WHERE THERE'S rot there's brass, Les Meikle has discovered. In 12 short years, the 54-year-old entrepreneur has built Wise Property Care into Scotland's leading property maintenance specialist, last year making £500,000 profit on £5 million of turnover, double the figures of five years previously.
Wise Property Care’s growth expectations, though cooled by the downturn in the housing market, are still for an extravagant 26% rise in profit, not least because of what Meikle calls the "once in a lifetime opportunity" offered by the Scottish government's compulsory home reports. This change in the law, announced by communities minister Stewart Maxwell in January, is intended to provide prospective buyers with detailed information about the condition and value of the property before offers are made. The object is to save buyers time and money on mortgage valuation reports on properties where their offers are unsuccessful.
While fears of a crisis in the property market are dominating the headlines, the new law is expected to cause a flurry of activity as vendors rush to market in anticipation of more stringent and expensive survey conditions. This is where Wise Property Care is so well placed to be the go-to company for owners wanting to blitz potential snagging points is a result of Meikle's careful positioning and flair for marketing. In a country where many people live in old properties (over 50 years old, by his definition), a soggy climate ensures that a specialist in timber decay and rising damp treatment will never go hungry, but the trick is to be top-of-mind for householders.
For many homeowners, property maintenance and property repair process is a scary business. The stealthy forces of decay and the traditionally perceived venality of "the builders" capable of arresting and reversing these forces mean we live in fear of sudden, ruinous demands on our finances.
Les Meikle's business is about making us feel reassured, even positive, about caring for our property, and promoting what - in this country - is a rare user-friendliness and reliability of restorative services through a web-based booking, information and feedback system. The Wise Property Care brand he is carefully building presents itself as our long-term ally in the fight against decay and common property problems and solutions, rather than a tutting and head-shaking exploiter of our misfortunes.
"I want us to be consultants to home owners, and to build up a long-term relationship with them to minimise common property problems as soon as, or before, they become expensive. We want people to book appointments by the web at times convenient to them. Everything we do is highly customer-oriented," says Les Meikle. "It is a concept that the UK has been slow to wake up to.
"We want to be Scotland's leading service provider and provide more and more services to our customers, moving from what we offer at the moment, which is focused on woodworm treatment, dry rot treatment and rising damp treatment, through sub-brands Envirowise, Dampwise and Basementwise, into a wider offering including landscaping services and decorating."
Born in Rutherglen, the fanatical Clyde supporter has a simple vision for his Scottish network of regional headquarters: that "Wise Property Care will become the contractor you bring in when you are ready to sell your house". Getting there takes an experienced marketing mind, a willingness to experiment, and a feel for the people side of the business, which counts for a lot when your stock in trade is interventions in customers' home patch.
Wise Property Care has been counting on the controversial changes in the law affecting the surveys undertaken by participants in the property market. The legislation, which comes into effect on December 1, is designed primarily to level the playing field by ending the necessity of purchasers commissioning expensive surveys on every property they might bid for.
"We didn't see the credit crunch coming," Meikle admits. "The question for us is, do we maintain our focus on the domestic market, or do we try and switch it a bit more to the commercial market? But while I think there could be a downturn in the number of transactions, there could be an upturn in the amount of property repair surveys we are asked to undertake.
"If the market had stayed as it was, we would be doing a lot better than we are likely to do now, but I still think it's going to be positive for us. Sellers are more keen to fix things and actively go through a property repair process to sell their property with property repair guarantees than to sell it with some horrible defect, because the home reports are going to make it very easy for a prospective purchaser to access the report on your house. If that report says that there are concerns about dry rot, then people will just butterfly on to another property along the street."
Meikle's determination to grow the Wise Property Care’s empire stems from a personal career trauma when, as the managing director for property company Peter Cox in Scotland, he was made redundant following a de-layering of management when the company was bought out.
Backed by a supportive wife and bank manager, Meikle built Wise Property Care from scratch, driven, he disarmingly admits, by the determination to outgrow his old firm, a feat he has long since achieved. It has made him a reflective personality, and he gives talks on the formula for success at The Entrepreneurial Exchange, and mentors kids who are not cut out for academic life.
"I know the formula for success in this business, and every business has a formula," he says "I think it's about people and innovation and out-and-out drive. A lot of entrepreneurial businesses have that drive, when everything is riding on it, your house is on it, and you are working 12 and 14-hour days, seven days a week, to get it moving and drive it from strength to strength."
Wise Property Care is in the process of building a new headquarters in Barrhead, built on the expectation that the business will be and will remain No 1 in Scotland. Typically, he sees a training facility as a useful way of spreading the Wise brand values.
"Training is a huge issue in Scotland, and we want to make the new office very training-oriented, and to make that service available to our customers. If people want to do some training they can bring them there, and we get 15 minutes to tell the trainees what we do. It's an ongoing brand-building process."
The success of the company, which started with eight employees but will soon have 100, is about gaining trust and customer satisfaction, and in this respect the best kind of marketing is word-of-mouth.