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The extraordinary summer of 2020 – from bust to boom

Andy South discusses life after lockdown

At one of our weekly strategy meetings, our bright and buzzy Marketing Manager suggested that it might be an interesting idea to make the next NicheCom blog about the challenges the company has found since returning to work after the lockdown.  As these challenges have undoubtedly been the hardest we have ever faced since founding the company in 1993, I decided that actually it might be a cathartic experience to try and communicate what we have experienced since we re-opened our doors on Monday 18th May.

I should make it clear I’m not looking for any sympathy about what has gone on during the past few months.  We’re extremely grateful that business is booming and I know agents have also been working night and day, but boy oh boy has this current market exacted a toll on the people trying to service it.

So, let’s look at a graph showing weekly orders that clearly shows what an extraordinary year it has been:

NicheCom order number statistics September 2020

NicheCom order numbers 2019 vs 2020

Not the kind of graph I’ve ever seen before in my working career. The year started off strongly with all agents reporting increased activity, swiftly followed by the complete stop to all business on March 23rd.  After re-opening in May, the release of the pent-up demand caused by Brexit and lockdown caused an approximate 20% increase in year on year orders. However, it was the stamp duty holiday announcement in early July that really sent order levels stratospheric, with every week since then showing about a 60% uplift on the 2019 figures.

Now, if you’re my wife and she asks how the company is doing and you give her these figures, off she goes online to look for a new handbag.  However, what these numbers do not show, are the logistical issues caused by this kind of bust to boom activity.  Just coping with all these additional orders have meant a herculean effort from all NicheCom employees, from the photographers on the road, to our back-room staff in South Africa and not forgetting the Head Office Customer Service and Admin departments.  As it’s simply not possible to have instant access to a dozen extra photographers, all our existing staff have been busting a gut, regularly pulling extra weekend shifts to try and keep up.  The training programme to become a NicheCom photographer can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months and as all our clients know (and hopefully appreciate), in order to guarantee the quality of our work, we operate an employed resource only policy.

The recruitment of new photographers

We have in fact now managed to recruit over 20 new photographers who are starting to make some contribution to the workload.  Inevitably our service levels have suffered, something I know our clients have found frustrating, but I believe have understood – not least because of the enormous workloads they themselves are dealing with. 

The current situation is very definitely not something we are happy about, but until either volumes fall in line with what we were expecting and/or our new recruits finish the bulk of their training, we will still unfortunately be experiencing severe pressures.

So what is going to happen over the next few months?

So, the big, big question, what is going to happen over the next few months.  As I write this blog the number of cases per week are continuing to rise, the government has just locked down the North East, parts of the North West and perhaps most worryingly, threatening the same for London.  What form this lockdown will take still seems to be rather vague with no indication whether the house buying process will be affected.  All we can do here at NicheCom, is to try and look after our own house and that means continuing to invest in people and to work with estate agents to make sure their service to vendors and buyers is the best it can possibly be.

I expect in years to come, nobody will look back on 2020 with much affection. Although I didn’t want to have to go through the last few months, thanks to the incredible efforts of all our staff, NicheCom will come out the other side a better company which will only benefit us in the future.

Sods Law of course, as soon as I finished this blog, Boris decided to go on national TV and announce his new restrictions to combat the rise in Covid cases, including the shutting of pubs and restaurants at 10pm.  Judging from the reaction of the media this morning, we are in for an interesting 6 months with further measures likely if infection rates don’t fall.

From a NicheCom perspective, over the last couple of weeks we were noticing an increase in 3D Showcase orders and utilisation of GotoView (our virtual viewing platform) and if new orders this morning are anything to go by, estate agents are beginning to plan for the worst and a potential second lockdown or at least a two week ‘circuit-breaker’ (media’s words not mine) for the half term at the end of October.

Good luck to you all, let’s hope that these changes don’t disrupt the market yet again.  Although, right now absolutely nothing would surprise me!

Andy South, Founder and Group MD, NicheCom