Featured Business: Placelift
Name: Clodagh Doyle, founder of Placelift
Since: May 2013
When people think of getting a house doctor in, the first thing that may spring to mind is simple aesthetic changes such as new cushions and dressing beds.
Professional house doctors Placelift offer the full spectrum, from presentation consultancy right through to repairs,
upgrading kitchens and bathrooms, and clearing the property.
While some estate agents may advise sellers to leave a house as is, Placelift founder Clodagh Doyle’s take on it is why not make the most of a property. After all, it is your biggest asset.
Bray-based Placelift was set up by Clodagh, who realised the potential for a professional house doctor service while she and her husband prepared their own home for sale.
Clodagh’s professional background is in insurance, HR, sales and marketing, and husband Ivan had a small construction company prior to the downturn. They had the right blend of skills, she felt, to bring the business together.
“Both of us always shared a passion about everything for the home. He’s a bricklayer by trade but there’s not much Ivan can’t do when it comes to home improvements,” says Clodagh.
Two years in, Placelift works with landlords and people selling their homes to prepare them for sale or let. 80% of the work is completed by the Placelift team and the remainder is done through carefully chosen quality tradespeople and suppliers whose work they oversee.
A key part of the brand is a professional image – the team wear uniforms onsite and they’re equipped with all the trade tools, a large trailer and a branded van.
Clodagh and her team help landlords get a property ready for the rental market after long-term tenants move out as well as preparing properties for sale. Placelift’s clients are as varied as busy professionals to elderly people downsizing through to executor sales and landlords selling their investment properties.
Clodagh has also identified potential in the B2B market, preparing houses in not so great condition held by mortgage companies and banks to sell at a high price. The main thing, explains Clodagh, is to make a house appealing to as many people as possible. This is achieved through neutralising the walls and flooring, working with an available budget and making the absolute most of what is there.
Also on offer is something that neither a seller or estate agent has. “We see the property through the eyes of someone buying or letting it,” insists Clodagh.
Interview with Clodagh Doyle
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
Due to a change in personal circumstances in 2011 we let out our family home for a while. Then we decided to put it on the market to sell. We wanted to get the absolute most for our property when we let it and when we sold it. I realised the potential – it’s in your interest to do everything you can to get the best price and to sell it quickly. We were lucky because my husband was a builder and had great contacts and he was able to do everything that needed doing and I’d a good eye for it. I thought for other people this would be a very stressful process and came up with the idea for a one-stop solution where sellers or landlords could get someone to come along and tell them what needed doing and also to do it for them.
How did you initially fund your business?
We used money we had for a rainy day and we sold our second car as we knew we had to get a van. I was lucky I was awarded a priming grant from Wicklow County Enterprise Board (now Local Enterprise Office). I secured finance from AIB to get a new van and we got that before we launched in May 2013.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
Looking back at the business plan idea, the idea was always a one-stop solution. I’ve pretty much stuck to that. Our tag line is transforming your property for maximum return – without the stress. Last year and this year, with the Home Improvement grant, we’ve been doing some home improvements but we specialise mainly in getting property ready for market.
What have been the highlights to date?
Getting the grant was a highlight. When you’re short on money and that comes along it really opens doors. Through starting the business I got the opportunity to write a column for my local newspaper, the Wicklow Voice, and that’s great to build awareness.
What’s the bravest step you’ve made in relation to your business?
Putting yourself out there in the first place. When you go it alone you’ve little choice – you put yourself out there and either sink or swim. I was brave when I employed my husband. The reality was that the business was going to be our only source of income. The thoughts of being responsible for someone else’s salary is another brave step, which we hope to make soon when we employ a full time tradesperson.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
I love the freedom of it – not having to answer to anybody. It’s up to you what hours you do – how you plan your day/week/month. I love the way no two days are ever the same. It changes so much. You’re out with suppliers or customers, you’re on the job. I love the variety it brings. I love meeting with people. The job satisfaction after completion is great.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
I don’t. I just realise you’re better to go with it and not fight it. It’s hard to juggle everything and keep things on an even keel. For me it takes self-discipline to tune out for a few hours. In saying that, I can collect the kids from school and go somewhere on a whim. I don’t mind working weekends or at night.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
I’m definitely inspired by the new start-ups I read about the whole time. Norah Casey is somebody I admire – she strikes me as being genuine and humble. The most inspirational person is Blaise Brosnan – he’s an independent management consultant. He’s a remarkable mentor and businessman. I’ve had the privilege of having his input into our business as I was participating on the management development training programme through Wicklow LEO.
What tools or technologies do you use that benefit your customers or business?
I’m always looking for ways to perfect things and use things effectively. I use Dropbox for photos. I use Trello for project management – I can project manage every job on a board on Trello and the team can have access to that.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
Because we offer a personal service we get to meet the customer on their own territory – in their homes – and we get to build a great rapport with them. We want them to be 110% happy. We ask them what they want, if there’s anything else we can do or do better. They’re just very honest with us.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
At the outset cashflow was worrying. It’s hard to cover every angle. Wearing all the hats when running a business can be very daunting. Getting to grips with the accounts was tricky enough for me – VAT, payroll and RCT.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
I love working with people – the interaction with our customers and suppliers is great. I am a perfectionist so I like to have everything streamlined and organised. You avoid stress later on if you keep on top of things. I’m not an interior designer – I’ve a good eye. We’re neutralising everything whereas an interior designer is personalising it and putting people’s stamp on it.
How did you scale/grow your business?
Without spreading ourselves too thin up until now we’ve been fine-tuning everything and exploring new markets. We’re gearing ourselves to grow, but grow smart. We’re making sure we’re doing the best we can do now – and then move ahead.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
I’m always looking for ways to be different and stand out from the crowd. I have availed of mentors. I’m always checking what competitors are doing worldwide. I’m heavily involved in loads of networking. You’re with like-minded people, sharing experiences. It’s generated leads and great partnerships as well. Also stepping back and seeing how we meet customer needs ignites fresh ideas.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
I’ve no choice, I’ve got to keep going. I enjoy the challenge and I love what I do – the job satisfaction I get looking back at the before photographs and after photographs. I like helping people – we’re working with a lot of elderly people, it’s so stressful on them when they’re downsizing or selling their house. It’s great when they’re so appreciative of what we are doing.
What’s your vision for the future?
We want to grow the brand and reputation. We want to be the best at what we do and, through word of mouth, grow organically. Every job we do, we put 110% into it and hope that will pay off. We’re currently operating throughout Leinster and there’s nothing to stop us operating in other locations – people still have the same problems.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
Failing to plan is planning to fail. You also need to look ahead and keep your eye on the ball. Know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it – have clarity of purpose on all things you do.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
Follow your gut. Do look for support, especially at the outset. You really have to research your idea inside out. Be determined about everything you do. Get out and network.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
If you want to see the sun shine you have to weather the storm.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
It’s all a learning process – everything I’ve done makes me stronger and wiser. Looking back, I shouldn’t have sweated the small stuff like getting stressed out by accounts. You don’t need to do it all – there are people you can turn to.
Phone: +353 1 2548070
Personal Twitter: http://twitter.com/clodaghmdoyle
Please be aware that all of the views expressed in this Blog are purely the personal views of the authors and commentators (including those working for AIB as members of the AIB website team or in any other capacity) and are based on their personal experiences and knowledge at the time of writing.
Some of the links above bring you to external websites. Your use of an external website is subject to the terms of that site.
Allied Irish Banks, p.l.c. is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland. Copyright Allied Irish Banks, p.l.c. 1995.