Belvoir: Top performers in property

Established at the high end of the lettings market for over a decade, Belvoir has established a national network of 85 franchised lettings specialists. Stuart Anderson interviews the recent winners from its Annual Franchisee Awards

A new entry to the Belvoir High Achievers Club, Steve Barker (pictured above, with fiancée Michaela Capnerhurst) picked up the 'Franchisee of the Year' award for a combination of the outstanding performance of his own business and his ongoing contribution to the development of the network.

'To win this award was a very pleasant surprise,' he reflects. 'To be a part of the High Achievers Club you have to contribute to the franchise, believe in it and uphold what it's about. I feel our commitment to customer care has stood us in good stead, and we have brought in a lot of new initiatives such as an annual customer survey, which resulted in us allocating a car parking space for our visiting landlords and tenants. It's all about making it easier for people to do business with you.'

Steve came to Belvoir from a background in IT, and had been part of a management buyout of a software business which then floated on the FTSE. 'I moved to America for a couple of years to set up an office there, and started to buy property with the money I'd made from the floatation,' says Steve. 'The portfolio almost doubled in value over two years, and I soon had friends asking how to follow in my footsteps. It became apparent to me that property is a growth market, and I wanted to get more involved. Because I had limited experience, I decided to take the franchise route and of all the property franchisors I researched, Belvoir impressed me the most.'

Initially working from home, Steve moved his business into a double-fronted shop on the Sutton Coldfield high street after his first year. 'It took some time to secure a lease for suitable premises, but I still managed to achieve my business plan targets for the first year simply by working from home,' he explains. 'Once I moved into the high street, it soon became apparent that I had underestimated the amount of footfall that would come through the door and immediately recruited some staff. In 2006, my business is projected to turn over four and a half times more than the first year total, and I'm looking at opening two more offices in my territory this year. I've identified that there are two distinct markets in my area - my core business is the high end, dealing with premiership footballers, etc., but there's also a very lucrative volume market within my franchise area that can be accessed through a different business model of smaller shop fronts, competitive fees and centralising costs.'

Upholding Belvoir's high levels of professionalism has contributed to Sleaford franchisee Peter Atkinson (pictured, right) attaining the 'Newcomer of the Year' award at Belvoir's 2005 Franchisee Awards. Coming from a 10-year career in the motor trade - latterly with Mercedes Benz - Peter bought the Sleaford operation as a going concern and reports tripling the business in one year.

'This business was prime for expansion,' he relates. 'It had a solid base of 54 houses, some good tenants and some very happy landlords. I recognised it needed better exposure so I bought a Smart Car, put up more signage, increased the local press advertising and immediately employed a very good Property Manager.
By bringing in an employee immediately I freed up my time to concentrate on selling and meeting new landlords.'

Peter originally came across the opportunity through meeting Belvoir franchisees as clients buying Smart Cars, and admits to being immediately intrigued. 'I'd realised that rather than slogging my guts out for 40-50 hours a week for somebody else, I could gain more by going into business for myself,' he recalls. 'For two years I'd been looking for an industry where I could implement the skills I had, and when I met franchisees from Belvoir my ears pricked up.'

Peter bought the business in September 2004 and reports a current turnover of £120,000. 'My target is to double it again in the next two years - from 150 houses to 300,' he reflects. 'I'm also taking on my third member of staff, which should allow me to switch to a four-day working week.'

Lincoln franchisee Paul Collins is one of the longer serving franchisees in the Belvoir network - in fact, he was the fourth to join the network and started trading in 1996. He picked up Belvoir's 'Record Breaker of the Year' award for setting a new network record gross income in one month. 'It's been toing and froing between my office and the Nottingham branch for the last couple of years,' he remarks. 'I smashed it in November by collecting over £50,000, which represents a big milestone for the group.'

Paul has delighted in setting and breaking records for Belvoir in the decade he has been with the network, having invested in his business after leaving the Army. 'I was the Chief Clerk of my regiment,' he reflects.
'When I came across Belvoir in a resettlement magazine I was very interested in the concept, having let my own house while I was stationed in Africa. To start with I was very hands-on with the business and worked seven days a week to get it up and running, which helped me to beat the pilot operation's record by double. In fact, in the early years, I was growing by 50 per cent per year!'

Now Paul has stepped back a little, and describes himself as 'working on the business, not for the business.' With 500 properties registered, he plans to grow by a further 150 this year. 'I have 11 staff that take care of the day-to-day business, while I concentrate on steering the ship in the right direction,' he reveals. 'The rental market is very buoyant, with the government estimating that the current total of 2.4 million properties rented in the private sector will grow to 3.5 million within the next 10 years.'