At the beginning of November 2010 my fellow directors and I made the monumental decision to move away from the franchise umbrella we had operated under since April 2002 and to re-brand our company, at that time, called Parkheath. The decision was not taken lightly, in fact, we had considered the move for a number of years, but for one reason or another, we had not been unanimous in our decision, so the Parkheath name had always remained.
Being part of a franchise has a lot of benefits, especially as a brand new company, because you have an existing corporate identity, website, logo and ethos to work with. In 2002 myself and Gary Sewell had recently worked at the London Parkheath offices and were very familiar with ‘how things were done’ and so it seemed a natural choice to use the Parkheath brand, when we opened our first Rickmansworth office. We had a ‘genuine London connection’ and we used that to it’s full advantage to break into the Home Counties market.
The business took off quickly and the team grew, new offices were opened as the sales office expanded into Chorleywood and the lettings department flourished and outgrew their Station Road office, moving into our current larger premises in the High Street, as a separate division of the company.
It was probably at this time when the first issues of being a franchise surfaced: Lettings is a complicated industry and our lettings team became known for their involvement with ARLA (The Association of Residential Letting Agents) and operating systems developed, some quite different to our London counterparts. When the buy-to-let market flourished, other Parkheath franchises opened in the close vicinity and there was limited supervision for them to work in the same way as our franchise, or to adhere to the same strict guidelines we impose on ourselves. It complicated day-to-day procedures for us and, as the internet market developed, we were unable to use the Parkheath franchise website in order to offer our working procedures to our customers, because they differed from other Parkheath offices.
Alex Sewell and myself visited the Property Professional Show in the Autumn of 2010 and were fascinated by the different internet portals available for Estate Agents and we felt very restricted with the content we were able to place on our own (albeit franchised) website. It was a frustration which manifested as the months progressed, and was probably the main reason for breaking away and moving out on our own.
This reason was backed up by the feeling that we no longer needed to have that London connection, which was so important at the concept of our business. We had worked hard to build up the personalities of the sales and the lettings departments, using every opportunity to introduce each member of the team to our customers and a great percentage of the company were long standing employees, who make our company the success it is. Added to this, 3 of the directors are family members; Jan (mum), Alex & Gary (sons) so we have a family feel, especially since I lost both of my wonderful parents over the past 6 years and consider the Sewells to be my surrogate family to boot! If you head into our Chorleywood Branch you will meet Kirsty & Martyn, engaged to be married next year, and their Yorkshire Terrier ‘Barney’ and in the lettings department, our Property Managers are John & Shirley Green, married for many years. We employ local people and we focus on everyone’s individual strengths, and this company structure seemed to pull against the rigidity of the franchise.
It was a sad departure and certainly not made with any ill-feeling on either side; we have had the blessings of Malcolm Terry, the Parkheath franchisor and his good-wishes were very well received.
So how did we pick the new name? I think it was the easiest part of the transition, we just focused on the people and picked the 2 surnames associated with the company, Sewell; for Alex, who runs the sales department and is our managing director; for Jan, who works in the lettings department and is our finance director; and Gardner, for me, Jane Gardner, the lettings director.
TTFN, Letting Angel, January 2011