SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS TALENT – SUCCESS STORY
At Murrison & Wilson we’re privileged to work with so many successful business owners and keen to showcase our clients’ talents. We would like to welcome Steven Lucas from Vanilla Square to share his real experiences and tips to help business owners build up a successful business.
Q: What does your business do?
A: We are a boutique Estate Agency based in the West End of Glasgow. We are focused on giving the highest levels of personal service to our clients, 7 days a week, and cover both Residentals Sales and Letting.
Q: How did you get started running Vanilla Square?
A: Vanilla Square was established in February 2010 by ex-Corum founding Partner, Innes Allan. Set up at a time where residential sales were slowing down, Vanilla Square were able to quickly become one of the most recognised Letting Agents in the West. With a strong team and some creative branding, the company took control of the mid to upper end Letting market. As the sales market improved in 2013, Vanilla Square Sales was born and has gone from strength to strength. Both Sales and Letting complement each other very well.
Q: How long has your business been running?
A: Since February 2010.
What’s your background?
A: I studied for a few years in Pharmacology at Edinburgh University! I have always loved working with people and always had a passion for property, so I started working for Slater Hogg & Howison in 2003 and worked from the bottom up. I quickly learned the trade and eventually was offered an Associate Partner position with Corum which I welcomed as I grew tired of the corporate world where targets were all anyone cared about. I just wanted to offer one service and focus entirely on that to offer the best experience to both buyers and sellers. At the end of 2013 I set up alongside Innes Allan and Joanne Mories and created the Residential Sales division of Vanilla Square.
Q: What was the biggest hurdle you faced starting up?
A: The biggest hurdle was starting with a stock of zero! It is hard to convince clients that you are better than the competition when your business has no sales trading record. Despite Innes working in residential sales for 23 years and myself working in the business for 14 years, clients always want to see the track record of a company. So we really had to work hard to prove we excelled at what we did.
Q: How did you chose where to locate?
A: We had an office on Minerva Street which was quite tucked away, and we were offered the opportunity to take a beautiful B Listed building in Hyndland. This was a great stepping stone for us and help Vanilla Square to become widely known. At the end of 2016 we needed more office space and decided on an even busier area. One with a lot of passing traffic and also a building we could promote our brand. We are now based at 711 Great western Road, just by Oran Mor. The traffic literally stops at the lights outside our windows and this move has seen a significant improvement in our visibility and our brand recognition.
“It is liberating to leave the corporate world and become your own boss”
Q: What is your top tip for anyone starting up a new business?
A: If you have a real passion for what you do, and believe in your ability, then go for it. It is liberating to leave the corporate world and become your own boss, and also very rewarding. You must be prepared to work all the hours in the day to make it successful and be prepared for some bumps along the way- it isn’t all plain sailing. Also you don’t need to reinvent the wheel- you just need to be better than your competitors!
Where do you plan your business to be in five years’ time?
A: Now we have settled in our new office we will start to look at further expansion. People seem to love the brand and our clients all love what we do- they appreciate that they are not just numbers to us, and that we value each and every one of them. If we can grow our office reach across the West of Scotland and possibly towards the East, that would be our aim.
Q: What has been your best day, so far, in business and why?
A: Probably the end of our first year of trading. We over-achieved on our expectations which was incredible from a standing start. Reflecting on the good and bad periods, and appreciating that we had worked through everything to over-achieve on our goals was a very satisfying moment.
Q: How do new clients find you and you find new clients?
A: Naturally like all businesses we advertise on websites, national press, radio and leaflets, but with our business being so bespoke, clients are always impressed and a lot of our business comes from word of mouth and recommendations. For this reason we work extra hard so that no one is disappointed.
“We work extra hard so that no one is disappointed”
Q: How do you kick start your working day?
A: I would like to say it usually starts by going to the gym followed by arriving at the office at 8am, but this isn’t the case! I usually find myself racing up the M8 having taken a child to school and got through my morning emails!
Q: Why do you do think your clients keep coming back to you instead of the competition?
A: It’s the attention to detail and level of service for sure. We offer every form of advertising possible to give the greatest reach for any property, and no one else can better this. We make ourselves different by focusing on smaller volumes of property and giving a personal service than no one else can compete with. This is why we are highly regarded, have won several awards and are recommended time and time again.
“We make ourselves different by focusing on smaller volumes of property and giving a personal service than no one else can compete with.”
Q: How do you measure business success?
A: Of course it will be on income to a certain degree, and to see that income increase on a yearly basis. But it is as important to see a positive reaction from clients and be recognised for our hard work. Winning awards also tells us that we are doing something right!
“Winning awards also tells us that we are doing something right!”
Business owners have so much to do every day, how do you manage your time?
A: This is one of the hardest parts of running a business. Finding a healthy work/life balance is tough. You need good diary management and you need to prioritise jobs. Normal working hours don’t apply, and you just need to stay in the office until everything is done.
What is your favourite part of your working week?
A: It has to be when closing dates are set. The West End of Glasgow has a very strong market, and closing dates are generating some incredible prices, beyond the peak market of 2007. A sale recently hit 20% above the Home Report value!
If you could travel back in time, to when you started up, is there anything you would do differently?
A: I honestly don’t think I would change anything. If anything I would probably have moved to our current office on a busy high street first, however, our presence in Hyndland did help establish ourselves with the mid to upper end market with a number of sales over £1,000,000.
If you would like to get in touch with Steven or find out more about Vanilla Square visit