IMS Lettings: Chris Griffin

We talk to IMS Lettings founder, Chris Griffin, Startups Service Business of the Year 2005

Chris Griffin didn’t come to the Startup Awards 2005 for a glass of champagne and a nice meal, he came with the sole intention of collecting the title of Service Business of the Year for his business IMS Lettings.

Fortunately for Griffin and his staff, most of whom were present at the ceremony, they had convinced our judges that they were worthy of the prize. He tells us about his company’s rise and how IMS came within a hair’s breath of collapsing shortly after they began.

Like many good start-ups IMS Lettings were borne out of frustration with the way things were. Chris Griffin was a landlord himself but found that the attitude of estate agents towards lettings was poor, and that he felt that it was up to him to change things.

“I was a landlord myself for 15 years and I was frustrated by letting agents,” says Griffin.

“I thought they were charging too much money, the service was poor and they showed a lack of enthusiasm for the business.

“I was paying £70-£80 and I thought ‘what am I getting for my money?’ – The answer was very little.

“There also didn’t appear to be many people who were just doing lettings.”

However, Griffin wasn’t fully ready to start up his business at this time and decided that he needed to do some research.

This involved he and some helpful friends going out with clipboards and interviewing landlords about their experience with letting agents.

Over the next 18 months they interviewed around 500 landlords in the Derby area, and they appeared to be sending Griffin the message he wanted to hear.

“The research showed that there were a lot of people in the same boat as me, who were not impressed with the service they were receiving,” he says.

“We wanted to give landlords a quality service at an affordable and clear price, the same sort of service you would get if you went to an estate agents sell your house.”

In the summer of 2003, Griffin along with his father and Len Green formed IMS Lettings with an aim to transform the lettings market.

Through savings, loans from family and bank loans they amassed £50,000 to get the business up and running and felt sure that following there dogged research they were on to a winner.

However, three months later they had not managed to acquire a single customer and the money was virtually all gone.

Griffin was on the point of abandoning the venture, however a conversation with his father Vic proved to be a turning point.

“He said ‘you know I think that you are doing it too cheaply and people are suspicious’. We were only charging £19 per month, so we put it up to £30 and we took on 25 landlords that month!”

The business soon began to start rolling in and now IMS are managing 1000 properties all in the Derbyshire area.

They persuaded their local newspaper to contact trading standards as they wanted to have the right to advertise a ‘Derby’s No.1 letting agency’ – a right that they won.

Griffin believes that one of the main reasons for his success is his absolute passion for property. It is a passion that he ignites in his 23 staff members, many of whom have become landlords since joining the business.

He also believes that his company offers a good service to its clients, a service that they were not getting before, and for a cheaper price.

Despite undercutting his rivals, Griffin says that the business is very profitable and has a predicted turnover of £4m for 2005.

The Startup awards judges were particularly impressed with the way the business was marketed and advertised. IMS makes particular use of the local media and has well designed glossy promotional material, that aims to reflect the aspirations of the people they are targeting.

Griffin says that he was inspired to start his own business after reading the autobiography of Sahar Hashemi, who founded Coffee Republic.

Keen to inspire others, Hashemi kindly agreed to speak at Startup Award winner’s ceremony and Griffin was understandably thrilled.

“That made the day all the better, I found her speech particularly interesting. The day was fantastic.”

Now with the award in the bag he hopes that his business will go on to be the ‘No.1 in the country’ and has earmarked the year 2008 to achieve that aim. www.imsproperty.com

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