Teaming up

January/February 2018 edition

John Flood Estate Agents in the Upper Hunter has gone from strength to strength in recent years under the stewardship of a new leadership team. Agency Principal Sandy Warburton shares how a severe downturn in the local market was a blessing in disguise and allowed the agency to reconsider its current business approach and ultimately expand its reach.

Originally part of a larger group in the Upper Hunter, the agency was established in 1976. Separating from the group almost 20 years later, John Flood Estate Agents was born in 1994 and opened its doors in Muswellbrook.
Today, John Flood Estate Agents is led by Principal Sandy Warburton, who joined the agency in 1996 and quickly established himself as one of the area’s most successful agents.

Sandy became a partner in the business in 2004 and then took full ownership and control in 2013. The agency’s footprint expanded in 2015 when a second office was opened in nearby Scone. The Scone office is headed up by Sandy’s partner, Sarah Lorden – the award-winning and well-known Sydney agent, who made the move to the area in 2011.

Making a change

“We’ve been through a lot of changes in recent years – both in terms of our internal structure and as a result of market forces,” Sandy explained.

“The coal mining industry, which was the major employer in the region, crashed in 2013. The resulting loss of jobs led to a rapid drop in population in the area. Lots of houses hit the market and rental vacancies blew out from less than one per cent to more than 10 per cent in a very short space of time. 

“The market downturn happened just as I’d bought my partners out – Murphy’s law! – so we needed to work out what other income streams were available and tap into them quickly. We couldn’t just wait around for the market to improve.”

That’s when Sandy and Sarah identified an opportunity in Scone and decided to open the second office.

“We saw it as an opportunity. Everyone – family, friends and colleagues – thought we were crazy to even think about opening a second agency when the market was in such dire straits. The market was doing 30 per cent less transactions and prices had fallen by 20 per cent. 

For a regional area, that’s massive.

"But we felt it was the right move. We needed another income stream and Scone was a natural progression.”

The move paid off, with the 2016-2017 financial year seeing sales volumes increase by almost 35 per cent and property managements grow by nearly 15 per cent.

“Across the two offices, we now have an outstanding team of 14 – soon to be 15. It’s definitely a growing team!”

"Everyone - family, friends and colleagues - thought we were crazy to even think about opening a second agency when the market was in such dire straits. But we felt it was the right move."


Team Approach

Key to the success of John Flood Real Estate’s growth and success in recent years has been taking a team approach.

“We share everything. There are no secrets,” Sandy said. “Whether it’s between agents, between teams or between offices, we work as a team in everything we do.

“We have a shared database. If one of our Muswellbrook agents has a potential buyer looking for a certain type of property and one of our Scone agents has something that ticks all the boxes, they work together to match the buyer to the property. By working together, we can provide the best outcomes for our clients.

“Team work is very much at the core of our culture.”

This approach to business extends through to Sandy and Sarah’s leadership style.

“We involve the entire team in our business planning. It’s important that they understand what the goal is and why we’re on this journey. It ensures they’re invested in the business.”

Without revealing too much, Sandy said there are a few major changes on the horizon for John Flood Estate Agents in the next 12 months.

“I don’t mind saying that things have been tight for the last few years, but everything is now pointing in the right direction and we’re excited about the future.

“We’re committed to investing in our business and are investing heavily in our brand and image. Watch this space for a big reveal in 2018!

"We involve the entire team in our business planning. It's important that they understand what the goal is and why we're on this journey. It ensures they're invested in the business."

5 Steps to Agency Success

1. Setting targets

“Profitability and growth is obviously the goal, but without solid targets in place it’s difficult to see a pathway to achieving that profitability and growth,” Sandy said.

“By setting clear targets in both sales and property management for things like prospecting, listings, new managements, sales and rentals, we’ve found our team respond more effectively. They’re more focused and take the extra steps to ensure they don’t miss their target.

“It also allows more direction and control for business operations and we’re able to more effectively plan for better business outcomes and therefore profitability.”

2. Providing 6-star client service

“While we can’t control the direction of the market, we can control the level of service we provide to our clients,” Sandy said. “Our sales and property management growth is directly attributable to our commitment to proactive, regular communication with our clients – including pre-framing possible situations, so they are well-prepared should issues arise.

“Our philosophy is that while what we do is sell and rent houses, why and how we do that is by helping our clients achieve their property goals. The sale or rental of a property is simply a step in the process toward the end goal, and if we focus on helping the client achieve that goal then the reward to the business automatically flows.”

3. Focusing on leadership

After taking a ‘batten down the hatches’ and reactive approach during the severe market downturn between 2012 and 2016, Sandy explained that there is now a more proactive approach to leadership.

“By taking a proactive approach, we can empower our team, build their confidence and skills, and in turn grow a strong business. Both Sarah and I have engaged coaches to assist us in this area and ensure we’re steering the ship in the right direction and in the most effective way.”

4. Leveraging technology

In a busy work environment, it’s often easy to forget to do something or miss a step in the process.

“While a commitment to providing 6-star client service is the first step, having the right systems and technology in place is paramount,” Sandy said.

“Simply using technology such as a database is not enough. We’re committed to using our database to its full capability. Action plans for each client activity with automated reminders means our clients are informed every step of the way, nothing is missed and their experience with our agency is seamless.”

5. Developing people

John Flood Estate Agents is focused on continuous training and learning, and providing the team with development strategies to improve their skills to provide the best client experience.

“We do a lot of internal training with our team,” Sandy said. “Legislation updates, brainstorming challenges, role playing, dialogue training and team discussions focused on relevant themes all regularly feature on our agenda. We also have in-house ‘deal mentoring’ for team members who need specific assistance in relation to a particular deal.”

Beyond internal training opportunities, Sandy and Sarah also ensure the entire team have access to a wide range of external training and mentoring opportunities.

“We know that our team are our biggest asset and we’re committed to investing in them, both for the benefit of the business and their own careers and personal development.”