A few years ago, second-generation real estate professional Suzannah Toop was lucky enough to enjoy a coffee with Google Australia Head of Engineering, Alan Noble.
When she asked him about the role of real estate in the future, his response struck a chord.
“He just looked at me, and I’ll never forget it,” Suzannah says.
“He simply said: ‘Well you know the intermediary is dead?’”
As a young woman overseeing $1 billion of property under management at Toop & Toop, Suzannah notes that statement began to shape the future of the familyrun business.
“I think it was the information that I needed to hear because in our view it wasn’t that salespeople and property managers were no longer going to be needed,” she says.
“What it did mean to me was that if we are only going to be in a role where we receive information then disseminate it out, we’re going to really struggle to be where our customers need us to be in the future.”
NO STRANGER TO ADAPTING
Toop & Toop is no stranger to gazing into the crystal ball of real estate and pivoting to adapt.
The brand is widely known throughout the industry for innovation and marketing, along with customer service, quality assurance, and business excellence.
They are regularly front and centre at the industry’s biggest awards and have racked up four admissions into the REIA Hall of Fame – for Innovation in 2009 and 2019, for communication in 2018, and the Large Agency of the Year in 2019.
That’s a fantastic achievement for a brand now in its 35th year.
“Innovation is something that’s been part of our business from day dot,” Suzannah says.
“The reason my Dad, Anthony, and Mum, Sylvia, started the business was because Dad thought ‘you know what? I think there are better ways this can be done’,” Suzannah explains.
“Today it’s still as true as ever. It’s about pushing things forward and really challenging the norm if there is a better way.”
CHALLENGING THE NORM
Toop & Toop isn’t just an agency, but rather a community.
The Toop family might run the business, but staff and customers are at its core.
The business aims to facilitate employees’ success, tapping into technology that streamlines each role and allows staff to deliver superior customer service.
Behind the scenes, employees are further supported with a variety of initiatives.
A complimentary wellness centre offers classes like yoga and boxing, and has a focus on mindfulness and meditation.
Four years ago, Toop & Toop also opened a creche to better cater to parents in the workplace.
“We see the workplace as changing. Work and life are very blended, and can be 24/7 at times,” Suzannah reflects.
“We wanted to make our office inviting so our people could excel in their career but were also supported more generally.”
Initiatives like the wellness centre and creche see Toop & Toop held up as a role model for the industry.
Each year the agency is visited by interested parties from Australia and overseas to see exactly what they’re doing right. One area they excel in is in their commitment to technology.
THE INNOVATION LAB
Long before in-house software programming became a trend, Toop & Toop had developers on-site.
Now there are six full-time programmers in the business.
“Software developers have been part of our business for about 15-20 years,” Suzannah explains.
“If there are great innovations off the shelf, we’ll use them, but if there is a product we need to make specifically because it addresses real pain points or the needs of either our team or our customers, then we build that in-house and roll that out.”
That service proved invaluable in 2012 when Suzannah noticed a trend in the business.
While the sales side was all about high fives, high energy and high results, property management recoiled at the mention of the word growth.
“It would be like the worst word possible, and I was thinking my goodness, what’s going on here?” Suzannah reflects.
“I learnt very quickly that the underlying inefficiencies below the
surface were causing a lot of angst in property managers.”
Looking further into it, Suzannah discovered the property management team was dealing with about 3,300 emails a day.
“Nine hundred of these were to do with maintenance, the second one was lease renewals and the way in which manually you’d have to chase these up,” Suzannah says.
“There was no way our team could function and even talk about value-add to our customers, which was where I knew we needed to be, until we actually cleared a lot of those emails out and got real efficiencies back into the business.”
Toop & Toop set about reducing inbox traffic and developing an app that handled maintenance requests.
It reduced email traffic by an astounding 73 per cent. Next, they targeted lease renewals.
Suzannah notes reducing email was just the start of streamlining the business in a new era of real estate.
A CONSTANT WORK IN PROGRESS
Suzannah explains revising and updating technology is a necessary but constant work in progress. It’s also not without its challenges in a business that has spanned three decades.
“We’ve always been looking at new ways to do things, but when you actually peel back the layers, you’re like wow there’s decisions we made 20 or 25 years ago and no-one’s ever thought to unwind them,” Suzannah says.
That prompted a major review last year, which also saw Toop & Toop shift to the cloud.
“Last July, we turned over every stone asking do we still need to do it this way? If we found we could be doing it better we had to make a big decision to invest and shed that out of the business,” Suzannah says.
“Now we’re looking to simplify business structure from a technology and process point of view, because if we don’t do it there’s a lot of things that will continue to hang around in our business and we’re not going to be able to be nimble, quick, and deliver efficient service to customers because it will be bogging us down.”
THE SECOND GENERATION
Suzannah’s deep-dive into office email came just a year after she and her sister Genevieve rejoined the family business.
The pair had always planned to be part of Toop & Toop’s future, but their arrival was sooner than expected when their father was diagnosed with cancer.
“It brought forward succession for us pretty quickly. We were pretty young and quite green.” Suzannah says.
At the time, Genevieve was 25 and working overseas in marketing, while Suzannah was 23 and a lawyer who had just been admitted to the Supreme Court.
Their re-entry into Toop & Toop in 2012 saw them hit the ground running, helping their Mum, Sylvia, manage a business with 110 staff while Anthony underwent treatment.
“Personally, we went through a lot as a family with Dad’s sickness, but knew the whole team was going through that as well,” Suzannah explains.
“It became about having real conversations.
“They could see we wanted to do what was best for them and the business.
“They could see that we were here to run alongside them and help them, and I think we led by example with our work ethic and delivering solutions to the team.”
Anthony has since been given a clean bill of health, but many of the lessons learned during this period continue to shape Toop & Toop’s philosophies today.
“The wellness centre came off the back of Dad’s health,” Suzannah explains.
“Dad didn’t want us to be going and falling into the same traps that he had over the years.
“With the wellness centre, it was about opening that to the entire team and letting them know they could put their health first as a priority.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
With real estate set to become more focused on value-adding and less about the routine tasks involved in property management and selling, Toop & Toop continues to look to the future ahead.
Suzannah explains that involves streamlining every area of the business to ensure they can deliver more for less.
“We already have incredible people, so if we can underpin that with technology then we will be nimble, quick and do more than we’ve ever done before for less than we’ve ever charged,” she says.
“If we can get out of the way of being in that dissemination of information mode and remove ourselves from that middle position and focus on value-adding, then we are going to have a huge amount of value – more value than we’ve ever given our customers before and be even more relevant than we’ve ever been in the past.”