“As technology improves, we see the traditional shopfront becoming less important.”
Is a shopfront worth the investment?
Not necessarily. One risk of pouring money into a super-styled shopfront is that it doesn’t pay dividends for your business, or you realise it isn’t worth the money, and close it down again. While this may be a pragmatic business decision, potential clients might see this as you ‘shutting up shop’, assume your business is failing, and feel less inclined to choose you to sell their home.
A real estate office closing its doors (even if the owners intend to continue running the business from a home office) sends the wrong message.
Alternatively, let’s say you’ve got the ball rolling and you have a few clients and some money coming in. Do you want to commit to handing a big chunk of your income each month to a landlord? Particularly nowadays, when so much business is done online, in people’s homes or at your local café by the more tech-savvy agents. As a small business owner, you need a decent buffer to see you through any downturns, even when you are established, and that means keeping an eye on overheads.
As technology improves, we see the traditional shopfront becoming less important. Virtual reality viewings, for example, mean you can show a potential buyer around a house from anywhere in the world. Additionally, people now starting their search for homes online, so professional photography and styling, matched with compelling copywriting and lots of information, can more than hold its own against window displays.
People now buy, sell and make decisions about property on their lunch break or from overseas. There are very few reasons for clients to visit you in your office. Let’s face it, for most things, you can either go to them or communicate via your laptop and smartphone.
What are the alternatives to a traditional shopfront?
A home office, comfortable car, smartphone and laptop might be all you need to run your business, and will also make you more agile and efficient. You can be out and about, making a few calls from your car, and not need to worry about paying someone back at the office to answer phones.
Clients won’t notice your lack of shopfront as long as your virtual shopfront is lively and active – and by this I mean your website and social media such as Instagram and Facebook. Listings, negotiations and client meetings can all take place at the client’s property, often before or after open homes. And the money saved on rent can be poured into other areas, such as your online presence, your marketing and your take-home pay!
Businesses now run on a 24-hour cycle. You might be fielding phone calls from clients late at night, and with smartphones, you no longer need to be in your office to do that.
When should you consider a traditional shopfront?
The only reasons to have a shopfront are if you’re growing and need administrative staff, space for more agents, and facilities. You might prefer to have an office if you’re moving into property management as well as sales. That said, within One Agency, we have members who conduct property management from home. They meet landlords and tenants at the property, so offering a ‘We come to you’ service. Tradespeople collect keys to do repairs from the member’s virtual office secure letterbox. Even if you feel the need for admin staff, some of our members manage perfectly well having their admin staff working remotely, which could be a suburb away or in another country with, say, a virtual assistant in Manila. If you value the collaboration of a team, then you can conduct team meetings at a suitable venue weekly or whenever you can get your people together.
How to boost your local presence beyond the shopfront
If you don’t want to open a shopfront but do want to establish a prominent profile in your area, you have many options. These include:
- Bus stop ads
- Cinema ads
- Giving Chamber of Commerce talks
- Presenting an education series on real estate at your local library
- Local billboards
- Vehicle wraps
- Sponsorships, particularly for local sporting clubs and charities
You will know what will work best in your area. Often, a great photo on billboard or bus stop in your prime selling area is enough to fix you in people’s minds as a successful local agent when it comes time for them to sell. Once you have that first foot in the door, you are already ahead of agents who might have a shopfront, but who lack the recognition that comes with a prominent portrait of yourself somewhere memorable! And ideally, most of your clients should be word-of-mouth referrals, so a shopfront begins to look even more like a luxury.
Don’t think it has to be a street-facing office
Further down the track, and once you’re established, you can open an upstairs office, which will generally attract a much lower rent than your fancy street-level shopfront. In some cases, you would be paying only around 20 per cent of the rent of a ground-floor shop. But when you’re starting out, don’t feel that a shopfront is essential to your success.
"It’s not what you make, it’s what you keep that counts."
‒ Paul Davies, Founder and CEO