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Revolutionising Real Estate

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With Leanne Pilkington

Just before the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2007, the CEO of one of Australia’s largest and most successful companies, Greg Clarke from Lend Lease looked into his crystal ball and said, “It will be those companies that read the prevailing winds of change that will survive.”

Clarke’s words proved to be prophetic. We are in the middle of a seismic economic shift. Those companies that did not change their business to accommodate the Internet and smarter consumers and globalization are suffering as a consequence.

Globally, Nintendo, Nokia and Blackberry are fighting for survival. Closer to home, household names like Fairfax, Myers and David Jones are battling to come to grips with the new market conditions and savvier consumers. They may not make it and if they survive, it will be as shadows of their former selves.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Many companies saw that the economy and consumer was changing and set about transforming themselves, so that they could be ready to meet the newly engaged consumer.

Laing+Simmons, a leading boutique real estate franchise network in New South Wales and other major regional centres, was one such company.

A number of years ago, senior management at Laing+Simmons, sensed a revolutionary change in real estate, and charged Leanne Pilkington, the General Manager of Laing+Simmons, and her team, to start the process of making Laing+Simmons, ready for the new economy.

According to Leanne, Laing+Simmons have always been open to doing things differently. She explains, “We are committed to challenging the norm and we are always seeking new and innovative ways to deliver a premium range of services to our customers.” Laing+Simmons, therefore had the mindset for change.

Watching titans of industry flailing around her, failing to grasp the new collaborative, savvy consumer, Leanne could see that Laing+Simmons had to smarten up and transform their business.

Leanne says, “Today’s market is much more sophisticated than previously with a more educated consumer and more educated sales people.” To survive in this market, sales people have to be smarter than the consumer, and they have to offer more than the Internet.

Leanne continues, “With the internet, consumers can now have access to information that used to be provided by the sales person. They can find their own RPA data for instance so the agent’s role has now changed; their ability to negotiate is now more important and training agents to have better negotiation skills is essential.”

This urge for change, coincided with new ownership. As the group was undergoing the first step in reorienting the business, a rebranding process, Laing+Simmons was bought by the IPG group in May 2012. New owners proved to be an impetus for significant change and their vision and resources meant Laing+Simmons were able to deliver far more than Leanne first envisaged. So now in 2014, Laing+Simmons is truly ready to trade in the new environment.

The million-dollar question therefore - is what changes did Laing+Simmons undergo?
To stay ahead Laing+Simmons:
rebranded;
reconceptualised their relationships with their partners;
centralized their services and;
located all of their resources - their business capital and expertise into one easily available application.

Leanne says that the focus was on consolidation - not growth. Leanne says, says, “Looking after the interests of franchisees was of primary importance.”

To stay in the game of real estate and keep ahead, Laing+Simmons innovated. They:

Rebranded

Before IPG bought Laing+Simmons the company was undergoing a rebranding process. Leanne says, “Our old brand was looking tired and dated and was a barrier to competing with other brands.” Unlike many other businesses, the rebranding occurred from the outside in. Leanne says, “The look and feel created first – a back to front process but one that gained much enthusiasm from the franchisees and franchisees were engaged in the process.”

As part of the rebranding and new orientation of the company, the Laing+Simmons website was also completely redeveloped with great success.

Reconceptualised their relationships with their partners

Once they had rebranded, Leanne and her team examined the relationship between Laing+Simmons and their franchisees. This critical business relationship was reconceptualised as a partnership. The needs of their partners and their future success now drives the business. Leanne believes that collaboration is and will be integral to Laing+Simmons’s future success.

She explains, “Franchising has changed significantly in the time that I’ve been at Laing & Simmons, and all franchisors need to really take a good look at what they’re offering their business owners. The new Laing & Simmons is a modern business and we don’t just see it as a franchise – we see it as a partnership model. We’re all in partnership together.”

Laing+Simmons focus their operations on what franchisees need for now and into the future – they have changed the way they provide their services and what they provide to best suit their business partners.

Offered value to partners

Once the nature of the relationship between Laing+Simmons and their partners was understood, Leanne and her team looked at how they could offer support to their partners. They realised that the franchisor possesses a collective wisdom and can shoulder the load, offer centralized services and business capital that then enables the business partners to do what they do best – sell real estate.

Leanne explains, “My role at Laing & Simmons is all about is rebuilding the brand, focusing on the brand - the message that actually stays with the consumers. So that allows our business owners, the franchisees of Laing & Simmons, to focus on the business of building their own agencies and listing and selling real estate, because most business owners just don’t have the time to focus on the broader picture of brand.”

She continues, “I’ve got the access to the very best talent, the designers, the advisers, the coaches – all of the people that I need to get this job done. So what that means is we can provide our agents with new tools, the very best agent marketing, fantastic technology – everything that they need to get the job done.”

Some of the most useful services that Laing & Simmons offer their business partners are in the areas of recruitment and the professional development of staff.

Leanne says, “Recruiting is one of the issues that business owners struggle with, and so we have developed a recruiting and on-boarding program to take the pain and the time out of that process for our business owners. We will bring them in-house, we will provide the trainer and deliver the system. We’ve captured the very best video and audio, which allows our business owners to step people through the process. We’ve chosen to use national talent, some of the very best voices, the best agents in the country, to be part of our system.”

Laing & Simmons have a recruitment management system that has taken the difficult task of recruiting sales staff away from the business owner. Leanne says, “We have just introduced this new recruitment and onboarding system and the franchisees are very excited.”

The recruitment process is:
1. The HR people in Canberra advertise for candidates, phone screen them and conduct behavioural and personality testing.
2. Then Stan Platis (from IPG) personally conducts a phone interview with the shortlist.
3. They then have to go through an onboarding program to ensure they are suited to the industry.
4. Leanne does a face to face interview with the final candidates and during this considers who is the best fit for the franchisee.

They have also delivered an innovative onboarding system with extensive training for the new recruits and they recruit sales people who have no previous experience in the industry. Leanne says, “This model has been very successful for IPG which has a staff retention level of over 10 years compared to the industry average of 2.5 years.”

In addition, Laing & Simmons also offers help for staff to cross train. Leanne says, “Traditionally, our industry doesn’t cross-train very well, but this framework actually allows the receptionist to see what it takes to become a property manager. Property managers are able to have leadership aspirations and understand what it takes to be a business leader. We see the future in real estate in centralised services, and there’s enormous value that can be added into your business without any extra cost or any extra staff from your perspective. And we feel, as a brand, that it’s our job to bring that value.”

To ensure that business partners are media literate and able to engage well with social media, Laing & Simmons also offer training and provide content that is essential in this new economy. Leanne says, “Social media training has been provided to franchisees and they are provided with content from Head Office such as Tuesday Trivia and Monday Mansions to use in locally driven marketing.” Leanne adds that “Staying ahead of technological change has high focus at Laing+Simmons.”

Developed the revolutionary Laing+Simmons App

Leanne had a dream of developing a turnkey solution for franchisees but she never envisaged the App that they ultimately developed which houses all of the information a sales person needs to communicate with a client. Information on the App is easy to find, it has intuitive navigation and easy referencing.

Leanne explains, “The days of the intranet site that nobody visits are over. Our people today need instant accessibility to the information that they require, whether it be letters, training, marketing material. Whatever it is that they need, they need it quickly, which is why we have moved to our own app as a knowledge bank. Everything is available at the touch of a button when they need it, even if they’re on the road. It’s scrollable, it’s searchable; everything that they need - they can get from their mobile device”.

Leanne says, “Our people can even watch a video snack of a listing presentation sitting in their car just prior to going in and performing that listing presentation. My team and I have literally spent thousands of hours proofing videos, audios, letters, to make sure everything is perfect, because we know that the agents literally just don’t have time to do that.”

“For example, a sales person may be about to go into a pre-listing presentation and could quickly run through a video on their smartphone refreshing their memory on how to present. It includes standard letters, Laing & Simmons branded collateral, reports, DLs, industry regulations and legislation and more. Content is continually refreshed including ideas from other people in the industry – examples of what other real estate professionals are developing and using. It also contains Laing & Simmons Visual Business Framework which essentially provides all the systems for operating as a franchisee”.

Importantly the App, “assists franchisees to implement their own marketing in the digital space by providing rich content that they are able to use for social media, blogs and eNewsletters. Each month there are 25 new articles provided that the franchisees can use as a base for locally developed stories and these articles are delivered to their website. The stories are categorised and include property management and sales focused topics”.

In the future, Leanne believes that they will focus more and more on providing video tools to franchisees too.

Capitalism and globalisation can be cruel beasts. Just ask anyone who works in the car industry in Australia. However, capitalism also rewards the innovative – those companies who look out to the horizon and see what is coming and change accordingly. Laing+Simmons looked out to the horizon and started the revolution. The future is here.

Quotes

We are committed to challenging the norm.

Today’s market is much more sophisticated than previously with a more educated consumer and more educated sales people.

We’re all in partnership together.

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