Shaun Simons, co-founder of Compton, a punchy commercial property agency specialising in the City fringe, speaks to Montfort’s Andrew Teacher about the evolution of Tech City, why agents should act more like marketing firms and the ever-increasing operationalisation of the office sector.
Shaun Simons describes his “dealer mentality” inspired by his father’s trade in antiques, something that has clearly put him in good stead after the enigmatic founder left education at the age of 16 to pursue a career in commercial property.
After a stint at a commercial management company and later an office agent, Simons set up his first business, Hatton Real Estate, in 2010. Admitting that he had “no plan”, the firm had nevertheless paid off its start-up loan of £120,000 within just eight weeks.
Simons chalks much of the success down to a fresh approach to marketing properties, as well as its specialism in the emerging City fringe district, covering areas on the border of London’s Square Mile, particularly in the tech-focused east.
“It wasn’t that long ago the eastern City fringe wasn’t that interesting, or well invested in,” he explains. “The majority of the property ownership were families and proprietors. Today it’s institutional money throughout.”
A building being marketed in Farringdon particularly struck Simons. “It was five pages with lots of black text and one pixelated photo,” he describes. “And I thought: ‘This is 2010, right?’ This is not the way people should be marketing real estate. We should look at ourselves like a marketing agency.”
Compton, the successor to Hatton Real Estate, established in 2021 five years after the latter’s sale to Colliers, is now well known for its distinctive brand and fresh approach to marketing properties.
It certainly didn’t hurt that in the same year Hatton launched, David Cameron proclaimed the government’s ambitions to create a new Tech City in London’s East End, centring on Old Street’s ‘Silicon Roundabout’.
A milestone for Simons was winning a contract with Helical to market 300,000 sq ft of space, beating 12 other well-established agencies to win a competitive pitch.
While he agrees that agents need to be able to provide specialist advice in order to let space, “they can’t until they’ve got the marketing elements correct”.
“One of the reasons that we’ve continued our focus on the eastern City fringe is because no one can quite provide the level of advice that we can provide in our district,” he continues.
Ultimately, the success of the business led to a number of copycat outfits from larger agencies.
“They employed young people, put them in skinny jeans and thought ‘right, we’re going to go and copy their business model’,” he says.
Still, the eastern City fringe has not completely avoided the headwinds experienced by the wider commercial sector.
“Right now, the market is in a really tricky space. Unless you’ve got the best building in the best location, it’s not easy out there,” Simons argues, citing a continuing hangover from the pandemic raising questions over the amount of space needed, constrained budgets and a dampening in activity from a tech sector adjusting to higher interest rates.
Still, the death of the office is a long way off, and the market is constantly changing. “I’m virtually certain that space below 10,000 sq ft unless it is fully turnkey is a redundant product,” he asserts.
And while tech occupiers may be a mainstay of Compton’s clients, Simons is skeptical that technology is fundamentally changing how tenants occupy buildings.
“The ability to turn your lights on and off through an app is gimmicky,” he says. “The things that are important to occupiers are ESG [environmental, social and governance].”
Not one to shy away from strong opinions, Simons says of his own company’s approach to working from home: “We don’t allow it. It is nonsense.”
He continues: “For the vast majority, being in an office is good for business. It’s good for the economy; it’s good for individuals who want to progress their careers. And those who argue differently I just think are misguided.”