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Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

My wife has a birthday coming up and I am planning to take her away for a few days to celebrate. Finding I has some time on my hands, I ventured into the high street of a large Kent town a few days ago searching for a travel agent. I can remember a time when it was not that unusual to see a queue outside the doors of travel agents at peak times. Of course the Internet has changed all that and now most of us book online.

However on this occasion I wanted advice from a real live person and not a website so I set off in search of a high street travel agent.

Whilst walking through the town, I could n’t help but notice how many high street estate and letting agents were on the high street. Inevitably in the current market, several had closed down. Of those that remained (at least 20 in this one town alone), the offices were devoid of people apart from a few staff who all seemed to be on the phone. (Which begged the question, do they need to be based in expensive premises just to make telephone calls?).

When I did find a travel agent, there were several customers inside. Figures from the Association of British Travel Agents suggest 1,400 agencies have closed in the past decade – many of them large chains. However this is leaving a gap in the market allowing savvy travel agents to adapt to their customers needs and provide an enhanced service and tailor made packages – just what I was looking for in fact!

This experience has reinforced my personal belief that if high street estate agents are to survive, they need to adapt. Perhaps additional services such as mortgages and conveyancing alone are n’t enough? For example the coffee shops and sandwich bars in most towns invariably seem to prosper. Therefore why not entice people into your office by offering coffee and cakes? (Subject of course to obtaining any necessary consents).

Whilst prospective clients are sitting there enjoying your hospitality, provide them with a computer screen so that they can combine the growing trend of searching for property online with asking for advice face to face. Even if they find a property for sale with another agent, you will still be well placed to offer your services should they have a house to sell, require a mortgage – or just need another cup of coffee!

The ‘Frog and Cabbage (sic) Estate Agency and Coffee Shop’ may not just bring people off the street and into your office but you might just make some money out of it too!

In the meantime the 85% of people who search for property online will continue to do so and whether estate agents like it or not, this is the future for UK property sales. The only way to counter it is to offer an enhanced service or a hybrid which combines online property sales with traditional estate agency.

Richard Garland is the founder and managing director of and can be contacted via