Case Studies 4

A new start at 50 puts John in the driving seat

An unexpected redundancy put John Kidney on the route to franchise success, as owner of Newton Fallowell’s Retford branch in North Nottinghamshire.  

A building surveyor by profession, John had notched up a lifetime’s experience in sales and marketing, as well as quantity surveying, managing sales staff and general management.  He had honed his skills working for Rentokil Initial, one of the largest business services companies in the world, where he headed a division that was involved in property care, all providing valuable transferable skills for his move into owning an estate agency franchise.  

The change came when he was made redundant in 2006.  Unsure what to do next, he was sure he didn’t want to be an employee any longer.  He said:  “I was looking for an opportunity where I was in charge of my destiny.  I was approaching 50, and felt I would not get the opportunity I wanted by working within another company. I knew Newton Fallowell group financial director Andrew Derry and approached him about a franchise; he introduced me to Mark Newton and the rest is history.”

John took his redundancy pay out, sold some shares, and raised the first £25,000; then he secured a £30,000 overdraft with NatWest, which was secured against an endowment policy worth £43,000.  The bank held on to that for the first three years, until he had demonstrated the business was financially secure.

Whilst John is now driving an executive car, employing five full time staff and reporting a turnover exceeding £350,000, the first few years were tough.  “I didn’t draw a salary until we’d been trading for two and a half years,” he explained.  “I had to be very careful about the financial management in the early days.  At one stage in the first year I thought we were going to run into difficulties when some money didn’t come through in time, but I got in touch with my bank manager and explained what was happening and they backed us until the cash arrived.”  

Now, nearly nine years on, John is dealing instead with the challenge of managing continued growth, and has recently taken on a sales manager and a new lettings manager to help him take the business to the next level.  

In growing the business, his building surveying background gave him a strong foundation for both the property sales and lettings, and he spent some time in the early days working with a number of Newton Fallowell branches throughout the East Midlands to train as a valuer.  

“Because I had previously managed businesses and been responsible for cash flow and financial management, that side of things was quite familiar, as was the sales and marketing role.  The biggest difference is that I have autonomy to make my own decisions now, and it’s my own money that’s involved,” added John.  “That’s where I find the financial guidance of Andrew Derry invaluable, and I turn to him whenever I have any issues.”

To get the brand in front of potential customers, John focuses on initiatives that place the business in a positive light.  The branch regularly supports local community initiatives, such as local schools, whether sponsoring advertisements for school events on the agency’s for sale boards.  

Keeping the name in front of potential customers is also achieved through production of an annual diary card that is distributed to 15,000 homes throughout the local area surrounding his Retford branch.  Alongside, the branch also has access to the advertising campaigns, marketing initiatives and branding activity developed by head office.   

“The Newton Fallowell brand gives us clout and we work very hard to maximise our position,” said John.  “Currently, we are the largest agent in town; we sell our properties more quickly than any other agent because we are proactive in how we work. From instruction to market, we can usually guarantee it will be fully marketed within 48 hours.” 

John passes on his top tips for would-be franchisees: 

  • In my business, it’s really important to get out there and be known, so being prepared to network is really important and that’s true for most businesses.   
  • You need to be honest with yourself and others, and able to hold your nerve when there’s risk involved.  
  • Think about what skills you have that will be useful.  Although my background was working for a major international company, I was in sole charge of a division, so it was a similar role to managing my franchise, even though the numbers are quite different.  
  • Most importantly, do your research of the sector and talk to as many people as possible, then if it looks OK make sure you build a budget based on realistic figures, not dreams, and then work very, very hard.

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