DeVono: Adam Landau, Robert Leigh and Luke Philpott
Adam Landau explains how the business he co-founded tapped an unmatched gap in the commercial property market
DeVono is not so much one to watch, as one to keep on watching. Having been around since 2003, the commercial property company has completed deals with Red Bull, Manchester United and Toshiba.
The business was born after co-founders Adam Landau, Robert Leigh and Luke Philpott – all of whom worked for niche property firms – spotted a crucial gap in the lettings market: the tenants.
While most commercial property companies represent landlords and seek to gain them the highest price for their properties, there were no agents exclusively representing the interests of the commercial tenants who occupy those spaces.
“Why tenants are so important – not just to DeVono but to the UK economy – is that commercial property is the bedrock of people’s pensions,” Landau explains. “All the large pension companies, most of their investors’ money is spent within the commercial property sector. Without them filling that commercial property with a tenant, your pension scheme will suffer.”
DeVono works solely with business tenants to find commercial properties in Central London, which perfectly match clients’ needs. It also negotiates the most advantageous terms – ensuring, not only that the client secures the lowest price, but that there are no loopholes that the landlord can slip through later.
It is the latter which really differentiates DeVono from a tenant negotiating independently. Its team has the legal insight and expertise to ensure a deal is secure.
Unsurprisingly, the business model has been attractive to commercial occupiers, but it has also gained support from agents, architects and builders. This bodes well for the company, which uses these contacts to keep on top of commercial property vacancies in Central London, so that “when they [agents] officially launch a new building, generally we have already seen it.”
The businesses using DeVono’s services typically have 50 plus staff, but also include corporate-listed firms seeking several thousand square feet of office space. “We like start-ups as well because they could be the Google of tomorrow,” Landau says. In either instance the client gets the same treatment, and is supported throughout the build and fit of their new office.
The downside of this business model is that once those clients are settled in their new property, they are unlikely to want to relocate again for at least five years. “The greatest challenge we have is new business – finding new tenants and occupiers. We could do the greatest transaction ever for our client but they’re not coming back to us for five years,” Landau says.
Consequently, a key focus of DeVono’s work is on generating new business. During the recession, rather than trimming down, it re-distributed staff to increase the capacity of the new business team and redirected its focus to international businesses who wanted to come to London.
“We did a unique thing during the recession, we actually employed more people,” Landau says. “We were able to get hold of people who prior to the recession were in very good jobs. We decided this was a great opportunity for us to employ better people and that proved to be a very wise move.”
In fact, DeVono has doubled staff numbers in the last 18 months, currently employing just shy of 20 personnel. The downturn did cause the company to fall short of its predicted £2.5m turnover in 2008. However, after continued persistence the business is set to bring in “well over £2m” this year.
Furthermore, every penny of that will be their own; as the founders paid back their £40,000 start-up loan within the first four months of business and have been self-sufficient ever since. For Landau, maintaining complete control of the company’s dealings is crucial and he believes that what differentiates DeVono from the copycat competitors who have launched in recent years is that none have the authenticity of working exclusively with tenants.
It is testament to DeVono’s success that in a tough and competitive economic climate, it is the leader in its field. This year it hopes to become the first commercial property company to acquire over 100 properties in London for offices and next on its hit list is an expansion into retail spaces.
“We really want to become just as big in retail as we are in offices,” Landau adds. “It’s not about representing as many companies as possible, it’s about representing up and coming brands that we feel are going to become the next big thing. We’re very excited.”