He outlined these examples:
- Light and airy designs
- Defined foyers with class and style
- Curved walls, ceiling detail and mood lighting
- Long indoor/outdoor views from the foyer
- Islands, desks and butler’s pantry in all kitchens
- Dens should be convertible to bedrooms with baths
- Defined sitting area in all master baths/oversized closets
- Split two-car garage so that one bay has the option to be used as an office
Echoing Johnson, Mike Rosen, president and CEO of Philadelphia-based Mike Rosen Architects, said it is important to “know thy enemy. Know who you are competing against, and try to find vulnerabilities that you can latch on to and take advantage of.”
Many large firms employ a cumbersome chain of command, he said, and smaller companies can take advantage of this to act quickly and decisively to enact changes that will benefit their market.
“With many large, in-house corporate designers, you frequently get a bunch of ‘yes’ men who get stale after a while. They tend to be followers, not leaders. You can bring in new technologies and concepts much quicker. Experiment with buyers to see what they like. Big firms can’t do that,” said Rosen.
Rosen also noted that large builders are not always quick to act in meeting customer needs, and suggested this is an area for their smaller competitors to take advantage of.
“It is much better for a small builder to take care of several customer problems quickly rather than (have customers) wait forever (for a big builder) to take care of one problem,” he said.
On the issue of service, Barbara Anderson, president of Preferred Designs in Kennett Square, PA, said that the personal touch can go a long way in landing a sale.
“Be you, be seen, you’re the most valuable asset,” she told builders. “Go on site, introduce yourself, shake a few hands and be proud of who you are and what you build.”
Emphasizing that “quality sells,” Anderson said that it is imperative to keep a clean job site and that homes under construction should be “broom cleaned” prior to the weekend.
Builders should provide “memory points” to set themselves apart from their larger competitors, Anderson suggested, and they should offer such items as“retro” bath packages, granite as standard on kitchen islands and “bonus spaces that sizzles,” such as wine cellars or well-crafted media rooms.
Reviewing a number of successful developments where small builders were able to compete effectively with their larger counterparts, Mike Kephart, president of Denver-based Kephart Architects, noted several strategies were deployed, depending upon the type of community.
In one Denver development, Kephart Architects created private enclosed courtyards in the builder’s townhouses to achieve quality outdoor privacy in high-density living. “Buyers recognized the value and the 120-unit development sold out in two years in the face of big builder competition,” said Kephart.
Citing another example, Kephart noted a win-win situation where the large builder was selling townhomes at $130,000 to $150,000 “with a highly repetitive, stripped-down design.”Kephart designed a higher quality multifamily development that offered homes at $194,000 to $230,000. Both the high-end and more affordable homes subsequently sold well.
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