pencils edited 04 blog

Rise of the independent – why independence is better

21 January 2016, by Dean Croucher

Independence was a founding principle for TwentyTwo because we believed it was a critical differentiator that mattered to clients. Today, in our sector, we think it matters even more.

Too often in the commercial property industry, we see cosy relationships and conflicts of interest that limit the ability for other professionals to provide objective ‘free and frank’ advice that’s in their clients’ best interest.

Our decision to start independent and remain so was to maintain that crucial ability. Independence for us is defined by:

  • Independently owned and operated as a New Zealand business (not driven by someone else's agenda)
  • Independent of thought, with the courage to ask the hard questions and challenge conventional thinking in our clients’ best interests
  • Independent of the market – acting only for tenants and owner-occupiers – never landlords or developers – so we understand their world and have no conflicts

Twenty-five years ago, these choices were at odds with how others thought. Today, many more businesses are embracing independence and the independent spirit, including many of New Zealand’s most successful and fast-growing brands. Here are some of the reasons behind it:

1. Authenticity is becoming more critical to customers

Authenticity is critical to any brand. Authenticity is a product of an organisation’s values and personality (identity) and the passionate belief, determination and technical ability of its owners to drive an idea (a proposition) to market. 

As organisations grow, often through acquisition and/or merger, the values and personality of the original organisation – along with its passion – get diluted or forgotten. ‘Larger’ generally results in ‘less authentic’ and that’s a problem because authenticity has never been more important in the brandscape. 

When Z Energy bought out the Shell petrol retailing business, they launched a completely new brand, passionately built around New Zealand, its people and serving the customer in innovative ways. You couldn’t imagine multinational mega-brand Shell creating the Z Energy proposition, can you?

I believe we’re at a very interesting point right now, where many customers are turning away from large multinational brands to smarter, often local, but always independent brands, wherever they can. And increasingly, they can!

2. It’s easier to disrupt and get innovation to market

Independents are more innovative and entrepreneurial. They start because of an idea and the willingness to take a risk on it. They are agile because they’re unburdened by organisational constraints and attitudes. And today’s technology landscape allows them to get to market faster and easier. 

By positioning themselves as a challenger brand or market disrupter, they aim to capture the early adopter market and become tomorrow’s leaders. 

There’s no better example in New Zealand than Xero – a technology business with a mission to make accounting software beautiful and simple to use. Nothing more, nothing less. As customers, we enjoy this kind of disruption and the fact that small start-ups can take on big goliaths. Independents like Xero offer new value in ways we might never imagine. Like… accounting software can be cool! 

3. It’s easier to be heard, easier to engage

One of the major barriers to entry for start-up business used to be marketing costs. How did you get your message to your audience? All that changed with Web 2.0 and the rise of social media. Today, there are any number of online channels offering inexpensive ways to access mass and niche audiences. 

Digital allows brands to create innovative, entertaining and meaningful experiences for their customers and prospects. And all this adds up to engagement. Independents often base their entire marketing strategies on leveraging technology and digital channels to engage with their customers. And they’re generally better at doing so than large, traditional or legacy organisations. In New Zealand, one of our best loved brands is the independent, family-owner Whittaker’s Chocolate. I don’t think there’s any brand in NZ which uses digital better to engage their customers.

4. The more we hear, the more we want

Because authenticity matters more than ever, because it’s easier to get to market than ever before, and because it’s easier to be heard and engage at less cost than ever before, we’re seeing more independents come to market and succeed. In every sector. 

And, as we engage with – and get to experience their passion, determination, innovation, products and services – I think we are more and more likely to go in search of independents to buy from them rather than traditional brands. 

The entire New Zealand Craft Beer movement has exploded for all the reasons I’ve given above. It’s still a micro sector, but the myriad of small, hip, independent brands producing amazing beer is creating what appears to be a virtuous circle of innovation, variety, quality and renewed commitment. The independent craft beer movement in the US started in the 1960s. They said then it wouldn’t last. They were wrong. It’s become a global movement and the big multinational brewers are watching.

For what it’s worth (and it can be lots, actually)

For me, being independent keeps my passion burning. Being able to truly serve the best interests of our clients is what gets me up every morning. Having to answer to no one but them is a reward that only independence can bring. For our clients, it means ‘trusted partner’ and advice they can really rely on. How much is that worth? In our work, it can often mean several million dollars by getting it right. 

So here’s an interesting question – and please feel free to engage with us on this: We’ve published our first market report on the Auckland Commercial Office market. It’s an independent opinion and you can download it here. Now, go compare it with a market report from a traditional, multi-disciplinary real estate broker. Whose would you most trust?

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About the author

Dean is one of NZ's leading property advisers with 25+ years’ consulting experience acting for major tenants and owner-occupiers. He specialises in property strategy, tenant representation, project leadership and major transactions. He also continues to provide peer review advice across all major projects.

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