With the uncertainty of a post-Brexit housing crash, changes in stamp duty and increased competition from online property agents, it doesn't seem like a great time to be an estate agent. But try telling that to Dexters CEO Jeff Doble.
After starting out from a single branch 25 years ago, the midlander has grown the firm into one of London’s largest privately owned estate agents, although in his own words this is something he doesn't like to shout about ‘because big isn't necessarily beautiful'.
Dexters has gone from 16 offices to nearly 90 in the past eight years, with an annual growth rate of 26%. The firm now serves 25,000 landlords, conducts 45,000 monthly viewings and turned over £75.5 million during the last year.
The figures speak for themselves but how has Doble done it?
What is your background?
I'm a chartered surveyor. I went to Reading University and did an estate management degree so I have a background in property. I worked for a smallish firm in the 1980s, which was sold to a big insurance company that genuinely thought big is beautiful. The lessons I learnt were how not to do it. So then in my early thirties, I thought I could do this better and started up with a single shop in Twickenham.
How has Dexters grown?
We've grown largely without funding, but through earning profit and reinvesting. This year we are going to turn over £85 million and now our three year plan is to turn over £150 million.
We try to be countercyclical, so when things aren't going well in the market we grow like mad because we are able to make new positions and we're able to grow our market share.
People see us as a bit of a challenger. They're prepared to give us a go and we can get into price ranges and markets we might not have gotten into otherwise.
What about the rise of proptech? Has this affected you and how has Dexters adapted?
The tech guys who tell you that estate agents are just finished and that it's all going to be online miss the point really. There's a lot more to it than that.
I think people are very excited about the internet and about tech. Yes there are some clever ways of communicating with customers, but actually somebody still has to drive the cars on the ground and has got to do the hard yards. Tech just helps them do that really. People buying or renting want to know that they are dealing with someone reliable.
Just three out of every 20 viewings Dexters arranges come from advertisements in print or via online portals - we generate the remainder from our own database. Very rarely do people buy or rent what they first enquire about. The internet has not replaced salesmanship or reduced the importance of human contact in property transactions.
The market will pale and the guys that never did a very good job anyway will get squeezed out. The best will survive, like any industry.
So if it’s not the market, or the challenge of proptech, what has been the biggest challenge for you?
I suppose a challenge for us has been maintaining the culture we have built across the business. Once you have established a culture it is very easy to dilute it.
Sticking to your principles, even when you've got headwind - like Brexit - is very important. You've got to remain very positive. I always say to my managers don't read the Daily Mail and don't watch Good Morning on TV, because if you go in and you've got a team to lead and your head is full of bullshit that's irrelevant to your job, it's difficult.
So what's the secret?
I would say that running a business is about keeping fresh and keeping that start-up mentality firing all the time. We are trying to reinvent ourselves all the time. We've got a growth gene in the DNA of the firm and people are very much excited about change. If you can get this attitude right then not only are you doing a great job for the customer but actually you're growing as a business.
Its not a classic command and control type of organisation. We have no head office - this is my office here [pointing to his rucksack]. There is no point in me sitting there sending dictates to somebody. You've got to rely on people to do the job and that means you've got to rely on the strength of your culture, ethics and the way that you work.
If you could go back to yourself at the start, what is the one thing you would say?
At the very start I was trying to create a business that was strong, reliable and robust through thick and thin. I've done that organically. There is a mood nowadays that if you want to grow, you need to go and get an investor.
But it is possible to grow a business just through doing it well. Everybody is a bit Dragon's Den nowadays, but my attitude always was that I am going to work harder and it will do well.