It’s been quite a year, and while some industries have sadly struggled, others have flourished.
Online sales – of pretty much everything – have risen, expediting the already growing trend of shopping for goods from the comfort of consumers’ own homes.
And this is also true for the most expensive purchase people will ever make – their home – but is it the best way to find your dream home? We’d argue not necessarily.
While rising business rates and lack of footfall have led to the end of an era when it comes to having an agent on every high street, we still believe that house buying needs that personal touch – which is where the rise of the super branch comes into play.
And while online browsing certainly has its place – our state-of-the-art website offers full details, colour photographs and detailed floorplans of all properties – when it comes to a final decision, buyers and sellers need expert, in-person advice.
With a super branch – sometimes referred to as a hub - you get the best of both worlds; buyers can spend all the time in the world researching and making sure they know exactly what they’re looking for, while agents can cut their overheads as well as still making sure they are offering a physical presence.
What’s more, with one large branch, agents can consolidate all their expertise across all elements of the house-buying process in one place.
As Wendy Clarke, partner at Clarke Munro, explains: “We believe that the days of a branch on every corner have gone.
“That’s why we made the decision some time ago to offer our specialised services from two super branches, in Middlesbrough and Billingham, where we combine 200 years of knowledge under one roof.
“Because we’re all together under one roof, it’s really easy for staff to share ideas and best practice – it makes for a very organic, holistic training environment.”
Super branches also came into their own during lockdown; recruitment firm Robert Walters told industry publication Estate Agency Today that, with 85 per cent of employees expecting to continue to work from home post-Covid, firms of all types are downsizing or getting rid of city centre bases in place of smaller satellite offices, nearer to where employees are based.
This could lead to a so-called ‘hub-and-spoke’ model, with a super branch used for meetings and client contacts, with smaller, more informal (even home-based) outposts in locations closer to employees.
Models such as the above are particularly useful for training purposes; new starters can learn the ropes from a real person, seeing first-hand all the soft skills needed to make a great estate agent – something totally missing in the online-only model.
Nicola Munro, partner at Clarke Munro, added: “We are passionate about employing people at the start of their journeys and training them up – it’s how both Wendy and I started.
“We have an incredibly loyal, experienced team at Clarke Munro - many of our team have worked for the company for years – and so any new recruits can immerse themselves in all that knowledge, all brought together in one hub.
“Customer service is very important to us, so this lesson starts from day one; this is so much easier to learn when you’re surrounded by people for whom great customer service is a way of life.”
The use of hubs is definitely a trend set to continue; earlier this year, Farrell Heyworth, one of the largest chains covering the North West, announced it was merging its 18 branches into seven super branches, to deal with changing customer habits.
And while most of the super branches so far have been in the major urban centres, Clarke Munro was an early adopter of the model, having set up our hubs in 2012.
Previously Thirlwells, which, having been created in 1977, is Teesside’s oldest estate agent, it rebranded in 2020 to reflect the names of its partners.
Wendy said: “While we may be the oldest estate agents in the region, we’re anything but old-fashioned.
“Hubs and super branches are the way forward for the industry, and we’re pleased to have adapted early and been ahead of the game.
“Our old but experienced way of doing has always been invaluable, and now we’re moving with the times to deliver the service our customers expect.
“I truly believe that’s why we’re still here and continuing to grow today.”