200 Square is changing the way real estate is marketed. We’ve all heard that before maybe, but what’s making this business model succeed is their use of the latest technology, coupled with a focus on the seller, rather than the buyer, says director Grant Wakelin.
“Many of the previous approaches have essentially been doing the same thing, just more cheaply – a great way to go out of business. The world moves on; the law has changed. Technology has changed.
“We’ve redesigned the process, cutting out the things that are expensive to do and don’t add value. That reduces our costs and we’ve passed those savings on with lower commissions.”
200 Square is an online real estate agency – but it’s not about using technology for technology’s sake, says Wakelin. “We’re using technology to deliver a more effective service to clients. We’re the next generation of real estate agents.”
Wakelin has a background in both real estate and technology. He’s a guy who doesn’t own a pen – just felt-tips for noting ideas on his glass-topped desk – and sees good design as the differentiator. “When you’re doing things on the web, good design is key. The look and feel of the site really matters.”
The agency officially launched in 2012 but for the previous two years a huge amount of work had taken place, beginning with a long weekend brainstorming the creation of a new way to sell real estate. The team of seasoned industry professionals, software engineers and designers, and legal advisors, virtually tossed out the traditional industry model (one which Wakelin describes as ‘moribund’, not having changed the way it does business for 30 or 40 years) and came up with something they believe is a game-changer.
“We sat down and looked at what owner’s need, then designed a solution using today’s laws, technology and way of doing business to effectively deliver that.”
Wakelin believes the traditional real estate agent is an extension of the door-to-door salesperson. “Sitting across the living room table, presentation folder in hand; the industry has developed using a process with the agent as its epicentre. We think that’s wrong. The owner should be the focus. The industry has to change and, as a licensed estate agent, I want to change it from the inside.”
Their new 200 Square model has cut out the middleman. Disintermediation is something the web has enabled for years across a broad range of industries. “Our model is based on not having commission-only sales people running around in cars. Why does an agent have to be face-to-face?”
It’s this sort of thinking that saw 200 Square become finalists in the 2014 David Awards Most Innovative Business category. But as Wakelin is quick to point out, the secret is not in the idea but in the execution. “A lot of people have great ideas but there are very few that actually take it to the next step and do something with them.”
The company was also a finalist for Most Inspired Use of Marketing. “We’re not perfect but we try; we try really hard. There’s no silver bullet.” The important thing, says Wakelin, is to have a plan – and know who your customers are. “I mentor SMEs from time to time and often find they’re not clear on who their customers are or where they come from. They’re not always the people coming through the door. Those people may have been referred by others who are, in fact, your customers.”
A marketing plan is essential but it doesn’t have to be fancy, says Wakelin. “It’s about who are my customers and what’s the best way to get access to them? It’s not about putting an ad in the paper and waiting to see what happens. It needs to be done regularly with regular measurement of the results. You need to have a program in place and if it’s not working then experiment. Try something new, but be consistent. Don’t just try something once and give up if it doesn’t work.”
200 Square customers are home owners, not buyers, says Wakelin. “We’re very clear about that and that’s where we’re not like the others. We’ve oriented our business and our website around home owners, explaining why they should list their property for sale with us.” Significantly there are no images of desirable residences on the website. “It’s about people. People make the decisions and we want to inform them. Give them information.
“We’re content marketers and believe the more informed a home owner, the more likely they are to use our services.”
The company also uses social media with Facebook’s female audience a particular target. “We get good engagement. Twitter’s much more business related – connecting with the industry, the media and influencers.”
However, word of mouth remains crucial. “The most important source of new business for us is referrals from existing clients. Doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, if your clients are not referring you, what are you doing wrong? Have you asked them?”
Building recognition and building the brand have been major challenges for 200 Square. “In this industry we get our ‘lifetime revenue’ from a client all at once – it’s not a recurring monthly charge model.” But awareness is growing; at year’s end the company had listings in the hundreds over the whole of the country.
Feedback’s great, says Wakelin.” People are ringing saying they think what we’re doing is fantastic. That’s a buzz and reinforces we’re getting our message across. Random advocates – it’s awesome. The most frustrating conversation we have – all too regularly – is with people saying ‘I wish I’d known about you guys three months ago!’
“Right now we’re a reasonable size real estate office and we think we’ve proven the model, so now it’s about scaling. This is not a lifestyle business; we want to be a significant player in the New Zealand real estate industry.”
But is it fun? “Absolutely! We work hard and I have tough days and things that drive me insane but we’re having fun. We’re selling people’s homes and we get energy from that. We’re making a difference, trying to do something. We’re out there having a go.”
So what about that rather mathematical company name?
“200 Square? It’s the size of an average New Zealand residential property,” says Wakelin. “But when it comes to real estate we’re not your average agent.”
›› Patricia Moore is a freelance business writer. Email [email protected]