He’s not called Bob and he’s not a builder, but former Countrywide managing director Alec Watt claims to have just the answer for fixing your furnishing dilemmas, as he explains to Clare Bettelley.
To be able to take credit for a 43% surge in turnover in just two years, and for a service that for most is more of a luxury than a necessity, is an enviable place in which to be, particularly for a man who had absolutely no idea what he wanted to be when he grew up.
But Alec Watt, who was headhunted to become managing director of home furnishings provider Fully Furnished in 2008, can do just that. Moreover, he can take responsibility for February and March being the most successful months in the history of the company, which was founded by husband and wife team Steve and Geraldine Russell in 2000.
This is no mean feat in a housing market in which agents are continuing to feel the pinch of historically low sales volumes and are thus continuing to control their purse strings with great vigour, and where corporations have been investing in fewer employee relocation packages.
But according to Watt, while many firms are retaining a cautious approach to third party services, lettings agents and their landlord clients are seemingly prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure a rental property is let as soon as possible. And, according to Watt, this is the approach being adopted by developers, too.
He says: "The feedback we're getting from developers, particularly at the upper end of the market, is that buyers are still unsure about buying unfinished or off-plan properties, so we get called in to dress their developments midway through the construction stage, to give buyers a feel of how the finished product could look."
Agents and their clients typically approach home furnishings in three ways: there are those who dismiss them and home styling as a whole as a waste of money; those who aspire to be the next Sarah Beeny and prefer to have a stab at makeovers themselves; and finally, there are those for whom furnishings are a nice to have if only they had the time, inclination or expertise to devote to them, which is the camp in which many of Fully Furnished's clients fall.
Since Watt joined Fully Furnished, he has managed to persuade the likes of Knight Frank, Savills, Marsh & Parsons and Foxtons to become clients, as well as Countrywide's residential lettings and land and new homes divisions. But this comes as little surprise given that Watt is a former Countrywide employee.
Watt started his career at art school with a view to becoming a graphic designer, but the lure of the glamorous agency life in the heady eighties soon put an end to such aspirations, and a string of promotions led to him remaining an agent.
Watt started his agency career with Black Horse Agencies as a negotiator "locked in the copier room for six months", after which he was promoted to the role of director of estate agency, retail banking and financial services for the East for Bradford & Bingley Estate Agents when it acquired Black Horse Agencies.
He was then promoted to the role of managing director for the Eastern Counties for Countrywide when the group acquired B&B Estate Agents in 2004, and remained with the group until 2008 when he left to join Fully Furnished.
Around 40% of Fully Furnished's business is derived from Asia, with the remaining sources within the UK including home styling and emergency services work, whereby Fully Furnished is contracted to provide temporary furnishings in the event of a disaster, such as the flooding in Cockermouth in Cumbria last November. The devastation resulted in the firm being tasked with providing 2,000 furnishing packages in a six-week period.
Fully Furnished also provides high-end furnishings via the Callister Russell brand it launched last July, with the help of an in-house designer.
Fully Furnished's services don't come cheap, with fees starting at around £2,500 and £3,000 per month, escalating to as much as £25,000 for a Callister Russell package, but it's clearly a service on which clients believe they can make a return on investment.
Watt says: "Agents can charge a premium on a rent if a property is furnished as well as minimise void periods."
Agents can refer clients to Fully Furnished's services, which can earn them around 5% commission for every client order they facilitate, depending on the volume. Alternatively, they can white-label the services. Watt says:
"When I was in agency I thought that if a property was right and the right price, it would sell, but I soon became a convert to the job we do and it's now my job to convert other agents."
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