Regina Mangan Interview with Finola Howard

20 Years and the Journey to Profit and Growth – Regina Mangan

Regina Mangan is the Founder and Director of Book a Room Property Letting Agents, based in Waterford, Ireland.  She has recently launched a new sister business and has expanded into Property Sales with Liberty Blue Estate Agents also based in Waterford, Ireland.

This has been a 20 Year Journey filled with highs and lows. This is her Inspiring Entrepreneur Story.



FINOLA Hi, I’m here talking to Regina Mangan from Liberty Blue, based in Waterford, and we’re celebrating 20 years of business, originally with Book A Room, and we’re going to learn your story. So, welcome, Regina.
REGINA Thank you, Finola.
FINOLA So give us a little rundown on you and your business.
REGINA Well, I set up Book A Room in 1997, young and foolish, which probably stood to me, because if I knew then what I know now, I probably would never have done it, which is a good thing really because I think the older we get, the more cautious we get.


I was in my mid-20s and I saw a gap in the market. There was no other company providing a letting and property management service. My own background was hotel management and I’d come to Waterford in ’95 to run the aparthotel.


People were always looking to rent the apartments long term and it was well, well, well before the age of mobile phones and emails and social media, so communication was very, very different.

FINOLA But when you started that, you were working for someone else?
REGINA Oh, I was. Yeah, I was working as the manager of Adelphi Wharf Suites, but my bosses were based in Dublin. I had a huge amount of autonomy.
FINOLA But you then always wanted to have your own business?
REGINA No, I didn’t really think about it. I ran Adelphi Wharf for two years, loved it, and then I got really bored. So I said, “I have to do something else.”


I’ve been, to a certain degree, my own boss for nearly two years because my bosses were based in Dublin. I’d done a huge amount of networking to drive the brand and I actually very early on learned the power of my own brand. And so, I decided to leverage that by going into business myself.

FINOLA How did you learn that?
REGINA Because people used to say that’s that bird from Adelphi Wharf Suites, so they associated me with the property, so there was a direct link.


They might forget my name or they might forget the property name, but however way they described it, they knew we were connected. So I learned very early on that when I went out and about both socially and to work events that I was representing a business, and so I had to behave in a certain way.


So I always showed up early, did loads of networking. I remember one time the Chamber of Commerce president — a very, very long time ago, 19 years ago — he said,


“Now we can start. The usual suspects are here.”


I pretty much went to the opening of an envelope, and I had to do that.

FINOLA But you became a very strong voice in Waterford, I think, as a result?


REGINA Well, I think, I suppose, that they talk about referral marketing. They talk about how to network effectively. There were things that I did that I never read. I suppose there were things that felt right to me, such as I like helping people.


And they say that when you network, it should be about what you can do for the other person first rather than “what’s in it for me,” I think that stood to me.


Now the downside in those days was that every time I went out, everybody asked me about the rental market and it was like – and that was pre-family, so I talked about work 24/7. But I loved it. I mean –

But the first seven years were excruciatingly hard. It took me seven years to make a profit.


One might say, “What? Seven years?” To set up an office, to have somebody sitting there, to pay them, to pay the rent, to pay the light, your computers, your printing, all that stuff, your advertising.


When I set up, they wanted someone to rent out the properties but they didn’t want to pay them for it. They thought my fees were extortionate because the auctioneers were selling the property and then they threw in a rental for free 20 years ago. But I worked through it and very quickly I built up losses, and so I suppose

FINOLA How did you sustain it then if you had losses?
REGINA Well, for me, failure was never an option.
REGINA It probably goes back to we all have little chips on our shoulders, and it goes back to maybe my schooling days when my brother was quite academic and I wasn’t, and I was always kind of made to feel like, you know, “Maybe it’s okay you won’t be able to go to college,” and all that sort of thing.


I very much had – from the age of 17 – “I’ll show them.”

FINOLA Brilliant
REGINA It was very much that way. But also, I grew up in a house where the value system was you don’t owe people money. So that was part of my value system that I still live by.


By the way, I hate people to owe me money as well. [Laughter] So that’s not acceptable.


So, I was drowning, I didn’t have enough money to pay the wages, so I went down and I got some part-time jobs. So I ran a golf classic for three years – two golf classics. I became an agent for Stena Sealink. I did sales and marketing consultancy for a hotel in Clare, one in Waterford, and then I ran a conference for Waterford Crystal, where Ted Kennedy spoke. It’s one of the biggest conferences in South East.


So, I did all this stuff. But, I mean, ultimately I think you hone in on your skill set. Logistics are a big strength that I have, in planning and finishing things through. I’m also very visual. And customer service, like it’s all about going the extra mile and anticipating what the clients want.


Now when they’d ask me about the golf, I figured I didn’t need to know the golf. My job was to organize the ferries, the accommodation, the foods, the tee times. I’d run a mile; I call someone. But like –


FINOLA But you did what it took to keep the business going…
REGINA Oh, yeah. I did. Again, I was young and I didn’t have any children, and so I suppose that meant I could work all day and all night. And I was energetic because when you’re young, you have more energy as well. But I was passionate.
FINOLA Do you think passion is a critical ingredient for success?
REGINA Of course, it is. Because I’m an optimist by nature, I’m generally a happy person. I believe being happy in life is more important than anything else, and so I surrounded myself with people I liked. So, you know, I enjoyed it.


Now there were days that were ferociously stressful. I remember being on the Quay in Waterford and actually lying on the floor, practicing my breathing, thinking, “Jesus, how am I going to get through this?” They were bad times.


And, you know, I had a couple of – my bank manager at the time was really supportive. I remember one day being in Dublin trying to get a contract for some sales and marketing consultancy, which had nothing to do with my core business, but my core business wouldn’t pay the bills.


I remember my bank manager ringing me and I just told her that, you know, “You’re not to be stressing me out now because I have to win this piece of business, and I’ll speak to you tomorrow. But I get what I have to do and I’m working on it.” So she trusted me.


Ultimately then, the big break came when the apartment blocks were built, which was in the early, I think, 2002 or maybe ’04 actually. When those blocks were built, then the breaks came.


So we were well positioned and then I could say goodbye to the holiday home consultancy, to all those part-time jobs, and then just have one job, which is to rent and manage property, and it was a big “phew”.


FINOLA And now we’re 20 years in.
REGINA Now we’re 20 years in.
FINOLA Congratulations.
REGINA Thank you very much. I always said I’d celebrate 20 years of business, and people say, “Well, you need to celebrate 10, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, because you know…”
FINOLA They all count.
REGINA They all count.
REGINA So, in 2014, we expanded into selling, and then in early – in January 2016, we launched our new brand, Liberty Blue Estate Agents.


But we sold under Book A Room for a year and a half before we launched our new brand because I wanted the flying hours. I wanted to be super confident that we could deliver top-class service, and when we were confident, that helped us in designing our brand.


FINOLA Flying hours, I like that. It’s kind of you’re doing your time. Is that what you mean?
REGINA Well, absolutely. It’s a bit like a pilot getting his license to fly; he has to do all his air miles.


So when we launched our brand, we said, “Look, we’re going to go big.” We wanted to be able to give case studies, examples we’ve sold.


But perception sometimes actually outweighs reality, and so I knew that brand was so important, and then revamping our office to showcase our brand was going to be really important.

FINOLA You’re unusual in your sector for understanding the importance of brand. What does brand mean to you? Why do you think – do you think it’s important?
REGINA Oh, I think it’s – I think sometimes actually it nearly outweighs reality, and I go back and back to that.


First of all, I wanted a big sign beside – I wanted our sign to be able to stand beside the best in the industry. So, for example, Savills would be one of the biggest firms, so I wanted someone to look our sign and think – and just assume that we’re both the same size and we’re both as robust, that we could both do the same thing, or maybe we do more.

FINOLA I like that about your brand that it can do that, but you’ve added a device with this ladybird which kind of makes me smile a little also and makes it a little more human. So if I was given a choice, I would probably come to you.
REGINA Well, thank you, Finola. I hope you do if you need to.


But the whole brand journey was very interesting and we hired a marketing expert, because there’s no way we would have done it on our own for sure.


I’m always a believer – hire people who know more stuff than you in the area that you need to grow.


So, we worked out our brand values first. And we always do the right thing. That’s a really, really important thing.


So, I always say, “The brand values are there on the wall. And you know what? If I’m not here and you need to make a call, just have a look at it. The answer is there.”


And we take pride in everything we do. We are straight-talking and we are energetic, and we say our tagline is “We’re smarter, faster, better.” It’s very bold.


But we are smarter, we reply to people faster, and we have to be smart about achieving results. With regards to the ladybird, yes, we want to be different. We are different. And as it happens, we’re majority female here. The ladybird, I wanted something that goes back to nature included in the brand.


REGINA It just felt right.
REGINA And then Maria came up with the idea of the ladybird.


When you look at what a ladybird means, is that a ladybird brings luck and abundance wherever she goes.


So, it is about bringing luck and abundance, because when you’re selling somebody’s home, you’re allowing them to move on to the next part of their life. It’s a really big deal.


Whether it’s an investment property or a home, moving, selling the property, allows a person to move forward. We’re very respectful of that. It’s very, very important.


And as it happens, our brand appeals very much so to females. Now we don’t want it to be exclusive, but we do want to be different. I never, ever, believed in blending in.


FINOLA Brilliant. If you were to give someone one piece of advice in business, what would it be?
REGINA Well, I’d probably give a couple of tips, if that’s okay.
FINOLA No problem.
REGINA Ultimately, people have to remember bottom line is paramount. In other words, as I said to someone recently, “Turnover is vanity; profit is reality.”


So, you need to have your accounts on a monthly basis and know what you’re taking in, what you’re spending and what you’ve got left over. It’s actually quite simple. People overcomplicate it. That’s it.


You need to have the systems in place to be able to read your finances. People get intimidated by finances. Remember, you’re the boss, not the accountant, and waiting a whole year when the whole thing has gone, the horse has bolted, and then it’s too late to look at your accounts.


Next is surround yourself by the best people you can, and if people aren’t working out, they’re not up to scratch, make the tough call and make it fast.


FINOLA Thank you very much.

I love to work with businesses, both large and small to help them create sustainable business dreams... Brand and Strategy are at the heart of everything I do and that gets rolled out digitally and across any channel where your customer lives.

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