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  • Mal McCallion

Gilded Guild

So that’s that then – the Guild and Fine & Country are off to their new homes with The Property Franchise Group (TPFG). But I rather suspect it will be a more comfortable resting place for one of these two long-standing brands than the other.


Fine & Country (F&C) is a straightforward franchise which, as TPFG’s name suggests, is pretty much what they do. It’s also a much higher revenue-generator per branch, with the franchise fees and revenue percentages reflecting the exclusivity of the brand, its name-recognition around the country (and world) and the superior end of the market that it serves. There is no surprise that, for an acquisitive listed company such as TPFG, it has probably long been a brand that they'd like to add to Martin & Co, Belvoir, Hunters, EweMove, CJ Hole, Whitegates, Parkers, Northwood, Newton Fallowell and a few others that I’ve no doubt forgotten.


But that’s a strong list, isn’t it? Throw a luxe name like F&C on top of it and you’ve pretty much got a choice of brands – and way of working, including non-office-based EweMove – that will suit any aspiring property franchisee. (There is probably a small space below F&C and above the others where you could squeeze a nice Winkworth in, were the Agaces minded to finally give in to Samples’ sweet sales pitches …)


But then there’s the Guild. It’s very tempting to think that the sellers, Nurtur Group – backed by venture capital (VC) fund Tosca who, let’s remember, only became involved in the Guild/F&C when these brands decided to acquire the ill-fated easyProperty – refused to sell the crown jewels (F&C) without TPFG taking the Guild too.


Due to some canny dealing by CEO Jon Cooke and others, Tosca have Frankensteined a variety of tech businesses together to form Nurtur (which was previously called eProp Services due to the easyProperty hangover) – including the likes of Starberry, Property Jungle, Brief Your Market, LeadPro and Yomdel. These pure-play proptechs are now standalone suppliers to the industry and can be pointed very clearly at the whole market, rather than having to be seen to favour Guild and F&C agents.


Therefore, Nurtur holding onto the Guild without F&C would never have worked. As a membership organisation, the Guild of Property Professionals (to give it its full title) doesn’t have the control over its 800-odd branch network that a franchise operation has – and therefore would have had to be much less interesting to TPFG. Indeed, it’s diverting to imagine what the Guild members themselves might be thinking about this sudden change of environment – where once the Guild stood for independent agents coming together to share economies of scale to fight against the corporates, here they now are within the biggest, publicly-listed corporate out there.


So there is a sense that the Guild wasn’t a priority for either party in the deal – and TPFG was keener to get the hands shaken. At £20m, the sale is a good multiple of the £3.2m EBITDA that the two brands conjured in 2023 (most of which would have come from F&C), again suggesting that the buyers were more enthusiastic about the whole thing.

Will there be a time when TPFG decides to offer each Guild member a full franchise under the Guild brand? Herding 800 branches of thoroughly independent agent cats will be a challenge that their current systems and procedures are not geared up for – far better, perhaps, to try and crowbar as many ‘outlets’ (as TPFG are weirdly calling all of their branches) as possible into a familiar franchise framework and let the rest drift off, perhaps back to the welcoming arms of the relaunched Relocation Agent Network?


However it shakes down, two things are now clearer than they were last week: 1. The Property Franchise Group is serious about hoovering up every conceivable franchise group out there (recently-freed LSL franchisees will be keeping their phones fully charged) and 2. A slimmed-down and refocused Nurtur Group is likely to be looking for more tech acquisitions with its war chest too.


In the meantime, F&C franchisees will be made to feel like they’ve come to a natural home. Their sister brands under the Guild umbrella, on the other hand, could be forgiven for feeling a somewhat chillier wind blowing through their windows and doors. For an industry so often dismissed as stale and stuck in its ways, the UK residential property market somehow always seems to be pushing forwards, doesn’t it?

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