Real Business #4 - Durlings

  • Real Business is a series of posts that analyses the marketing opportunities and challenges of real businesses in the South East. The articles are also appearing in The Courier.

    Launching a business focusing on commercial property as the UK toppled into recession might seem like a rash decision but, 18 months on, Durlings sale boards are a familiar sight around West Kent and East Sussex.

    Rupert Farrant launched Durlings in May 2008 after a career in property. He wanted to focus on commercial property and he wanted to run his own business.

    While the market was slow when we set up, low prices did mean that there were people out there buying commercial property for that reason possibly for the first time, he said.

    We offer a one-stop-shop dealing with everything from rent reviews to managing refurbishments and surveys, as well as both selling and letting commercial property.

    Today, around 75% of Durlings’ work comes from Tunbridge Wells, although the team has worked on projects as far afield as Portsmouth and Arundel.

    Tunbridge Wells is a great place to be located, with a strong base of professionals from which to gain referrals, said Mr Farrant. It is also ideally based for London and offers an interesting mix of industrial, retail and leisure properties.

    When the firm started out, Rupert ran the business from a shop on Mount Pleasant, near the station. However, it is now based in offices in Church Road.

    It was great to have some initial exposure for the firm, said Mr Farrant. However, we realised that we didn’t get people just calling in, so we moved to Church Road, which has the added bonus of parking.

    Today, Durlings estimates that around 75 to 80% of its enquiries come via the Internet.

    We have kept our website simple and easy to navigate, while we also make sure we have listings on all the major commercial property sites, said Mr Farrant. We also run an email alert which means that properties are sent round to all our clients as soon as they are available . Our boards are also still an essential way of marketing .

    Mr Farrant said that the current movement in the commercial property market is due to a number of factors leases coming to an end; people setting up a new business; or established business owners maybe taking the opportunity of current lower prices to buy property. What is currently missing from the market are investors buying or selling and developers.

    Mr Farrant has plans to expand the business in the future but wants to continue focusing on Tunbridge Wells.

    Bhav has been working and training with us and it’s worked really well so I’d like to bring more graduate trainees into the business, he said. However, finding good graduates is a challenge as less younger people have been attracted to the business during the recession.

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    Challenges facing Durlings:

    * Encouraging investors and developers back into the marketplace.
    * Growing the business as the UK pulls itself out of recession.
    * Making full use of the Internet as a means of advertising properties.
    * Finding good graduate trainees to build their career with Durlings.

    The Marketing Eye says:

    While the absence of walk-in trade wasn't sufficient to justify a High Street presence, it would have been contributing to the general awareness of the brand, so other tactics are now needed to keep the profile high.

    The base of professionals in Tunbridge Wells is a rich vein of business opportunity and networking should be high on Rupert's agenda. Given the broad array of reasons why businesses move, the nature of networking should be very wide - from BNI where he will meet smaller businesses, to the Chamber of Commerce and Royal Tunbridge Wells Lunch Club where larger businesses and professionals can be met.

    The property boards are an important form of marketing too. The simple and clean identity that Rupert has chosen is easily memorable and will be making the boards stand out.

    The fact that so many enquiries come from the internet is a reflection of how the market now operates. Rupert is doing all of the right things to keep the visibility of his website high.

    A highly visible and attractive website is appealing, not only to purchasers, but to vendors and landlords, which will ensure a continuous supply of stock - the lifeblood of any agency. The website is easily found in the search engines, which means it should be possible to reduce the reliance on the property portals in future.

    Marketing can help with recruitment. Becoming active on Twitter, running a Facebook page and writing a blog are all activities that will make Durlings look attractive to younger prospective employees.

    With thanks to freelance journalist, Angela Ward, who is interviewing the businesses featured in these posts.

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