Chris Tyson, CEO of Tyson Properties, on breaking into new markets, the power of brand perception, and attracting top agents.

Below the industrial-style concrete ceilings and aluminium piping are the crisp-white, spacious agents’ desks. There’s a coffee bar with good coffee in the reception and large flat screen televisions on display in the shop front, showcasing the company’s portfolio of fabulous homes and apartments. The overall effect of the new Atlantic Seaboard and City Bowl Tyson Properties office, which is in plum position in Sea Point Main Road, is on trend, slick and modern. Even the agents are good-looking and stylish dressed.

There’s a temptation to assume it’s all style over content. Except it’s not. Chris Tyson knows what he’s doing. There’s a quiet confidence about him that offers a good balance to the shiny new offices, and it’s a powerful combination. This is style with substance.

“Perception is so important in this industry”, says Tyson. “What the new Cape Town office says is: ‘We’re in this game. We’re here now, and we’re ready to be here’.”

He’s referring to the company launching in Cape Town and Johannesburg this year – the company’s 10-year anniversary – making it a national property brand and a top contender.

Tyson Properties was established in August 2005 by Tyson, who was already an experienced estate agent, and businessman and partner Gavin Cunningham. Says Tyson: “The rationale behind the creation of the company was two-fold – to provide a specialist agency that is aware of the distinctive needs of the market, and to create a sophisticated real estate environment that offers exceptional service to clients and a platform for top agents in the industry to excel.

The company started out with a single real estate office based in Morningside, Durban. Ten years on, the employ more than 270 agents and employees in 21 offices. The company now includes residential, commercial and rental properties in its portfolio, and has a Property Management Division.

 

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TYSON’S TRADE SECRET

Tyson says he was tired of working for companies that had a negative working environment. It was all about the bottom line, with little regard for integrity, or agents’ work environment. Tyson Properties made it its aim to create a happy and professional working environment, along with a strong corporate identity and support, excellent operational systems and marketing, knowledge sharing, training and a vibrant company culture. And, he says, the strategy has translated into measurable success over the years. “We’ve attracted younger, creative, professional agents. The right people in a business content. I’m proud of our collective expertise.”

Tyson said he faced scepticism from the industry – the big names supposedly had the Cape Town and Johannesburg property market sewn up. But for him, it was about his goals – after 10 years he wanted to push the company and set about on his next five year plan to grow the company nationally.

“We had everything in place locally before the expansion – the preparation was key. And we made sure we moved and attracted the right people to Cape Town and Johannesburg.

“We knew we needed a fresh approach or we wouldn’t survive, but our aim is to build our brand and positively impact the market with our service and innovative ideas,” says Tyson. “Each year, we have exceeded our forecasts, grown our footprint and increased our market share. Tyson Properties now dominates the market in most of the areas it operates in.”

But what about the economists all calling downturn time again?

“We were just three years old in 2008 when the last downturn hit, and we made the most of that time,” says an optimistic Tyson. “We used the time to reinvest back into the company – franchises weren’t surviving so we took them back as branches. We also focused on our human resources and actively head-hunted for management positions. We used the slow market as an opportunity to grow, so we were ready when the market turned.

“But we’re bullish about the current market – we’re not seeing a serious slowdown. People might be downsizing and there is a shortage of properties to sell.”

That said, Tyson’s not burying his head in the sand. “South Africa is volatile, and it’s not a brilliant market, but it’s also not bad. I’m relaxed. I’ve been an agent and I know the pitfalls. If you get out there continuously – whether the market’s good or bad – you will sell and you will make money.”

 

THE END GAME

Tyson Properties plan to have six offices open in Cape Town and Johannesburg in 2016. “Joburg’s a harder market because they’re not as brand loyal as Capetonians.” And they may look at franchising in certain areas but, says Tyson, he likes the philosophy of their affiliate partner, Christie’s International Real Estate: “We’re not in every area, only the good ones.

“My next five-year goal is to have about 50 offices, with a turnover of R8bn a year.”

 

FEATHERS IN THE TYSON CAP

• Awarded affiliate status for KwaZulu-Natal from Christie’s International Real Estate (which is achieved by invitation only)

• ‘Best Real Estate Agency in South Africa’ category at the International Property Awards Africa consecutively from 2009 to 2013

• The Tyson Properties website was awarded the ‘Best Real Estate Agency Website in Africa’ award at the International Property Awards for 2013–2014 and received a Highly Commended award for 2012–2013

 

A GOOD WORKING SPACE

Considering that many of today’s office employees spend more time at work than at home, it’s important that working environments should be a comfortable, efficient and inspiring place.

“We are extremely proud of the new office, as it represents what Tyson Properties is as a brand. It’s unique, it looks great, and is functional for both agents and our clients. A well-designed office space can breathe life into an organisation by boosting creativity and output among employees and give the business credibility,” says Tyson.

Interior designer for Tyson Properties, Jacqueline Berry explains: “A happy and professional working environment with excellent operational systems has been successfully achieved here. By creating pockets of casual meeting areas, the agents can sit down with their clients in an informal atmosphere to enjoy a cup of coffee and do what they do best – communicate. Open-plan workspaces allow for knowledge-sharing and great communication among the employees,” explains Berry.

 

Words: Catherine Davis