Happy Lets co-founder answers the questions
As the daughter of restaurant entrepreneur Charan Gill it is no coincidence Preet Sandhu ended up in business. She started building her own property portfolio in 1999 and eight years ago she and husband Bobby took over her father's portfolio as well. They believed no letting agency would look after the investment they had made in the same way they would so formed Happy Lets. Since then the business has opened up in Glasgow, acquired the Letting Store in Hamilton during 2008 and earlier this year took over Surehome Property.
What do you do?
We offer residential property management and letting services to landlords and tenants, which means that we do everything from arranging accompanied viewings, drawing up lease agreements, tenant vetting, undertaking inventories to quarterly property inspections, managing repairs and organising gas safety checks. In a nutshell, we make our landlords happy by helping tenants find their ‘happy place’ .
Where did the funding come from and which organizations have supported the business?
We have had a lot of support from Clydesdale Bank for our first acquisition in 2008. Over the past two years Happy Lets has been profitable, due to this, and also, because of the way that our recent acquisition was structured, we were able to fund it through our cashflow. We have had recent discussions with Clydesdale and they have expressed support for future acquisitions.
Who are the key people in the business?
Every member of our team plays an important role. The staff who deal with tenants and landlords on a daily basis play a key part in tenant and landlord experience with our company. They have a great work ethic and are the lifeblood of our business. Bobby, my husband and joint managing director, also plays a huge role in the day-to-day running of the business and in building and strengthening landlord relationships in particular.
Most recently my role has been to ensure the smooth transition of the recent acquisition and to focus on the growth of the business.
What is unique about what the company does? We are committed to offering a high standard of service to landlords and tenants alike. Although ultimately the landlord is our client, we can only keep them happy if we are keeping tenants happy. For example, happy tenants are more likely to look after a property and stay in the property for longer and this, in turn, keeps costs down for landlords.
What has been the single biggest investment?
The purchase of The Letting Store three and a half years ago.
Has there been a key moment or turning point?
Yes – when we rebranded as Happy Lets. This is when we decided that we needed to build a strong brand identity in order to compete with some of the bigger names in the industry. Our name sends a strong message to our landlords and tenants along with our motto: ‘happy landlords, happy tenants, happy homes’.
What is the business plan and how does the company intend to grow? We want to be managing a portfolio of 5000 properties within five years. Having increased our property portfolio by 50 per cent on last year, this is possible if we continue growing at the same rate. We are actively looking for other acquisition opportunities across the central belt and have plans to open offices in both Edinburgh and Stirling. Ultimately, we want to be known as one of the biggest and best agents in the business through a series of acquisitions and organic growth.
Do you have any non-executive directors, mentors or key advisors? Who are they?
At the risk of sounding cheesy, my role model in business is my dad. He came to the UK from India when he was eight years old. He left school with no qualifications and worked very hard to become the successful businessman he is today. He is an entrepreneur who takes risks and has the courage and determination to take an idea and turn it into a business which makes money. I’m slightly more cautious and it’s good to have my dad give me the push I need to just go for it. It’s because of my parents that I have the values I have today. There are no short cuts to success, just hard work and determination. They have encouraged me to be strong and independent and to reach my full potential.
How does the company use technology and IT?
Both landlords and tenants use the internet when looking to find letting agencies. We use all the major websites to promote landlords’ properties and invest in maintaining a high profile on these websites. We are currently looking at developing an app for mobile phones and also looking at QR codes. As a new mum, receiving emails to my phone and being able to log into the office system remotely has been a great advantage. It is important to keep up with advances in technology and to act if there are any ways in which to implement them to improve our service to landlords and tenants. We also use systems which allow us to set the optimal rent by applying sophisticated analysis to the most recent market data.
Who are your key customers/what are your key markets?
Our services are provided to both landlords and tenants. We manage a portfolio of over 800 properties across Glasgow and Lanarkshire. These range from bedsits to six bedroom luxury homes, allowing us to cater for a wide range of tenants including students, professionals and families. Our landlords include first-time landlords, ‘accidental’ landlords who have found that they can’t sell and have decided to rent, as well as experienced buy-to-let single and large portfolio landlords. As landlords ourselves, we are sensitive to the needs of different landlords and adapt our service to individual landlord needs.
Does the company have international sales or does it intend to grow internationally?
We are initially looking to expand closer to home; however international expansion is certainly something we would consider in the coming years. This was something which we considered and always had in our minds when we re-branded and as we implemented and developed the systems and day-to-day operation of the business.
What has been the best achievement so far?
Winning the Businesswomen of the Year at the 2011 Scottish Asian Business Awards was, for me, a great acknowledgement of what has been a very challenging year.
What has been the biggest hurdle which has been overcome? In our first acquisition, there were a couple of staff members from the previous company who stayed with us. This was beneficial as they had past knowledge of the properties and a relationship with the landlords and tenants. In our recent acquisition, the one member of staff who stayed on unexpectedly fell ill only three days after the takeover. We very quickly had to put systems in place to ensure that the landlords and tenants did not suffer any lack of service, which involved a lot of time on my part. It was very important to me that the landlords and tenants enjoyed the same level of service that they were used to, if not a higher quality of service. It was a stressful time due to this and the fact that my baby was only two weeks old. However, four months on, business is good and we have received positive feedback from landlords.
What will the next 12 months hold?
I will actively be looking at prospective portfolios to acquire. I am also looking at adding to the services we offer and perhaps looking into shorter-term lets and serviced apartments.
Where do you want the business to be in 10 years time?
I want Happy Lets to by synonymous with a high quality, professional service. I want it to be the first name that comes to mind when you think of letting your property. I would want it to be a national brand with offices all over the UK and perhaps even further afield.
If you were given £1 million to invest in the company how would you use it?
I would concentrate on developing an international franchise model.
What's the best part of running a business?
Being masters of our own destiny. We have a certain amount of control over our future and that is a fantastic feeling, though we stand and fall by how hard we work. Whilst we are dependent on our landlords to give us the work, we believe that they will not leave us if we deliver the quality of service we know we are capable of.
I like being able to make changes if something isn’t working as well as it should or needs improved. I’ve worked with companies in the past where I’ve found that things could be done a better way but changes were never made and we weren’t the best we could be. I found that very frustrating.