Innovation extends well beyond technology. Richardson & Wrench owner Andrew Cocks explains how he is driving change in the way the network provides support to its franchisees.
“A lot of people think of technology when they hear the word innovation. There are a lot of people who are at the forefront of driving that technological innovation,” says Mr Cocks.
“From a commercial perspective, the key thing for us is to be innovative in terms of business structures and to have a level of flexibility that will be best matched to the needs and wants of the individual.”
Mr Cocks took on the role of executive director at R&W in 2009, tasked with transforming one of Australia’s oldest agencies into a 21st century brand. In addition to a brand overhaul and management restructure, Mr Cocks has introduced new digital technologies and marketing tools. However, the most innovative step he took was to effectively dismantle the network’s outdated service support structure and to rebuild it from scratch.
“I decided to take a different approach to the typical regional and state-based support structure that a lot of the networks have and instead focused on providing the right skill set for the offices,” he says.
“There shouldn’t be any differentiation in terms of the support you get just because of where you are. I want the best people to be providing support to our network and I want all of our offices to have access to the best people.”
According to Mr Cocks, R&W’s old system involved a franchise development officer working a particular territory. This has undergone a radical transformation that has seen the group increasingly harness its collective wisdom, rather than promote internal competition between offices.
“We don’t have territories anymore,” he says. “All staff across the network have direct access to the specialist head office team which also allows us to build on our culture through strong, personal relationships. It is about providing expert support in disciplines, rather than by regions.”
As a result, the R&W support team members have essentially been employed based on the specific skills they can bring to real estate offices across the network.
However, Mr Cocks continues to look for ways to provide innovative business structures for his franchisees. Accepting that the real estate industry is changing means he has remained dedicated to delivering a flexible model for the next generation of real estate business operators.
“I think it is important to realise that running a business is not a one-size-fits all process,” he says.
“When I first moved out of the military into the private sector, I was incredibly green and rather naive in a lot of areas. Really, over the last 20 to 30 years, I have built that experience and built that knowledge. What I know about running a business now is significantly different to when I first started on that journey.
“Every real estate business operator is going through that journey too. Should you expect your first-time business owner to have the same level of knowledge and skill set as someone who has been doing it for 20 to 30 years? Of course not. That new business is going to need a lot more support and a lot more assistance.
"We can help them build and grow their business in size, but also in capacity as they become more experienced,” he said.
Providing a platform where ideas can be shared has also been a key feature of R&W’s operations.
Mr Cocks says it is important to have a cohesive network that can achieve a far better cross-pollination of ideas, whether they come from experienced operators with decades of experience or someone with a fresh pair of eyes who has been in the industry for 12 months.
“It is about having the ability to leverage off the collective mindset and knowledge base of our entire network that is powerful,” he says.
The group has its own internal communications system that allows offices from across the network to share ideas. However, it is not the technology that is driving this real estate business into the future, but a business structure that caters to the different needs of its franchisees.
“Innovation in terms of business structures is actually the last bastion of change in the business environment,” Mr Cocks says.
“It is not something that we have really seen happen before in the real estate industry.”