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Passing the baton from one generation to another

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with Genevieve & Suzannah Toop

The world’s oldest hotel is Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan. Founded in 705 A.D., the Japanese hot spring hotel has been in business for an incredible 1,300 years. That’s right – 1,300 years. There have been 52 generations of successive ownership within the same family.

Three vital principles have ensured the hotel’s longevity as a family run business.

They are:

  1. Put your employees first, ahead of growth and shareholders.
  2. Be stable and flexible.
  3. Dedicate yourself to service – seek to create intergenerational patronage.

While South Australia’s Toop&Toop has a long way to go before reaching 1,300 years in business, it nevertheless is on its way.
Toop&Toop is the largest independently owned agency in South Australia and operates out of six offices across metropolitan Adelaide and the Fleurieu Peninsula. It is the number one most viewed agency on realestate.com.au. The company specialise in the mid to high-end premium real estate in South Australia and focus on a core area. Toop&Toop have the top market share for those 100 suburbs in their core area and work in a total of 200 suburbs.

In the last couple of years, South Australia’s premier family-run real estate agency has begun the process of intergenerational change. The baton has been passed from the legendary Anthony and Sylvia Toop to their highly accomplished daughters, Genevieve Toop and Susannah Toop.

Knowing that their brand is their business, the family is very protective of their name and its legacy, just like the family that run the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan.

Genevieve explains, “We are not just going to bring anybody onboard. We want to see their results, we want to see their fit with our culture. This is such a big thing for us because it is our brand; it is our name on the line. If we send somebody out to a client, I need to be 110% sure they are exactly what we want Toop&Toop to look and feel and talk like and that they will provide that service that we would provide ourselves if we were going to that client’s home. I think with the family business, this is a very different culture to a lot of franchises or different types of models out there.”

Just like the Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan hotel, three core principles guide their operation. They:

  1. Put their employees first
  2. Maintain a stable operation yet staying on the threshold of innovation and
  3. Dedicate themselves to servicing to their clients.

Genevieve is the Head of Sales and Marketing while Susannah helms the Property Management division. The sisters explain how their approach will ensure the survival of the business from one generation to another.

1. Looking after their staff

Staff turnover is a major issue in the real estate industry. Committed to retaining great staff, Toop&Toop prioritise their staff’s health and emotional needs. Recently a wellness centre was developed in their Toop&Toop Norwood office. Genevieve explains, “We’ve got a big gym at the back of our village and a fulltime wellness center manager. He’s fulltime at Toop&Toop, three classes a day, and he’s there for our whole team anytime they need him to talk about their health, diet, stress levels and he’s also a masseuse as well.”

Genevieve says that since the centre has opened, staff’s stress levels are better and they are actually performing so much more. She says, “They are a lot happier, they are less stressed, and they are really focused on what their goals are.”

Susannah adds, “I think the wellness centre has been great across all areas of the business and I know in particular in property management I’ve seen first hand the benefits.”

Property management is fast-paced and can be quite stressful. Susannah says, “Staff can go to a class at 12 o’clock, and it might be pilates, it might be yoga or it might be boxing, and they can just have a break from it. Then they’ve said to me how much better they feel in the afternoon. Their mind has had a break and then they come back feeling refreshed for the afternoon.”

The wellness centre has turned out to be fantastic for the business as a whole. It makes positivity infectious and brings both parts of the business together as one because the Property Managers and Sales People exercise together with each other and without realising it, start to share knowledge and experiences which in turn, breaks down the artificial barriers that can exist between the two divisions. Genevieve says, “All of them come together for exercise which is a really healthy way to catch up but also what happens is that they share knowledge which has been phenomenal.”

2. Blending stability and innovation

The Toop sisters are also committed to hanging on to their corporate wisdom gained over many years and being at the forefront of innovation. They value experience. Genevieve says that they have some iconic agents who have won sales awards time and time again. These agents know what they are doing so they are not interested in changing them. What they seek to do is blend that experience with innovation. Genevieve says, “We have a forum once a month and our younger sales team just go around the room and see how they are finding everything. We bring in one of our senior team to come and talk on a topic that right now is really important to them.” This kind of knowledge sharing is very powerful and similarly, the younger staff share with the older staff, ways to harness the power of technology

But while Toop&Toop value experience, they also want to take the company to the next level and stay ahead of the curve to benefit their clients. They are not interested in innovation for innovation’s sake. Management guru, Jim Collins believes, “ We cannot predict the future. But we can create it. Who wins are not the companies that innovate per se. If you look at the companies that really win, they took a few of the really solid innovations and made them really big. And the really great ones manage for the quarter-century.” They are interested in innovation that will bring real benefits.

Toop&Toop have a team of five IT developers looking at ways IT can provide innovative and unique solutions to eliminate frustration and provide better outcomes for staff and clients. Susannah says, “In property management, our biggest focus at the moment is to create efficiencies in our business through IT products or automated systems that don’t need paper.” They are currently developing a product around maintenance to improve its delivery. Susannah says, “The aim of it is that often property managers feel like a piggy in the middle. You are trying to organise a tenant’ you are trying to organize a tradesperson. If a tradesperson doesn’t turn up or the tenant is 10 minutes late and they miss each other, then we are the bad guys.”

Susannah continues, “That kind of frustration is where this innovation has stemmed from and I guess that’s where I view my role as head of the property management business in that wherever I hear a frustration, I’ll say, ‘Well guys, we’ll pack it and I’ll come and look about how we can improve it’.”

Focus on the customer

Finally at Toop&Toop, the customer is king. When a customer engages with them, they are not just property management clients or sales clients - they are clients of Toop&Toop. Susannah says, “You should have the exact same experience whether you are on either side of the business and whether that’s the look and feel of the marketing, whether that’s the level of service, whether that’s the level of the professionalism, each and every part of the business is at that same standard.”

The company has been at the forefront of developing social media and producing their own TV content and breaking it down into understandable chunks to suit the client. With their unique skill set, Susannah also believes they offer an exceptional service to clients. Susannah says, “I think that if we can add value and start having more quality compensations around investment with our clients, they are going to have huge amount of value that’s just never been seen before in this space. I think that cleaning gutters or fixing hot water systems - that’s a given, that should be a stock standard. What we are looking to do at Toop&Toop is to say, ‘Well, what else can we add in and how can we improve things on the efficiency front so that we’ve got more time to have this conversation with our clients?’. Bring them in, have a chat and really go to that next level with the value add and not just be flat out fixing gutters or changing tap washers.”

The Toop family know what they have to do to ensure that the business thrives for another twenty five years. Instinctively, they know that to thrive they must value the people they employ and the people they provide services to and blend experience and the moment.

Launched in 1985, Anthony Toop began his real estate company from his home in Toorak Gardens with his wife Sylvia. An iconic company in the Australian real estate industry, Toop&Toop has seven offices across South Australia with over 120 staff. Genevieve and Susanna Toop have grown up in real estate. Once they finished university, they both fled the nest and gained invaluable interstate and global experience. When Anthony became seriously ill, the girls returned to Adelaide and the transition began. Genevieve explains, “We have a pretty flat structure at Toop&Toop so Susanna and I have sort of split the business down to our key strengths and then we will always consult with Anthony and Sylvia. They are still very much in the business. They are stepping more and more back but if we are not sure about something, we will consult them, find out what they would do.”

Genevieve - Sales and marketing

After university, Genevieve worked with Toop&Toop for two years and then headed off to the UK where she worked in advertising and sponsorship for the The Institute of Chartered Accountants and in real estate in London in a deregulated and declining market before returning to South Australia. She says when she was in the UK, “I was there two weeks and met with a principal of a company who wanted me to start straight away. The market was declining and the purchasers were just pulling out left, right, and centre. It was a very interesting market to be in; I wasn’t necessarily learning anything new - I was teaching them a lot, which was really exciting because Australia has got a great real estate industry.”

Susannah - Property Management

Susannah completed a law and commerce degree and then headed off to Sydney to work as a property analyst for I&P Capital in their property funds management team where she gained commercial experience, reported to the fund manager and examined rental returns on building. She too returned home with invaluable experience and now heads the property management department with 2,000 property managements with 35 direct managements. Susannah says, “Investors can really benefit from the principles of what I learned over there in Sydney. There are definitely some principles in the investment space that I think that the property industry could really benefit from because investors do want to know what their properties are doing and what their returns are doing. I think that’s a big space that property management as a whole, as an industry, could get into.”
 

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