The founders of Boardwalk sit down to share their thoughts on Bristol, rebranding and having an innovative approach to estate agency.
First things first, tell us about Boardwalk?
J: Boardwalk started 6 years ago. After setting up and growing The Letting Game – a Bristol lettings company – for five years, I saw an opportunity in estate agency and felt it could, and should, be done differently. Our tagline at the time was ‘estate agency refashioned’, because that's what we wanted to achieve. Our aim was to modernise, soften, and ultimately improve the approach here in Bristol. We did lots of research, and even visited a couple of real estate agents in New York to understand how they work. They do things quite different compared to here in the UK, and we learnt a lot about customer service.
N: Having worked at CJ Hole, I had a very traditional set of training and experience, which gave me a good grounding, but I could see several areas that could be improved upon, particularly how you interact with clients. I felt communicating with buyers and sellers should be more personable, so when I met Jack and he pitched Boardwalk to me, it aligned with what I was already thinking. From the start we’ve had a more relaxed style, which I feel resonates with the type of people we work with. We were able to build upon the core values of estate agency, picking out the best and most crucial parts, but then bring in more innovative ideas to make it all tie together. This, combined with our knowledge of Bristol and how the city works, is what created Boardwalk at the very beginning.
What is Boardwalk like today?
N: I think it’s gone from strength to strength. We've got a larger team now, and a new set of values. We used 2020 – as many people did – to step back and take a look at how we were doing and where we could take the company next. Our hopes are to lead the way in Bristol estate agency, with how we focus on the lifestyles of our buyers and sellers and the best ways of marketing their properties. We understand how important interior design is to many, and also what their lives are like living in these homes. We really believe estate agency is so much more than bricks and mortar.
J: Yes, we looked at who our target market really was and what was working, and where we wanted to take the business forward. We believe buyers want to know what they are really buying into – the area, the road, restaurants, cafes and schools, the whole lifestyle. This approach is central to everything we do.
What are your roles in the company?
J: We're both the founders and are still very involved in the day-to-day running of the business, as well as the strategy of moving forward. My role is more focused on the marketing side of things. We've got an in-house marketing team, so we take it very seriously. We believe that estate agency is 50% property and property knowledge and 50% marketing, which is why we’ve got a marketing team almost the same size as our property team, who I help oversee.
N: I run more of the operations at Boardwalk. You will still see me doing valuations occasionally, I do still have a few clients that I work with. My primary role is to oversee the work of the client managers and our office staff. I also sit with Jack and the marketing team at least once a week to make sure what we're doing is still working and we're getting the right message across, as well as talking to our in-house photographer on a daily basis who takes photos, videos and 3D walkthroughs of our client’s properties.
Tell us about the rebrand…
J: Having lived and worked in Bristol for many years, we feel we understand the unique culture of the city and how important the people are that make it. Our aim is for the people of Bristol to see us as an estate agency with a difference – one that is approachable, honest and knows how important the lifestyle attached to a home is rather than just the property itself. As well as many visual changes, the structure of the business is something we've focused on with our rebrand, too. We really believe that estate agency is about building strong, personal relationships. We've got senior client managers who will handle the whole process of selling someone’s property – they also have a dedicated assistant who will help them along the way, as well as a sales progressor who is in charge of getting sales through to exchange and completion. We feel this is the best way to give a fantastic service.
N: There are some good estate agents in Bristol, though many are corporations or franchises that are controlled by owners who are based outside of the city. But you can't really apply a set of processes across different cities because each has its own vibe, own nuances. At Boardwalk, we've always strived to be dynamic and feel we have been quick to adapt over the years. Because of this, we’ve been able to create a bespoke agency purely based around how the city ticks.
Why Bristol? What do you both love most about the area?
J: Well, we're born and bred Bristolians – we love the city and we have lots of friends here. Bristol has a chilled atmosphere, but there's a lot of bright, smart people who are motivated to set up their own businesses. It’s created this really strong, independent and growing economy that’s exciting to be part of.
N: We get a lot of Londoners moving this way and they always comment on the calmer pace of life. Bristolians take time to appreciate things like a good cup of coffee at a local cafe, or a cider in a sunny beer garden. Look at the kind of musicians that have come from the city, too – it's testament to the culture in Bristol and how diverse it is. I believe that Bristol punches above its weight for what it offers its residents in terms of quality of life. It’s a lively city but there’s access to quiet, green spaces too. The Mendip Hills are just south of Bristol, you've got South Wales not too far away, the Forest of Dean, and the Cotswolds, all within a 30-40 minute drive.
Who is Boardwalk for and how would you describe your clients?
J: It's for anybody and everybody, of course. We cover the whole of the city and just outside, including North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. But who uses us most? Probably people from late their 20s to mid 40s age group. We sell a lot of inner-city Victorian terraced properties. Because we cover the whole of Bristol, we can home in on the trendier housing areas like Bedminster, Windmill Hill, Totterdown, St George, Easton and so on. These interlinked suburbs have different quirks, but they're all similar sorts of properties and price points, with similar people living in them. We enjoy recommending different areas to buyers and helping them move around.
N: We know that having just a high-street shop that covers a small half-mile radius isn't how people look for properties these days – especially in Bristol. As Jack says, we’ve sold a lot of properties with a real acknowledgment and understanding of the different areas. We've opened the eyes of buyers to new parts of Bristol, which is nice. To be the ones who introduce someone to a new place they’re going to end up living for 20-30 years, you’re playing quite an important role in their life.
Would you say your clients are up to date with interior design?
N: Absolutely – in the past few years we've seen a huge surge in popularity thanks to the likes of Instagram and Pinterest. The nice thing about Bristol is that there's a real mix of design-led properties and people who care about the style of their homes, but they’re not carved out of the same template, which makes them all interesting.
J: We've started speaking to our sellers and interviewing them about their homes and local areas. I mean, what better way to sell a home than to hear it direct from the horse's mouth? This is part of our new approach to selling properties – letting them tell prospective buyers about the quirks of the property and the things they love most about the local area.
Is there anything else we can expect to see from Boardwalk?
J: The rebrand is our new brand identity, and that goes across everything we do and how we present ourselves to the world. We have a new website, which we're doing some quite cool things with. One part is called 'B sides', which is a place you’ll find plenty of creative lifestyle content including interviews with homeowners selling their properties with us alongside local business owners, headteachers and other prominent people within Bristol’s community. There will also be local area guides, to help people get to know areas of the city as well as we do.
We've recently set up a 'First Look' mailing list, so you can sign up and be the first to see our properties before they officially come on the market. We’ve also got a really strong, ever-growing Instagram following where we share sneak peeks of the latest properties, as well as run regular competitions. Keep an eye out for our Original Features magazine, too. The first issue will be printed this summer and sent out to 50,000 Bristol homes each quarter.
N: The idea of Original Features is for us to showcase the best of Bristol lifestyle. There'll be a few of our properties in there, but the real focus will be on the areas, the people, and the events that make Bristol such a unique city. We can’t wait for everyone to see what’s in store.