An edge over competitors Q&A with Northwood

With new offices being opened monthly despite the recession, Northwood is enjoying the 'mini-boom' in residential lettings as its network outperforms its projections

Gordon Patterson: How is Northwood performing during the recession?
Nick Cooper: Residential Lettings is counter cyclical and as a consequence the industry is seeing a mini-boom. Our unique Guaranteed Rental Income Scheme has proved even more popular and as a consequence our franchise owners' trading performances have been spectacular. For example our Doncaster office opened in April 2008 and produced its year one predicted income within six months.

Since launching the franchise in 2000 we've opened 68 offices from Aberdeen and Glasgow to Plymouth and Southampton. We continue to open new offices at the rate of one per month.

Gary Rigby: Have you implemented any new initiatives to improve your business?
NC: We are in the process of launching our new state-of-the-art software programme, which we invested in heavily and this summer we are launching our new website which will have the added feature of allowing our landlords to log into their property accounts with their unique username and log in codes.

GP: How is your pilot operation performing?
NC: Our Portsmouth office has been trading for 14 years and remains the flagship operation of the network. We trial all new ideas there before we release them to the network. Each new franchise owner spends at least one week there learning the ropes as part of their training.

GR: What do you provide to franchise owners in your franchise package?
NC: We offer a full turnkey package so that we can maintain the consistency of the brand and the franchise owner can focus solely on the intensive six-week training programme. Other principal ingredients of the package are signage, livery, furniture and IT equipment.

GP:'What ongoing support do you provide?
NC:'Our training programmes are free for franchise owners and their staff...forever! Furthermore, they receive regular office visits, are audited annually and have access to a support and legal helpline manned by qualified staff.

GP: How do you perceive the Northwood brand in the marketplace relative to the competition?
NC: The Northwood brand is unique because of the Platinum service. We are the only company that offers guaranteed rent even when the property is vacant and this is of significant appeal to Landlords, especially in the current economic climate. Our unique selling point therefore gives our franchise owners an edge over competitors.

GP:'What is your goal with respect to the number of offices you want trading in the UK?
NC: Our aim is 100 franchised territories across the UK. We grant large territories for franchise owners to develop significant businesses within so while we envisage selling 100 franchised territories we think that franchise owners will open more than one office in each territory.

GR: What profile are you looking for in a prospective franchise owner for Northwood?
NC: We are not looking for franchise owners that have any experience in property...quite the opposite! We are looking for people who can build and manage a significant business. We see franchise owners as our partners and we take our responsibilities as a franchisor very seriously indeed, we will not be granting franchises to people whom we do not believe will be successful. To this end, we turn down more franchise applications than we accept.

GP: In current market conditions, does the Northwood franchise represent a business that should yield attractive earnings?
NC:'The evidence speaks for itself. We are quite open about the trading figures of our franchise owners and we have a number of examples for different years including the last 12 months on our website. Major banks are still lending to our franchise concept as evidenced by the fact that three new franchise owner deals have been agreed in the last two months even in the current economic climate where good businesses are being turned down for funding.