|Doing Business Correctly
An interview with Robert Maunder - February 2005
Question: I have watched First Mallorca work its way through a rather crowded field of real estate agents on Mallorca to become its most respected and trusted agency. How have you achieved this position?
If I had to find one word it would be 'discipline'.
In that context, could you define the word `discipline'?
Discipline is our company philosophy and that means we strive to follow the principles, aims and standards we have set for the company. In saying that I like to think those disciplines should come naturally, in your genes or your education. Also, early in my professional life I was fortunate enough to have a very responsible position in a company which did not tolerate deviations from the company's high standards. My personal philosophy was reinforced and I really did enjoy that period. I was proud to work for that international Swiss based company, their considerable success was and still is built on quality, professionalism, their product, service and frankly being the best in the business.
Was your previous profession real estate related?
Yes and no. I worked in the development of the tourism product, mostly long haul tourist destinations. I lived and breathed that infamous word "location", applied to exotic holiday resorts, islands and hotels in exciting cities. I believe there is a strong link between the two. We were satisfying the traveller's desire to enjoy exotic scenery, warm weather, sunlight and a rewarding experience. My personal progression is we are now offering clients ownership of leisure time and relocation property to enjoy a better life style.
Why, when you have worked and travelled so extensively, you chose to establish a business in Mallorca?
First Mallorca was created in 1995 and clearly to be successful you must have a good product, in our case, a product that people would like to own and a product that has mileage, meaning it has good growth potential and related to holiday homes, easily accessible throughout the year. Mallorca in 1995 appeared to fit those criteria. Attitudes were shifting away from the island's earlier `package tour' reputation and was beginning to establish an appeal to a more discerning clientele. Therefore that more widely conceived image was changing. There were of course many fine holiday homes on the island but it seemed to be a fairly well kept secret. Islands will always have a special appeal and I thought Mallorca, for the following reasons, had little or no competition as an easy to reach second home venue. It offered numerous facilities, established marinas and an international port, golf courses, great scenery, beautiful beaches, abundant restaurants, international schools and excellent medical facilities. In addition to these factors, the island enjoyed superb flight schedules to Northern Europe & Scandinavia. The more one examined it the more one saw the advantages over other destinations. For instance, English and German speakers would find little difficulty in communicating. Unlike the crowded Spanish Costas over three quarters of Mallorca's land's mass is uninhabited. On a personal basis my association with the Balearics began in 1982 after we had a villa built, enjoying it for one month each year.
What do you think you have brought from previous profession and experiences to First Mallorca?
The importance of location in the wider sense, exposure to a broad base of the travelling public's views, eyes and ears open to track developing trends and a daily dialogue with staff to continuously improve our efficiency and position. The business of my former profession was strictly regulated. Sadly the real estate business in Mallorca is not. However, this fact works to our advantage, as time progresses our client base multiplies. It multiplies with the help of all those having confidence to recommend us.
Do you place a lot of importance on knowledge of a location?
I quote that phrase - `location, location, location'. Although I don't like the phrase, it is so important to prospective property purchasers. Mistakes are made if they don't have the expertise or time to have researched the destination, it is therefore essential to have informed and honest advice. How many people visit a Mediterranean island in summer when every square meter is bathed in warm sunshine, only to return to a disappointing winter weekend break and indifferent weather and then discover that just 30 minutes away others are enjoying warm sunny days to the lee of a favourable geographic phenomenon. The right or wrong location can mean the difference between a suicidal dead area of shut-up cafés and restaurants in winter, or an all year round welcoming bolt hole, that great contrast from a grey and cold Northern Europe.
Anything else which you have applied from past experience to First Mallorca?
Yes, product range, product knowledge and service. Offering top end exclusive properties does not mean you ignore the lesser expensive end of the market. We try to maintain a presentation of a full range of properties, houses, villas and apartments as long as they represent value for money and they are in good locations.
Locations are determining the product we ignore. We have offered properties within 100 m of each other which have been gems in their own right but have been at the opposite ends of the costs spectrum. A 7m Euros villa in Puerto Andratx overlooked a sweet harbour- side apartment highly recommended at 210.000 Euros. To expand my reference to the attitude to service and the necessity to know your product. For many years my area of activity covered the Indian Continent, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and the Far East. In particular Thailand and Singapore left a big impression on me. Their professionalism and attitude to doing a job well and their obvious pleasure in providing a service is an experience and leaves an impression Europeans are unlikely to forget. Product knowledge - to give good advice on the real estate business you must be familiar with every aspect of the product. You must understand the whole scene and have a broad knowledge of values and future prospects.
So you place a lot of importance in your business to the attitude to service?
It's important but by itself it will not take you far in this business. Let me explain the structure of First Mallorca. For a start we employ approximately 2.5 persons as support personnel to each member of the sales team. The entire team of First Mallorca is salaried plus the sales staff receive a commission on sales. Incentive and productivity payments are also made to management staff at various levels. I do not believe remunerating sales staff by "commission only" is in the best interest of the buyers. Also employers do not have the same interest in investing in "commission only" sales staff who historically change jobs regularly Both the sales and support staff of First Mallorca receive regular in-house training and attend seminars, the sales personnel attend Monday to Friday morning product briefings. Their support personnel are in most cases professionals and they are an integral part of a successful sales team. Their expertise providing the financial answers, solutions and assurance to bring both the seller and buyer to a satisfactory conclusion. The majority of our company employees are tri-lingual and in total our staff speak eleven languages. We are an international company employing qualified people from across Europe, Scandinavia and around the globe. By no means does our involvement end at the point of sale. It is often the beginning of a long relationship with buyers. Our after sales service can go on for years. In addition to the sales, finance, legal and reception personnel we have our own in-house media department. In that respect we are totally self-sufficient. We produce all our promotion and advertising material, including a high class brochure each Spring/Autumn and we invest a lot of time and effort on our daily updated website which also includes Mallorca features. In this department we employ designers, photographers, text writers and IT experts. This enables us to provide the most effective marketing on the island to our vendors. The whole structure of First Mallorca is there to maintain the highest degree of service - we have no competition in that respect.
From the brief meetings I have had with the staff of First Mallorca, it does appear you have a happy and enthusiastic team. Can I ask you how you have achieved this?
I rather think they are the architects of their job satisfaction. Our contribution, in addition to the incentives I mentioned earlier, are that we try to select new staff that will gel well with the present team and we have also invested in elegant and spacious office environments, in-office facilities for staff and the very latest technology. The technology is unique to Mallorca. This year, in appreciation of our team's efforts, we are taking the entire staff of First Mallorca to Bangkok to celebrate the New Year. In addition we are awarding, for good ideas to improve the company, Thailand holidays which include partners. Thailand is chosen as their holiday venue because I would like our team to experience, first hand, their attitude to service, a standard we try to achieve. Also we want them to enjoy the experience.
What are your plans for the future of First Mallorca?
We will open two further real estate offices, including a new concept for Mallorca's real estate market and further develop our new rental department located in new offices in our central office building in Costa D'en Blanes. The additional two offices will cement our dominance in the area.
Have you ever considered franchising First Mallorca?
I would never consider it. Our office structure, our discipline, can only operate in its present form - though each office is an individual entity they are monitored, controlled and assisted by a head office nerve centre with its various support departments. That is the great strength of First Mallorca. I have seen so many franchise outlets providing a chronically poor arrangement, offering little more than a basic purchasing point for their listed properties. In many cases there is a considerable misconception in relation to known names and their overseas franchise representation. Most function by name association only.
What is the future of the Mallorcan real estate market?
There are at least 4 factors which are necessary to maintain the current success of the Mallorcan real estate market. The economy of the Northern European countries, in particular the larger markets Britain and Germany, reasonable bank mortgage rates, the continuing frequency of the budget airlines and finally the weather. The latter being a pretty safe bet for the next 100 years.
On a personal basis, I understand your partner in life is your partner in business?
Photo: Heidi Stadler (right)
Yes, Heidi Stadler (see photo: right) is the company's financial and legal brain, any lawyer or accountant ever at odds will confirm. Perhaps my most challenging job is to obtain agreement with her over expansion and budgeting proposals. Born under the sign of Taurus, financial security to her is important. The financial health of the company is therefore in very safe hands under her management. I met Heidi Stadler, an Austrian national, in Indonesia, on seeing her organisation I offered her a job there and then. A few years later the job offer materialized. I am a Virgo, generally known for their fastidious attention to detail. I don't see that as an affliction.