It’s a juggle out there

Richard Horne has posted a colourful work career. But now the star of Renters has found his true passion in business – managemyproperty – a Wellington property management company he’s looking to franchise nationally. By Kevin Kevany.

Chances are you’ve seen Richard Horne on TV staring down an angry ex-tenant who’s brandishing a piece of two-by-four. Then again, he might have poured your drink in one of Edinburgh’s largest pubs; flipped you a burger in Toronto; done a bit of carpentry for you in Florida; or some signwriting in Spain.
Working for UK juggling equipment company More Balls Than Most gave Horne the inspiration to open the ‘Ministry of Juggling’ when he later moved to New Zealand.
Although he still juggles five balls at a time, the 54-year-old has now found his true passion in life – property management – with three managemyproperty offices in Wellington, for the moment, and plans to expand nationally.
His restless past is now ‘parallel-parked’. You might like to check out Horne’s LinkedIn profile that features 23 ‘former positions’ and an ‘interest in parallel-parking’, to get the full value of the most eclectic past anyone has ever confessed to. What’s more, he draws on many of those experiences as he goes about his day, running and preparing to franchise the business.
Horne’s is a classic story of registering the right domain name (and the trademark) to get the lucky break most successful companies all seem to get. He and his wife started Reliant Property Management after buying their first Wellington property in 2001. An investor with 13 properties handed over his keys, and that got them thinking this could be a good business to get into.
“Most private landlords never inspect their properties regularly,” Horne says. “They very seldom, if ever, put the rent up. They don’t like the confrontation. Me, I laugh through confrontation. I’m focused on the end-game.” (He is six-foot-four, but claims it’s about ‘attitude’.)
“Take the property we took over today: $380 per week and it should be $500 per week. We’ll put that up by $50 and the landlord gets us for free. It’s a no-brainer.”
He points out the Australian property market is 80 percent managed, while New Zealand’s is currently only around 20 percent.
“That’s starting to change rapidly. New legislation is driving that. If you own a rental property and leave the country for three weeks, you must appoint an agent whose name is on the tenancy agreement and signature is on the bond. I don’t have to tell you that this hassle alone is moving new customers through our doors every day now.”
So what else has converted the wanderer into a 10-year veteran of property management? What is so special about the managemyproperty offering?
“We answer the phone and turn up at the meeting; listen to what they ask and then get it done. It’s that simple. And guess what? Nobody else does that, it seems,” is Horne’s wry retort.
“We are reliable, approachable and, in fact, our office never closes. We have a tight team of skilled and reliable trades people we’ve built up over a decade. They are gold in this business. And the real trick is to manage the juggle between the tenants, the repair team and the customers.
Behind the humorous façade is a highly systematic approach and a commitment to mobile communication and technology which has transformed the company from being one of the “legion of Mom ‘n Pop operations which open and close daily, just in Wellington”.  
Horne also pays tribute to Jacqui Jones’ ‘E2theMax’ programme which introduced him to the ‘Franchise Coach’ David McCulloch.
“I have to tell you we were very apprehensive as David ripped the company apart. And there were days when we thought we’d not get out of it alive. But each time we came through it, a bigger picture emerged. Together we looked at all options including expanding the number of offices; licensing; and the franchise route.  
“That’s when I learnt the valuable lesson of getting the best professionals in their business – and listening to their advice. Without that we would not be in the position we are in today. It couldn’t have happened.”
Horne reckons no two days are the same in his business: interacting with a family who are “on the bones of…” one minute, and discussing overseas ski resorts in a massive apartment overlooking Wellington’s waterfront the next minute. That’s all helped by the earlier life skills he acquired.
How does he motivate his team?
“I tell them to keep going at what they are doing, and to especially believe in what they are doing. It works. Their results show it. As a consequence, I’m slowly doing myself out of a job and by September I’ll only be handling franchises. It’s my next challenge. After all, I have been in this job for nearly ten times longer than anything else I’ve done.”
Horne is now in a sound position with a well-established ‘pilot-project’, a highly-rated brand, a professionally produced manual and a mobile high-tech administration system which “gives you everything you need to have when you are with tenants to secure the payment.
“Moreover, we are in a business where we have no debts. We get the money; then we pay any costs; then we pay ourselves; and the balance goes to our customers – the owners. There aren’t many business cases like that around.
“Which also means we can be selective in who we franchise and where. I’m wary of the Auckland market. It’s very different to the rest of the country. So we aren’t rushing into anything with franchising.
“Like everything else we have done with managemyproperty, we are going to be well-informed, deliberate and persistent, while being innovative and responsive; adopting and trying out improvements, to keep our service young and fresh,” says the star of the TV series Renters, which is soon to return to the screen.
I just have to ask the question. Will he make franchisees juggle?
“You bet,” says Horne. “It’s all part of the comprehensive training package. It’s about self-confidence; being comfortable doing the previously-thought-to-be-impossible – and having fun. They are life and job essentials. And I haven’t failed yet in getting anyone over that hurdle.”

Kevin Kevany is an Auckland-based freelance writer.

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