Talking recently to 180 delegates at the ODI (Organisational Development International) conference, which included delegates from Russia, the UK, France, Japan, Italy, Croatia, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – Bill Rawson, Chairman of the Rawson Property Group, revealed some of the factors that have enabled his property company to achieve growth of 838% since 2001 – despite the downturn in residential property sector which has caused a drop in monthly transfers from over 40,000 (in 2007) to 17,700 (the current rate).
Many factors contributed to the group’s growth, said Rawson, but undoubtedly its position in the market has been of supreme importance. The Rawson Property Group, he said, focus on sales below R2 million and are more than willing to work in the lower middle and lower brackets and it is in these areas that the bulk of the action has recently been seen.
“Repeated requests from some of my staff to aim for a bigger stake in the top bracket and to slant our group’s image more to upper bracket properties are always taken seriously. Nevertheless, at this stage, we are moving fairly cautiously in that direction because we are aware that companies with too high a preponderance of top bracket stock have been among the hardest hit by the downturn.”
Equally important to the success of his group, said Rawson, has been the emphasis placed on training and education.
“This is now mandatory – on an ongoing basis – for all staff, including franchisee principals and their senior managers. Training takes place throughout the country and throughout our group year-round. Our declared aim being to have the best educated and best qualified agents and staff in South Africa today. Many groups would certainly say the same, but I doubt any can claim the same success that we have had in this field.”
Where the Rawson Property Group differs from so many rival companies, said Rawson, is in its approach to finding new business opportunities; notably new stock to sell, new buyers, new agents, new franchisees, new diversifications and new development opportunities.
“Many major groups,” he said, “spend large – sometimes very large – sums on advertising their services and their stock. This does much to raise their profiles and images, but is not usually as effective in bringing about action, as is the direct one-on-one approach which our company tries to foster.”
This approach, said Rawson, calls for ongoing canvassing and the act of offering valuations, again on an ongoing basis. It also relies, to a great extent on emailing and SMSing, countrywide referrals for potential buyers and sellers and many other, often IT-related promotions which the Rawson teams use to capture a large share of the market.
“We believe that greater penetration of the market can be achieved without drastically increasing ad spend. We try to encourage staff to spend more time networking, doing promotions and making contacts because it is our belief that this really pays off – and our record shows that this strategy has merit.”
Rawson added that when he and his co-directors chose to go the franchise route – after considering its pros and cons for some two years – they recognised that this had to be done ‘wholeheartedly’.
“To us this meant that no branches should be held back from franchising simply because they were profitable and therefore were useful to the owners of the company. We have stuck to this policy – all our operations are now franchised – and I believe that our franchisees are grateful that we have done so.”
Franchisees, said Rawson, need to know that they are crucial to the success of the group and that any effort spent helping them achieve this is not irksome or a nuisance to the senior management team – but in everyone’s interests.
To further this goal, he added, his team has business development staff in all areas and they encourage franchisees to participate regularly in open forum discussions.
“At these discussions, no subject is taboo,” said Rawson. “We recognise that it is important for franchisees to air their views and say exactly what they think. This is a natural evolution, in my view, of the “family” culture in which many agents in the Rawson Property Group grew up and which has permeated our group for most of its 30 year history.”
Rawson said that he hoped the ODI conference would lead to the Rawson Property Group extending their franchise network in Africa. They already have over 190 in South Africa as well as one in Namibia and one in Zimbabwe.
He is fairly confident, he added, that the overseas delegates at the conference will now be more aware of, and more interested in, investing in South African property where, he said, they have been reminded that the returns are equal to most of the more successful Asian countries and decidedly better than most of the European and US opportunities currently on the market.