PUTTING THE CUSTOMER FIRST

From humble beginnings door knocking in Brisbane to grow the franchise, owner and managing director of Harcourts International, Mike Green, speaks to Real Estate Business about the network’s growth in Australia, how it distinguishes itself from other brands, and its current goals

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE HARCOURTS BRAND AND OTHER BRANDS?

We’re a high-touch organisation with a lot of people on the ground in all the various states.

When I was business owner of a Harcourts franchise, the one thing I got most value from was having the guys come and sit down with me and do an annual business plan and hold me accountable to it. Many of our franchisees have written business plans and we have BDMs on the ground who go back every quarter and formerly review them, and then visit at least once a month to actually sit down and say ‘how are you going?’

At the end of the day, most of our people know what to do and how to do it, but it’s someone holding them accountable and just making sure
they’re doing it.

I personally believe the whole real estate business model is broken. The focus should be on the client. The client pays us a fee and we all
share it as we all contributed to generating it.

We’ve pushed really hard on the ‘one team, one client’ ethic.

We send out an automatic survey to our buyers and sellers, and one of the questions we ask is ‘Would you deal with us again?’ The response is
between 96 and 98 per cent, so it’s a ‘yes’, and that to me is the key.

If I can get our organisation to focus solely on the client experience, not on what they get for fees or commission, then we can create an attractive
business and we will get people queuing up. I look at our business and say instead of going head to head and competing with agents for listings, we should deliver the very best experience to the client. From a client’s perspective, the difference should be that they get a wonderful experience.

THE GROUP TURNED 125 THIS YEAR. HOW SIGNIFICANT IS THIS MILESTONE AND WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMPANY’S HIGHLIGHTS IN AUSTRALIA?

It’s significant for any business to be 125 years old. We started here in Australia in 1997, so we’ve been here for 16 years and are relatively young in
that sense.

In Queensland we’ve achieved the number two position in the marketplace, in terms of market share and volume, so to achieve that in a relatively short space of time is pretty significant.

We did a joint venture with Brock in South Australia and now it’s been fully branded as Harcourts. It’s been one of our most successful ventures.

Another one of our joint ventures was with Landmark Agrium and that has given us instant traction in regional and rural Australia, which has been a massive step up for us.

In terms of our growth, we currently sit at around 400 o ces nationally, which in 13 years is not too bad. The real test of any organisation is
to be able to grow, to maintain that growth and to achieve success. You can’t do any of that if it’s smoke and mirrors, or if what you say is not actually true – you’ve actually got to walk the talk to maintain that sort of growth.

HOW DID HARCOURTS PERFORM IN 2012?
The market has been very interesting – it’s been different in the different places. Last year we were just on $22 billion in sales for the years before.

This year we’re about $22.5 billion, so we’re up slightly. Our once numbers are up marginallytoo. Overall, we grew in size and we grew in business.

DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF AGENTS WILL CHANGE IN THE FUTURE?
Real estate is a people business. At the end of the day, I don’t think the role of an agent will change. I think the agent is there to help people through what, for most, is a traumatic and difficult emotional experience, and you need an agent that you have a relationship with, that you trust, that helps you through that.

SHOULD PRINCIPALS SELL AND RUN THE BUSINESS AT THE SAME TIME?
At the end of the day, I don’t believe anyone can sell well and run a business well at the same time.

I‘ve never seen anyone do it that well. If people are serious about their business, they should focus on whether they’re going to be the manager and it’s not always necessarily the owner. Maybe the owner is a great salesman so the owner should keep selling and that’s the best thing for the
business, but have a manager. Have someone that is actually responsible for growing it and for focusing on the business rather than being in it.

If you focus on running the business and helping other people around you become successful then you’ll grow a great business.

DIVERSIFYING IS A ‘HOT TOPIC’ AT THE MOMENT. WHAT FURTHER PLANS DOES HARCOURTS HAVE TO OFFER A MORE DIVERSE SERVICE TO ITS CLIENTS?
One of our major initiatives at the moment is Harcourts Complete.  at’s the whole client experience area of our business. We’ve looked at it and said ‘We’ve talked about this for a long time and we’ve got Mortgage Express, we’ve got Strand, we’ve got these allied services, but we need to actually be serious about it and we need it to be a real focus for the group because people are time poor’. If they [clients] have a relationship with an agent and they trust the agent, when they do the transaction they want help with conveyancing, they want help with  nance, with utilities – all the bits and bobs. It’s not to push it on them, but it’s to make it available to them as part of that whole transaction experience. Harcourts Complete is a real focus for us over the next 12 months. We’ve launched it recently in Australia, so we’ve got a whole lot of work around that.

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