About two years ago, Vienna, Va.–based Kettler (formerly known as KSI Services), one of greater Washington's largest developers, was looking for ways to enhance the buying and living experiences for residents of its rental and owner-occupied properties and communities. To meet the needs of its wide-ranging customer base, Kettler—which over the past 30 years has developed 50,000 homes and has 1,500 condos under construction that will come on line in 2007—initiated a two-pronged campaign that focuses on maintaining closer contact with buyers throughout the construction, mortgage-lending, closing, and after-purchase stages; and offering personalized services and discounts through partnerships with well-branded retailers and service providers.
Kettler “has always asked the question, ‘How do we provide the best living environment for our customers?'” says director of marketing Jamie Gorski, who joined the company around the time it kicked off its customer service programs. Gorski had worked with American Express at her previous job and brought that relationship with her: Property managers of Kettler-developed buildings now accept rent payments via AMEX card, and tenants who make those payments earn “rewards points” that can go toward product purchases from AMEX.
“Jamie understood the marketing power of this, that it could be a key differentiator for [Kettler] in the marketplace,” recalls Elizabeth Langwith, American Express's vice president of industry strategy and partnerships.
Kettler's relationship with AMEX is currently confined to renters; its other partnerships and discounts, however, include its owner-occupied properties and communities. For example, Alexandria, Va.–based VIPdesk last year started offering 24-hour concierge services to all the developer's residents, giving them access to assistants who can help them reserve a restaurant table, plan a vacation, or buy a gift. Kelly Christiano, VIPdesk's president, says her company entered into this alliance to raise its profile in a market where it previously didn't have many clients. “Kettler is very well known here and gets a lot of press,” says Christiano, noting that a story about its services that the local NBC affiliate aired got picked up by stations in 11 markets.
Gorski says VIPdesk created a membership card specifically for Kettler's residents and that the provider promotes its service through its Web site, flyers, and e-mails.
“Kettler is a forward-thinking company,” says Ryan Robertson, business development manager for Flexcar, a Washington-based firm through which residents can rent cars for an hour, a day, or longer. Flexcar waives its annual $35 membership fee for Kettler's owners and tenants and currently has vehicles at one of the developer's properties in Arlington, Va., with plans to place cars on site at other Kettler-developed locations.
Beyond the services Kettler offers, residents get discounts and gift certificates from well-known merchants such as Morton's, Ben & Jerry's, and McCormick & Schmick's. The developer has done sales promotions with Apple and has negotiated with Williams-Sonoma to extend discounts it currently offers Kettler residents to include its entire inventory.
Last year, Kettler began giving buyers at one condo community, West Village in Shirlington, Va., the option to upgrade their bath fixtures, decorative hardware, and lighting through a partnership with home furnishings retailer Restoration Hardware. Bethany Naro, Restoration Hardware's design trade consultant, says her company has since furnished Kettler's model home at its Lorton Station, Va., community, is currently furnishing other models, and is in discussions with the developer to offer new-home buyers furniture packages, the delivery of which could be coordinated with the home's closing.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Washington, DC.