On Wednesday morning, McBride & Son Enterprises informed visitors to its website that anyone who buys a home in September is eligible for an “instant credit” of $8,000, on top of any discounts already being offered. The company’s “Uncle McBride Stimulus Program” ad shows an image of America’s iconic Uncle Sam and is meant to remind visitors of a similar credit that the Chesterfield, Mo.-based McBride offered customers last May, right after the federal home buyer tax credit expired.
This promotion is the latest example of aggressive marketing that has helped McBride sell an average of 150 homes per month this year. Last weekend, the company singled out its Community of the Month, Kingsridge in the southern part of St. Louis, where it offered discounts of up to $60,000 on that neighborhood’s Oakwood Collection. Through Aug. 31, the builder had offered savings of between $5,000 and $50,000 on all inventory homes, which typically account for 40% of its annual sales.
The mother of all promotions, though, happened on August 14 and 15, when McBride’s Blue Saturday event—with discounts for all homes completed or to-be-built ranging from $5,000 to $90,000—generated 90 home sales, a record for the company, says CEO John Eilermann Jr.
The company has held similar sales events in the past, which Eilermann says were more like block parties, with barbecues and picnics that created a family atmosphere in the communities. But for Blue Saturday, “we focused more on selling houses.” On two nights before the event, McBride’s sales managers conducted call-a-thons to prospective buyers. (Each of the builder’s senior-level executives made calls to leads, too.)
McBride, which is employee-owned, asked each of its associates to call upon Realtors in their area to drum up excitement for the promotion. It also placed “concierges” at every sales office for its 60-plus communities. To promote the event, “we did a ton of advertising,” says Eilermann, which included print ads, radio and TV spots, and messages on its website, which got 10,000 hits the week before Blue Saturday, compared to its 2,000-hit average.
“There was nothing magical about what we did,” says Eilermann. “It was all about execution and passion.” He notes, too, that the company withheld releasing the discounted prices for its homes until the day of the event, which gave prospects one more reason to visit the sales offices.
McBride & Son is St. Louis’ leading builder, where it controls more than 25% of that market’s annual closings, according to BUILDER’s Local Leaders rankings. The company has served this market for 65 years, so it doesn’t have to worry about name recognition. Despite these advantages, Eilermann says his company is actually “in the retailing business, and we treat what we do like that.”
Retailing these days is about who can offer the lowest prices and best values, and McBride is no different. Its website this morning is promoting a one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo in its community in Kirkland, Mo., for $64,500, down from $99,000. A three-bedroom, 2½-bath home in Kansas City is now going for $165,000, from $199,759, and with 50% off all options.
The company never really stops promoting, actually. For the two weeks before the Blue Saturday sale, all of its employees wore buttons promoting the event. One of its associates was having her nails done, and a customer in the salon asked her about the event. “And she showed up that Saturday,” says Eilermann. “So you never know.”
McBride even runs sales on days that most builders write off as not worth much effort, such as the Friday after Thanksgiving or the Saturday before Super Bowl Sunday. At a time when many builders still keep their sales offices closed a few days during the week, McBride has added two hours, on average, to each day its sales offices are open.
The company is on track to close 1,200 homes in St. Louis alone this year, which would represent a 24% increase of its 2009 closings in that market. Eilermann concedes that it’s tougher to make money these days, especially when discounting is the new normal. “It’s all about how you present value,” he says, meaning that his company is still careful about how much it can knock off the price of its houses and still achieve a profitable sale.
John Caulfield is a senior editor for BUILDER magazine.