Here’s a franchise business opportunity you may not have even been aware existed - ‘boards service providers’. Ben Brookes, MD of the UK’s biggest such agency explains what it is and why it attracts so many people…
Agency Express is, in the words of its own MD, part of a “hidden industry”. If you thought that estate agents erected all those ‘For Sale’ and ‘For Let’ signs themselves, prepare to receive some shocking news. They don’t.
Third party ‘board services providers’ are a thing and Agency Express is the UK’s leading franchise operator in the sector with more than 100 franchisees servicing a network of 7,500 agents including sales, lettings and commercial.
“We erect, maintain and manage the vital temporary signage – known to you and me as ‘For Sale’ boards and ‘To let’ boards - used by our clients across the country to support the housing market,” explains MD, Ben Brookes.
“Each one of the 130,000 visits we make to a property each month is a chargeable event, with daily repeat business from almost 100% of our clients.
“I joined Agency Express in 2008 having cut my teeth in the property sector at online portal giants Rightmove. I joined the board as Franchise Director in 2013 subsequently taking the offer of the MD’s role just in time for the pandemic to begin in February 2020! Certainly an interesting first year at the helm, but with a fantastic head office team and stellar network of franchisees it has been continual growth and improvement curve ever since.
“Agency Express is far and away the largest and most successful company in our sector with more than half of all UK estate agents using our services.”
What are ‘boards service providers’?
You are now among the enlightened, but as previously explained, many people are simply not aware that such a business exists. It’s certainly a factor when trying to grow the operation and bring on board more partners.
“In the property sector we are very well known and respected,” says Brookes, “but in the wider world I’m often asked to explain what we do in more detail. Franchising is a close community that we have been part of for over 20 years; within that community we have been a franchising advocate and vocal supporter of the BFA since the beginning. I’m pleased to say we must be doing something right as all major high street lenders are happy to finance what we do and we have welcomed multiple franchises to our network from other successful brands.
“There has never been a better time to ‘get on board’,” he says.
If it’s not estate agents with a vested interest putting up all those boards, who then, does the business attract?
“We have had franchisees from all walks of life – Warehouse Operators, Undertakers, Stock Brokers, Milkmen, Farmers, and Sales Professionals to name a few. Your work background is not important; at Agency Express we try to look past CVs and previous experience to understand what makes that individual tick. Work ethic, drive and a sunny disposition is far more important to us than who last employed you.”
So, it’s a pretty broad catchment for a pretty niche business opportunity. How then does Agency Express attract people when there are so many other franchise opportunities out there? In short, what’s the elevator pitch?
“If you are looking to join a franchise network that offers large national contracts, industry leading technology, consistent daily repeat business and a recession busting model then Agency Express is the solution.
“With 25 years of industry experience, and more than 100 successful franchisees within the network, you will be joining an industry leader at the top of its game. There are an estimated 1.5 million For Sale and To Let signs on UK streets at any given time – each one of these boards needs to be erected, adjusted and retrieved; each visit posing a valuable earning opportunity for the Agency Express franchise network.
“With our franchisees based at home and working from their bespoke liveried van they are able to maximise profits and minimise downtime and administration. Every aspect of the day to day operation has been distilled to ensure the most number of board movements can be completed, and the perfect work life balance can be achieved. If you are looking for a business that gets you out and about and working with your hands, but you want the scalability to build your own multi vehicle business then we want to hear from you.”
Initial outlay for a franchise
The key question with franchises is always about the initial investment and Brookes says that an outlay of £24,500 +VAT will get you started.
“Most of the new franchisees joining us are purchasing resale opportunities,” he adds, “In such cases the initial investment can vary, but is always able to be financed and is most commonly driven by the profitability of the franchise in question.”
And of course the next thing usually asked, is what do I get for that investment? What is on offer in terms of support and training?
Agency Express offers access to its online business management system SignMaster3. SignMaster3, which enables franchisees to manage all aspects of their businesses from daily work list management, to stock control and allocation, and invoicing and credit control.
“It’s a one stop shop that even plans the route our franchisees will take to each property.”
“We also conduct all invoicing, credit control and debt chasing for our franchisees, leaving them to focus on the core operation of their business. Our Sales & marketing team are on hand to provide constant support with sourcing new business from e-shots, mailshot and SMM through to ‘feet on the street’ support from our dedicated Business Development Manager.
“Finally, we are constantly sourcing and developing new national accounts, revenue streams and supplier relationships for our franchisees to benefit from. Over 40% of all the turnover generated within our franchise network came from nationally agreed contracts.”
Growing a franchise
Any business not growing is failing they say and AE helps facilitate that expansion by putting together a growth plan for individual territories, with an assigned business development manager.
“We will then travel into the territory with the new franchisee and begin the visiting process – we aim to visit and introduce the new franchisee to all potential clients over a launch period, building a ‘traffic light’ database of new customer targets. Behind the scenes we will be blanket marketing via e-shots, mailshots and SMM during this launch period.
“Once the initial launch period has passed, the Business Development Manager will work closely with the franchisee to ensure progression is being achieved in line with their goals. We are always on hand to offer further area support, marketing strategy or sales guidance when required. All franchisees are equal in this respect and simply have to pick up the phone and ask if they would like further help.”
Unusually for a franchise operation, which normally target expansion of the number of franchisees, Brookes says AE is mostly at capacity in terms of those numbers. But, with the average franchisee tenure of around eight years, there are always entrance opportunities arising through businesses that are resold.
But not all estate agents are on board and Brookes hints at a new revenue stream for partners that is shortly to be launched.
“Whilst our franchisees continue to generate the highest level of turnover in our 25 year history, the focus continues from HQ to ensure a good work life balance for our franchisees. This breeds a happy and healthy network, with the longevity we need to offer a top notch service. We will therefore be introducing new revenue streams in the coming months (which I can’t currently talk about) to enable them to make every property visit even more valuable. We will support them in growing their individual businesses with new staff members, and continue the 2022 focus of price, mental health and wellbeing.
“With over 100 franchisees we are largely ‘full’, but we will continue to help and support those franchisees reaching the end of their time with us.
“On a personal note we work with nine out of the top 10 estate agents in the UK. It’s my personal mission to bring on number 10!”
So there you go. Now you know about the world of boards service providers and all signs point to a business opportunity offering a steady income stream and good work life balance.