How long does it take to blu-tack a bit of Perspex to a few desks and make four dozen face masks out of some old socks?
Frankly, for an industry obsessed with branch offices it’s been pretty slow to re-open some of them. And one has to wonder why? I mean really why.
The corporate behemoths, in particular Countrywide and Spicerhaart, when challenged on their lethargy in un-mothballing issued reactionary statements that cited ‘following the right and proper processes to ensure branches are Covid secure’ and ‘carrying out proper risk assessments’ and ‘training staff to social distance’ and the like.
Some of these responses were made in mid-May, well over a month ago, yet some of the branches of these beleaguered businesses are still yet to open their doors.
That’s a lot of process being processed and a lot of training on how to tell what 2 metres looks like – hell, the rules just changed to a new social distance of 1 metre and which means, one imagines, that the training will have to start all over again due to this ‘sudden and unexpected recalibration’ as amended by government.
And this from a profession that measures rooms for a living. *Puts head in hands*.
Or, is the delay due to something else? I mean, surely even the most snail-like of corporate decision making can’t be this slow. Even continents shift faster.
One can only speculate and form a logical opinion – and so that’s what I’ve done, I’ve formed an opinion on the mystery behind these deep-frozen estate agency branches.
So imagine that times are tough in your estate agency business, you’re on the edge and then along comes a virus that halts all day to day trade. Tragedy.
But, what if, whilst you’re well and truly on the ropes now, a nice man from HM Treasury informs you that he’s going to pay your staff bill and defer your rates for a while.
Your landlord won’t be able to evict you for a period and so you can stop paying your rent. What’s more, the same nice man says you can apply for a £10,000 to £25,000 grant for each of your premises as well as an interest free loan courtesy of the tax-payer.
Now you’re sitting pretty. The wolves have been gently ushered from the door. For now.
You’ve also realised for a while since everyone has told you so ten thousand times, that to maintain a cumbersome branch network of hundreds of loss-making prime high street located office fronts is no longer necessary or sustainable – but up until now you just didn’t know how to cull them.
Nor had the guts to. And even if you did it would just look like a surrender to those nasty hybrid and online guys.
Ego being an important driver of commercial decisions (not), you continued business as usual hoping for a fairy or a genie in a lamp to one day come to your rescue in a dream or something.
But wait, the Covid crisis, horrendous tragedy that it is, provides you some cover.
Yes, financial cover for a while and also a means of shuttering branches and quietly not opening them again later on.
You can sit there hoping that no-one will notice that hundreds of your outlets have been put on permanent ice or, if you have a half-decent PR agency in tow, you might write a pre-emptive press release setting out how ‘Covid-19 has enabled us to rethink our long-term strategy and to understand that remote working through the technology that we’d already had the foresight to invest in, has allowed us to protect the sustainability of the company through operational consolidation without any detriment to the service we provide to our customers’. Or similar. (Corporates: Feel free to cut and paste this into your actual press release. Have this on me. You’re welcome).
I’m afraid that the cat, as they say, may just have popped it’s nose out of the bag.
I may well have just spilled the beans on what Countrywide, Spicerhaart and others are up to.
Yet, if this ‘stab in the dark’ is true then surely this move should have been made more honestly and without the false cover of Covid?
And definitely without stringing hundreds of staff along on furlough on the tax-payers’ shilling for weeks and weeks longer than necessary preventing them the opportunity of looking for jobs elsewhere.
If my tongue-in-cheek supposition here turns out to be true, then that’s a rotten way to behave.
Of course there’s also the question of why certain, formerly respected estate agency giants didn’t see the writing on the wall years ago and in spite of people like me grabbing their heads and pointing to the actual writing on the wall, figuratively speaking.
Mass branch closures by stealth? Probably.
But the question is, if so, is it too little too late for the industry whales? And will they survive the backlash let alone the ever deeper red-ink on their P and L’s?
I’ve written previously as to the sheepishness of the big estate agency bosses since lockdown first bit.
Little has been heard internally and even less so publicly in the way of any unprovoked statement of intent or strategic announcement.
No rallying call from the top-table to motivate the troops or to reassure the rank and file.
Any mere whisper heard from well-appointed Colchester mansions or Milton Keynes glass-fronted towers has all been rather on the back foot save for a certain cliff-edge video about ‘curling up and turning up’ of course.
But that doesn’t really count except for its comedy factor.
Shutting up? They have. And they will – their offices that is.
But if you thought the ‘shutting up’ headline of this piece alluded to me doing so, then I’m so very sorry to have disappointed you.
Up the workers.