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Exporting the Brand

publication date: Nov 12, 2009
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Exporting an estate agency’s brand name abroad is often seen as an expensive bolt-on only the major players in the industry can afford. However, it has paid off for some not so big firms who have planted their flag on foreign soil. As the shutters came down on hundreds of British estate agencies over the past year many must have wished they too had a Plan B. After all, as Bill Bryson has pointed out, Britain is a small island. When the rug was pulled, there was nowhere else for them to go.


Beauchamp Estates, with only two offices in London – one in Mayfair, the other in St John’s Wood – counts some of the capital’s wealthiest people among their clients. Keen to maintain a high-end image, when expansion was discussed, it was decided quality and not quantity was the way to go. Instead of increasing the number of London branches, they looked overseas at areas with a similar social cache.

Says Director Gary Hersham, “In the past two years we have opened offices in Cannes in the South of France and Mykonos in Greece. We have employed local staff who understand our brand and as a result have quickly built up a client base similar to that of our Mayfair office.” The company is currently considering throwing the net wider, targeting Geneva because of its status and its proximity to the exclusive winter resorts.

“A lot of people who walk into our overseas offices immediately come to our London office when they return,” adds Hersham. “Having an international presence, especially in exclusive locations, enhances the perception that Beauchamp Estates is one of the premier firms.”

However, establishing a place in the sun doesn’t work for everyone. At least two well known and experienced estate agencies have tried it, but had to pull back to the UK and are unwilling to comment on why their venture wasn’t the success they’d hoped. Others have decided an online virtual presence is preferable to the uncertainty and expense of setting up an office and staff in a different country.


Since the merger with Dreweatt Neate in May, Carter Jonas has expanded to 31 offices in the UK (retaining the Carter Jonas brand name). However, rather than physically open their own overseas branches, the firm became one of the 600-plus member firms of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World internet portal (LeadingRE). It is linked to Luxury Portfolio, for properties worth over £1m. It gives CJ access and exposure to 35 countries around the world. Richard Hatch, Head of Residential at Carter Jonas explains, “The logistics of setting up branches abroad is quite involved. When Leading Real Estate Companies of the World was set up four years ago, we were approached to join. We didn’t have an international audience, so this was a cost-effective way into the international market. We are the only British member company in the organisation.

“It is cheaper than setting up branches and the co-ordination is done in Chicago. We go to the annual conferences and meet up with our affiliates from overseas. “It has an international website where we can display our properties for sale, it is a big advantage for us. It is good for the brand and for the clients. We were in the right place at the right time.”


Launched in the heady days of 1966, when everything British, from music to fashion to football, led the world, Chelsea estate agency Aylesford decided it was time to export their brand only five years ago. The firm has only one office in London’s King’s Road and survived three recessions, thanks, they say, to their high-end core business.

Aylsford CapetownCamilla Mabbott, Group Marketing Director comments, “We found our clients also had homes in places like the South of France, Verbier and Cape Town, and wanted to sell or buy another holiday home. A British estate agent abroad is what they were crying out for. We spent a lot of time finding the right local partners. Apart from being a commercial venture, we have found that having an international brand is much to our advantage. There is comfort in knowing a business is rooted in key locations around the world. We also have a better chance of finding the best property for our clients.”

Aylesford opened their first overseas office in Spain, operating it as a franchise, as they have subsequently done in Cape Town (pictured left). The Cote D’Azur branch is a joint venture with a local team. The company owns the branch in Switzerland, but has a team of local consultants who work under the Aylesford International brand in Ibiza, Mallorca, Greece and Italy. “People coming into these offices know us from London and are reassured to see a friendly face,” says Mabbott. “The extension of our business has been an expensive exercise, but the benefits are worth it.”


Of course, it’s not only foreign buyers in the overseas market, there is a substantial British contingent. According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, more than a million British live abroad permanently. Tapping into that pool provided firms with overseas branches with a cushion against the impact on business when the UK went into freefall. Cluttons is one of the established big players, opening their first Middle East branch 33 years ago. Senior Partner Bill Siegle agrees their presence abroad has helped the firm during the difficult times in the UK. “It brought inward investment into Britain at a time when the exchange rates were favourable,” he says. “The second reason that it is beneficial is that all markets are different. Although the Dubai market has suffered, other areas like Muscat and Bahrain are doing well.

Middle East“Over 30 years in the Middle East we have built up a good reputation and brand recognition, which is highly valued by the company. We also have franchises in South Africa, Barbados, Spain, Greece and Italy.”

Thorough research of the market, the area and the potential business partners – both in residential and commercial – is the key to setting up a successful overseas office, says Siegle.

“Before we go anywhere, we do a careful study of the area and the organisation we are getting into bed with. We are looking to expand our franchises. We have recently had an approach from a high-end company in Vancouver which we are considering. Also the Far East and India. It is a case of spotting the market and deciding where you want to be.”


Knight Frank was an early entrant into the overseas market and now has 200 offices in more than 30 countries, stretching from Wagga Wagga, Australia, to Washington, USA. They range from fully branded branches to representatives and affiliates. It is ranked eighth by worldwide turnover in the property market. KF’s tactic is to dip a toe into a new market by first finding a suitable representative, a likeminded agent with the kind of properties and clients who match the profile in the UK. On another level, the company works with the overseas firm on a joint branding basis.

“It has to be good synergy,” explains KF Associate Georgina Richards. “There is a huge amount of referral business across the whole network, with offices passing vendors on to the UK. There is a lot of brand loyalty and trust. This definitely helped in the downturn. Branding is hugely important and it is imperative to have a physical presence. Although we have an impressive website, you need the historical knowledge of the people on the ground who know their patch intimately.”


Over the past four years, Winkworth – the first franchised estate agency group in the UK, now with 79 offices – has been busily building an overseas network in counties including France, Portugal and Thailand. Dominic Agace, Managing Director of Winkworth says, “It is a new platform for growth. An international referral system will only strengthen Winkworth by attracting sellers and buyers. It also enables us to offer more to existing clients. Initially we bought into international agencies, enabling us to build a structure. Now we would look at new start agencies.”

They believe in having a physical presence in the territories they operate in. Says Agace, “You need to support the brand with a personal and localised service and expertise, otherwise there is no quality control and a limited customer service. Without maintaining high standards of customer service, you can undermine your company’s reputation at home.” The logistics of setting up overseas is underpinned by detailed research, says Agace and supported by good international advisors, but the effort ‘s been worth it. “Although the European market followed the UK into recession, the strength of the Euro against the pound meant out European offices generated income at a normal level while the UK market slowed, which was helpful,” adds Agace. “An international brand also helps our UK franchisees as it increases referrals of high net-worth individuals and adds prestige to the Winkworth name.”


Chesterton Humberts (the two firms merged at the beginning of the year) have eight overseas offices and are keen to expand that number. Amazingly, they opened their first (for Chesterton) – in St Tropez – only two years ago. They too plan further forays along the South of France and in Paris, and already have a presence in Switzerland, Gibraltar, Lake Como, the Middle East and Far East. “We feel the current time is an opportunity to establish more offices as the economic climate here gives us breathing space,” says Head of International, Andrew Hawkins.

Chesterton“We are hoping to expand in France, which is a very important market for us, but everything depends on the right sort of partnership and finding local agents who will fit into the kind of organisation we are and best represent the value of our brand. There are other areas where we would like to be, but we are taking this one step at a time.”

Like KF, Chesterton Humberts operate on different levels, with joint associations, franchises and wholly owned branches.

“It can be useful to retain the local name – as the case with our latest associate in Mallorca – because they have been there for years,” adds Hawkins. “We are currently doing a huge amount of work to make sure the international network is fully effective. There is no point in having it printed on the headed notepaper unless it all works.”