When Steve O'Dowd was approached by the founders of Orlando's Park Square Homes in 1999, they confided a vision for growth that might have made most builders in Orlando's custom and vacation-resort home market scoff. After buying out Anil Deshpande, the third original partner when he wanted to retire, Suresh K. Gupta, Park Square's CEO and partner with Chairman Braham Aggarwal, had decided to grow their company into a big builder. In a market already awash with the biggest production builder names in the country, the goal–build at least 1,000 homes a year by 2002–was no small feat, considering that the company had only built 184 homes the year before.
But for O'Dowd, a former president of Ryland Homes' Orlando division, joining the company as its president was just the kind of challenge he was looking for. And while location, location, location may always be the first three rules of selling houses, strong branding quickly became No. 4 for Park Square Homes.
In just five years, the local builder of a few hundred custom and vacation-resort homes a year grew into a production builder–logging 1,215 closings in 2005, almost evenly split between primary and resort homes, an achievement that Dowd directly credits with its branding initiative.PLAYING UP THE STRENGTHS
It was a transformation planned with the precision and stealth of D-Day. “We lofted out a goal that we knew we could get to,” says O'Dowd, who recently left Park Square to grow another local home builder. “We knew pretty much what we had to do to get there.”DISNEY-CENTRIC: Orlando is host to a furious competitive battle among most of the nation's biggest builders. One local player, Park Square, has the touch.
Already Park Square had a number of factors in its favor, including location. Florida is the largest home building market in the United States, with 12 percent of total single family permits and 10 of the top 50 MSA's, including Orlando. Since its founding in 1984, Park Square, which got its start as a developer, had plowed its profits into land acquisitions and options that it used to gain an even greater spread of the market by swapping lots in its communities for lots in others.
The company's private ownership enabled management to reinvest profits for long-term gain rather than short-term shareholder profits. And Park Square already had a product that differentiated it from a typical production builder: The former builder of custom homes was loading its production homes with custom home details.
But to compete with the big national builders in master planned communities across the street and go head-to-head with more name recognition and deeper pockets for advertising, O'Dowd knew Park Square needed one thing more: strong branding. “I think that location is still the biggest feature buyers consider,” says O'Dowd. “But when posed with equal locations, then I think branding takes over as a big factor.”FRESH FACE
In 2001, the company came out of what O'Dowd called “stealth mode” and hired Rob Adams as director of marketing. Further, it employed the services of the marketing and advertising firm Ten United to create a different image for the company that had made a name for itself as a builder of custom and vacation-resort homes.
While seeking clues for that new image, the marketing team turned to the company's product. “Park Square, with its roots as a custom builder, was putting the kind of details into their homes that you would not normally see in a production home,” says Adams. “We got into setting Park Square up as an aspirational brand that would be viewed as a step above your typical production home.”
The goal was to appeal to move-up buyers who want their next home to be a little fancier and more upscale than their first home. So, “Feel Richer” and “Live Within Your Dreams” became two of the company's predominant slogans. The company's detail-heavy home designs are also heavily emphasized in their advertising. “We put into words and images what was already there in their homes,” says Christopher Bare, group account director at Ten United. “Curves where you would expect corners.”