, over the 25 years that we’ve worked here, I’ve worked with some tremendous people and I think the team here at VTUK is probably the strongest we’ve ever had. Above all, I’d like to thank all our clients. We’ve got a 98.7% client retention rate and as I’ve said some of the clients we’ve got have been with us for the whole 25 years and they’ve made a very enjoyable 25 years.’
Founded in 1989, VTUK is the UK’s leading independent property software company. Our award-winning software, widely acknowledged as setting the industry standard, is used by agents nationwide. Our products are bespoke, with specific software solutions for each distinct group of property professionals, including lettings and management agents, estate agents, councils, housing associations and many more.
Give us a call FREEPHONE 0800 3280460 or visit www.VTUK.com to find out how we can assist your business.