IT'S tough starting out in the crowded estate agency business, even in boomtime.

No one knew that better than Lesley Beattie who, having closed one chapter of her life as founder of Friends Estate Agency in York, opened another with Quantum last November.

That's the bright, open plan agency now going great guns in Walmgate, York - and it is pitching for the Evening Press New Business of the Year title.

Ultimately Friends was incorporated into Langleys solicitors of York and Lesley's role as a senior manager ended with it about six years ago. Ironically, recently there has since been a management buyout of Friends which once again is independent.

But all that is history for Lesley who quickly realised the futility of trading exclusively on her old, but good reputation when she opened Quantum.

So thorough was her research into how the market had changed in six years - and the way she acted upon the information - that Quantum's business soared from three house sales on opening day to the sale of more than 250 properties.

An all-important statistic for Lesley - and the "bastion of Beatties" as she describes her children, Hazel, David and Adele, who all take part in the venture - is that Quantum has received more than 40 recommendations from delighted customers.

It was achieved by careful market research, achievable target-setting and the kind of necessary financial daring needed to advertise Quantum's wares and whereabouts hitched to a culture of exceeding customers' expectations.