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MAY 2012 |

THE LAST WORD Developer profi le

find investors, but in Europe there is also Moscow for the right product,” he says. “We are retailing to UK buyers under normal terms. Yes, the Asian buyers are investors, but they are genuine investors and not speculators. This is why they are stable and buy repeat business from me, time and time again.” Growth will come from “a better

ability to finance, which we have secured, and by taking a bigger market share.” But does he really sell the same

“Key assets are the product, the price, the presentation, and selling professionally”

homes in the same way, no matter where he is? Yes and no, seems to be the answer. “The UK and China are entirely different places. In China, we go and have single exhibitions and sell our wares, and in the UK, we have outlets in the high street, open seven days a week. We are looking at two different markets. In Asia it is long-term investors and in the UK it is retailing.” Weston knows the Asian buyer very well. “We have been going out to Asia for 17 years … and maybe two or three times each year too. I go personally every time and we have established a long and trustworthy

relationship with Asia. The one key thing is that we never change the pricing or incentives between the UK and Asia, because both markets look at each other and talk to each other.” When he goes out to meet and greet in China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau, is he surprised to find that there are not more UK or European house-builders working in Asia / China? No, not at all … “I’m actually surprised that there are as many out there as there are, and we will start to saturate the market soon if we are not careful.”

Does this mean that there could be new JV opportunities for Weston Homes in the future? Is he looking to tie up with JV partners and lock out competitors in the Chinese market? Yes, but not in China, he says.

Weston thinks that the flow of business will be coming the other way, out of China and into Europe. “Generally, when they talk about joint venture possibilities over there, China is thinking about venturing more and more into Europe and the UK,” he says. “I think we will see a lot more Chinese banks joining syndicates and finance groups, picking up some of the gap that the traditional European and UK banks have left behind when they pulled back.” “We are talking to two or three groups of people right now who are cash-rich developers in their own

About Weston Homes

The company was founded in 1987 by Bob Weston and its first development was a 4-bedroom detached house in Essex. It specialised from the outset in the regeneration of brown-field sites, becoming a leader in this tricky area of development. It also prides itself on high levels of customer care. “The company is committed to providing customer service to the highest standards,” it says on its website. “To this end we do not operate a call centre but a personal service with the name and contact details of the dedicated customer care assistant identified in a ‘Welcome to your New Home’ letter sent to each new customer on legal completion of the purchase.” “Key to the success of our team is their thorough product knowledge … a result of on-site training with our Quality

Control Team and the manufacturers. All calls received are monitored on a system called Coins (Construction Industry Solutions) by way of a Key Performance Indicator displayed on a plasma screen within the department. This identifies the number of customers waiting; issues outstanding and time they have been outstanding. It also tells the team how many units are in warranty.” Key challenges for Weston are “prices and planning rules, both of which are rendering many brown-field sites

unworkable in terms of achieving an acceptable financial return.” So, “against this backdrop we have, in the past year, secured 14 new sites which will produce 1,210 units. We have acquired a good mix of small and quick turnaround sites and some longer and more prestigious ones which will be developed over the coming years.” In terms of sales, Weston says “the year ending 31 July 2011 resulted in 410 new private sales - which was ahead of

budget. New sales remain challenging to convert because of the availability of mortgage finance. First-time buyers continue to be the hardest hit in the current climate due to the amount of deposits demanded by lenders, but we have continued to perform well in this area on the basis of the geographic focus of our schemes and our market- leading specification levels.”


Weston | We are retailers, not wholesalers. We are a manufacturer of people’s homes.

right in Asia, but don’t have the expertise in the UK and are looking at joint venturing.” In short, Asian property money could soon be helping to build the next generation of Weston Homes in the UK. Is there anything to be learned in approaching different buyer markets around the world? Does Weston alter its sales proposition for different buyer and investor markets or countries? Does it tailor developments differently according to the country in which it is seeking buyers? “No, never,” says Weston. “We

don’t change as we go around the world; we are always selling the UK and it’s always the same approach,

no matter where we are.” New markets on the horizon could include India. “There are certainly a lot of discussions about moving to places like India, where they have got a lot of high net worth individuals who might want to share in the same type of investments,” Weston says, “so you always have to look for somewhere new.” For such a successful big

company leader, he is remarkably grounded, down-to-earth, and proud of his thoroughly sensible passage into the business. Born in Kent, he stayed at school to GCSE level and then left at 16. “I didn’t attend university,” he says. “My first job was actually as a computer operator at the University of Essex. I then trained as a carpenter and went into construction-site management, which led me directly into property.” He is very sanguine about the brave new world of social media and online digital marketing too. “I have got a great deal of scepticism about social media but, having said that, there is a place for social media in the planning context, such as consultation. While I do not get it on a personal note, there is a time and place for it in everything.” Where is his time and place for relaxing? Outside work he loves “golf and motorsport. My handicap is 18 and two of my favourite golf courses in Asia are the Hong Kong Golf and Jockey Club and Marina Bay Resort in Singapore.”

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