Just over a year after two commercial agents joined forces, bosses of the enlarged company say the merger has proved every bit as successful as they had hoped.

Haslams Surveyors, founded in 1838, and Sharps Commercial, founded in 1998, were already well-established names, particularly in industrial property across the Greater Reading/Thames Valley area, when they merged on March 1 last year.

But the two offered greatly different propositions and the coming together has led to a combined market share of 85 – 90 per cent of industrial property in the local area, along with the chance to offer additional services to dozens of former Sharps clients.

Sharps Commercial had concentrated solely on agency while the larger and longer established Haslams offered agency and all manner of additional services.

Alec White, formerly director of Sharps Commercial and now equity partner at Haslams, said: “At Sharps Commercial we did industrial, warehouse and office agency. When it came to anything else, whether that’s landlord/tenant work, rent reviews, lease renewals, valuations, surveying, development, we didn’t do any of that.

“In any (merger) deal you don’t want two plus two equals four. It needs to be two plus two equals five. I think, in our case, two plus two equals about 15. There has been a whole host of benefits. We can now offer all these services to long established clients.

“We’ve built up a client base over 35 years but we’d always had to outsource that. Now we can accommodate that internally.”

He and Haslams partner Neil Seager who became managing partner around the same time as the merger in an unconnected promotion, had long been professional acquaintances.

So a pre-Christmas 2022 drink at Zero Degrees in Reading had been intended as a chance to compare notes. Instead, the idea of a merger quickly became an obvious way ahead. Many of Sharps Commercial’s former clients, which generally had smaller requirements, are now using Haslams’ additional services.

Mr Seager said: “A good proportion of our instructions are larger ones but it’s important that, to grow the business, we provide services across the whole market.”

Almost no crossovers occurred among either firms’ lists of client instructions and now the enlarged firm’s increased market share has brought an increased market presence, particularly within the local industrial market.

Mr Seager added: “No-one has as many instructions on their books in the Thames Valley.”

Further growth is likely from former Sharps clients, yet to require additional services, and the smaller instructions Sharps brought to Haslams also offer new possibilities for longer term growth.

Mr White said: “Companies grow with us as well. You could get someone wanting their first property of 500 sq ft, which is basically a garage, then they might want 2,000 sq ft, then 5,000 sq ft, then 10,000 sq ft, then, 20,000 sq ft and you grow with them.

“It’s like anything, if you provide a good service and help them out, then the first person they will contact is you.”

Firms moving out of London to lower-priced space in the Thames Valley is beginning to be witnessed in the industrial sector and one 20,000 sq ft deal is in the Haslams pipeline.

Mr White went on: “Rent are cheaper, rates are cheaper for the same size of building, or they could go for something a lot bigger and still be better off – and the saving goes onto the bottom line.”

He said over the years a market has emerged from the closure of many manufacturing operations by UK firms, which has led to those employers becoming property companies. Hillier Group is one example.

Mr White said: “These are manufacturing businesses that have owned their own properties for decades. As everything gets whittled down, those properties become vacant and the property provides more profit than anything else.”

The industrial market in Greater Reading has been characterised in recent years by low supply and high demand, forcing rents up although the pace of rent rises has slowed.

Mr Seager has long argued that greenfield development should be considered to ease the strain.

He proposes the area south of the M4 around Grazeley where 15,000 homes were once being discussed but were thwarted by the expanded Detailed Emergency Planning Zone around AWE Burghfield.

But he said the planning system also hinders progress, an argument illustrated by the delay in Goya Developments’ protracted fight to redevelop the former Adwest building at Woodley for industrial.

Mr Seager said: “If it takes three years to get planning permission, that doesn’t help.”

Despite the slower pace of rent rises, due partly to interest rate rises, Haslams remains positive and is considering geographical expansion too, although those plans remain under wraps.

He added: “The market is not what it was but we are in a better place, as a result of the merger, to cope with a more difficult market.”

Image (l-r): Alec White and Neil Seager at Haslams’ offices at Apex Reading.

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