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When David Jenkins, owner of Suwanee, Ga.–based Winmark Homes, decided to add a design center to his garden of home-grown operations, he dug deep into the family-owned business' talent well. Five-year Winmark veteran Marty Milbrett was appointed design center manager and tasked to find a novel take on an industry staple.

Focused on creating a unique customer experience, Milbrett opted to rewrite the design center formula. Simply merchandising a 12,000-square-foot space with accessories wasn't going to cut it. Drawing from the chapters of Americana, Milbrett developed a plan to create a “Main Street” shopping experience, complete with a traditional storefront streetscape where home buyers pop in and out of various “shops” to make design selections.

She enlisted help from other departments to execute on her vision. Mike Hart, director of architecture, and Jon Watts, a CAD designer, designed the authentic-looking storefronts, while construction super Bobby Berry oversaw the erection of the pseudo town center.

SHOP TIL YOU DROP: Buyers at Winmark Homes communities stroll along “Main Street” to select options and upgrades at “stores” like DG Flooring and CJ's Lock & Key.

The nearly 18 months of collective effort came to fruition when the design center opened its doors for business in May. “Once you walk through those [exterior] double doors, it's almost like you go back in time,” Milbrett says.

Laid out in a horseshoe shape, the shops—each aptly named for a Jenkins family member—are stops on the options-and-upgrade trail. Shoppers start by selecting exteriors, then they head to kitchen design. From there, they move on to Joey's Waterworks to outfit their bathrooms, before entering DG Flooring to pick carpets and hardwoods.

Shoppers can take a breather at Shmishmaul's Café and enjoy refreshments while discussing their selections in private. “Sometimes you want to make these decisions without a salesperson standing over you,” Milbrett says, explaining why the café was an important addition to the center.

Re-energized, shoppers check out home theater packages in another shop before heading to Pierce's Fine Lighting to spend their lighting allowance, which corresponds to their purchased floor plan.

Next stop for the new-home buyers is CJ's Lock & Key. Styled like a small hardware store, they pick out hardware such as knobs and levers. Then they enter the mill shop, where fireplace mantels, stair parts, and railings are displayed. In the home stretch is Sydney's Trim & Moulding, where shoppers select trim packages and interior paint colors. The tour ends with a visit to Jack's for window treatments and closet organization.

Although it's too early to know to what extent the experiential center will boost revenue, Milbrett says that the space creates an upsell potential that makes bringing the process in-house worth it. For example, Winmark now offers three times the flooring options than before. “Just the fact that we can offer more options is a huge deal,” she says.