Normally at the end of the year I would look to write a reflective blog that would always look to present the best of SHB. This year has been so extraordinary that I think this writing experience will be relatively cathartic as I reflect on what this year has meant for SHB Real Estate, both now and in the future, but also what it has meant for me personally.
Brief SHB Synopsis — how did we look up until March 2020?
SHB was founded in 2012 and by the end of March 2020, with the pandemic just finding its feet, SHB had got to a place where it fully understood its purpose, and perhaps most importantly we had a very clear plan in place for the business strategy over the next 3–5 years. Compared to the previous year we had enjoyed a significant increase in the number of annual deals, we had made some superb hires, the tech and Business Development machine was reaching awesome heights, turnover was up 50% from the previous year and the general profitability of the business was just where we wanted it to be. Actually, from a strategic point of view, we were about to have a real full-scale push and we had a number of hires lined up as well as an aggressive office move, amongst a number of other things. It was ridiculously exciting and then it all changed. I mean seriously, what the hell happened?
The Pandemic, how did SHB react?
Certainly, one of the major benefits about being a business that has historically grown organically is that we are extremely nimble but being nimble alone is not enough. To react effectively and to minimise damage, companies need to be led in a way that is confident and fast. In our case we completely changed tact immediately and any hiring was put on hold, the office move also put on hold, immediate detailed analysis of where we could save money was highlighted, but perhaps most importantly we were driven to make sure that the business ‘kept its structure’. This is a phrase which people around me are probably very bored of hearing but it really has been a mantra over the last 9 months.
Working from home
Fortunately, SHB is built to be a business that can easily work from home when/if required. Within 48 hours all teams were fully operational at home and we were constantly reviewing and tweaking the analytics. We then moved into a world of constant update meetings, problem solving, all in an attempt to get through the corona quagmire and moving the business forward.
Throughout the year there have been different phases for the surveying and serviced teams. Viewings immediately dried up and any meetings with prospective companies or with clients entered the then pretty new world of Zoom and Teams. POW! Just like that everything was remote and although in recent months, face to face meetings have started to creep back in, as have in person viewings, but generally the world of Teams is in many ways, very much here to stay. For me, I am actually ok about this and using Teams as a wider tool has been a very welcome inclusion within the SHB family. Anything that reduces my outrageous number of unread emails in my inbox has got to be a benefit.
Our focus and resolve to BD has continued all the way through the pandemic to date and it is easy to say things like ‘we have the best team’ etc, but our internal targets went up and with the targets our results have also risen, which is remarkable with all things considered. I honestly can’t fault the way that the business development part of our business has stood up and much of this is also due to incredible leadership from Bill Goode but to a person, the effort and results have been exemplary.
Outside of this the support staff within and around SHB have been incredible and at no point has the business felt like it is in a state of panic and although we have had to adapt, it has always been with an eye on damage limitation, seeing the positives and opportunities unfolding in front of us. When a company starts to click defensively it really is quite an impressive thing but this can only happen effectively if the right infrastructure is in place.
What is really important?
As the pandemic was really hitting its straps, we were engulfed in one of the most difficult set of circumstances I have personally ever had to witness and deal with. To begin with, our own Andy Guntrip tragically and unexpectedly lost his wife Bonnie. Not only did Andy lose his wife bit his 2 boys lost their mother and even writing this now, makes me feel incredibly emotional. Over all the things that happen in life, nothing is more important than the things that happen with family and I can’t say enough how everyone within SHB is full of awe and admiration for Andy in particular and his boys. The word ‘inspiration’ can sometimes be over used but in this case absolutely not and to accompany Andy’s own efforts, everyone within the business gathered around him and gave him and his boys the most support and this will always be the case for anyone that needs support within SHB. Gunners we love you😊
In quick succession there was another very difficult situation unfolding and that was Rebecca Headon, who suddenly became very ill and within a number of days placed on a ventilator. At the time we assume covid and to date we still don’t know really know, but within a number of weeks of being very ill, things really didn’t look good and by some kind of modern miracle, Bex’ body remembered how to breathe independently and the very slow process of recovery began. Now 7–8 months down the road, Bex is a lot better but she gave us a horrendous shock and we are grateful that you are re-joining us in January. What an incredible fighter you are and for the second time this year I find myself in awe of an individual’s efforts in life.
I think it’s necessary to say that of all the things I have been involved with to date in my professional life, the way SHB has reacted and offered its support is incredible and it makes me truly proud to be involved with this group of extraordinary people.
To Furlough or not to Furlough?
Although I fully appreciate the government initiatives across the board, for a company like SHB to commit to the knee jerk reaction of furloughing staff, this would have been a terrible error. To block off the new pitching opportunities would have harmed us further down the line and it would ultimately lead to future losses of income. We were utterly resolute that the business must keep its structure and as such we did not furlough anyone at all until about 2 weeks ago.
With business development, I have always viewed this as a defensive tool, ultimately designed to encourage new business and in the end encourage further income producing opportunities to the wider business. For me it is absolute madness to cut this lifeline off for relatively meagre savings the moment the opportunity arrives. As a net result, and although clearly the market was in a state of shock, over the months from April to December, we have booked over 248 new meetings and as a result the number of new projects SHB has and continues to win is rising at quite a rate. This really has had so much to do with patience and the ‘whole’ collective effort.
There is no way of being polite about it! From the months of April to early July our income reduced by about 80%. It was absolutely brutal and from being on a massive high of the previous year this was a brutal shock to the system but as I mentioned above, we became immediately very defensive and navigated through the financial quagmire.
As we went through June to August we bounced and much of the legacy work dropped. This was a herculean effort by the surveyors and like BD, their dedication to the cause has been incredible. This largely saw holidays fly out the window (couldn’t go to many places anyway), long hours and just brilliant mental approach from all involved. As a result, we had a great month in August and the pipeline was starting to build for 2021–22 and we had our noses in front. In 2020 through relocations alone we managed to cover nearly 500,000 sq. ft. and our pipeline going into the next year is almost double this and climbing. Under the circumstances so far so good…
Lockdown Part II
Where as with the first lock down we had protected the business and the staff fully, with this second lockdown, we needed to act quickly. This time around we knew that a lot of the legacy work was completed and billed, but fortunately the pipeline was strong due to the efforts of the previous months. We immediately planned to selectively utilise the government furlough scheme, with a view to protecting the business from a prolonged period of negative economic impact, particularly with UK confidence at a very low ebb. The view is very much’ let’s get ourselves through the rest of the year and into the mix of 2021 quickly’.
HOORAH — A VACCINE — What Might Come Next?
Personally, I think this is magnificent and I share in applauding the NHS and the scientists that have done such an incredible job this year and I have no doubt will continue to do so. Like so many things that come and go with ferocity, I have no doubt that this one will be the same. Unfortunately, the economic legacy of the pandemic will be very deep and now we have a number of vaccines being approved, the true nature of this down turn will become clearer. The commercial worlds desire for there to be a quick bounce back is over-shadowing the reality and that reality is that this is very much the beginning of the financial struggle. This is not doom mongering or talking down a market but simple economic common sense and honestly as we enter 2021 and head towards the end of the financial year in March, the landscape will become much clearer. The deferred rates, rent, PAYE, corporation tax, the end of furlough and more. It is an ugly situation but, in a boom-and-bust economy, to get to the beautiful state of entrepreneurialism and growth, we have to go through some pain first.
How has this been for me?
This has been a tough year for sure and away from the human suffering, I am a dedicated student of economics and cycles. My choice was made when I decided to run a company that I would be subservient to those businesses and staff. Often this involves taking the rough with the smooth and overall, I have found the whole year utterly enthralling and, in some ways, both frightening and exhilarating. At no point has SHB felt out of control and for that I thank all of the people that work alongside me. We have reached the end of a year that will take its place firmly in the archives of history and I, like those around me, have some deep battle scars, but I am certain that SHB is a much better business as a result of this year. The future is supremely exciting and personally my motivations are stronger than ever. This is not going to be an easy road over the next 24 months but there is an abundance of opportunity and market share to gather and we have a pretty big net to fish with.
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