Barry Falls

Everybody wants to see the chocolate bunnies in the attics of Imagine Homes’ models. Realtors, particularly, like to take their clients up the stairs to special platforms where they can marvel at the miracle—chocolate Easter Bunnies up in the rafters, not a droopy, melted ear among them despite spending more than half a year in attics in San Antonio.

The bunnies in Imagine’s attics, which are sealed and insulated with spray foam insulation, help show buyers how the company’s homes are different from foreclosed homes and its competitors’ products. They also spark conversation about other energy-efficient features included as standard in the homes.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” says Jim Bastoni, an owner of Imagine Homes. And having the customer experience how comfortable its homes’ attics are in the dead of summer is worth a lot of words, too.

“Nobody else shows you the attic,” Bastoni says. “We ask them, ‘How long do you think the bunny would last in your attic?’ And they can touch the foam [insulation] and imagine how hot it is on the other side.”

Bastoni took the bunnies beyond the attic in an advertising campaign that shows an intact bunny in the Imagine Home attic with a thermometer that shows 80 degrees alongside a photo of a melted-into-a-blob bunny in the attic of a competitor’s home with a thermometer showing 130 degrees.

“We sneaked into the attic of a competitor’s home” and installed the bunny to get the photo, explains Bastoni. “It only took 10 minutes” for the mercury to climb and the bunny beside it to melt. The advertisement has helped dispel the idea among consumers that all homes are the same, and that the only differentiator is price, he says.

Imagine’s salespeople also explain how its homes’ energy-efficient features translate into smaller utility bills. Sometimes the company offers to prepay the buyers’ utility bills for two years to bring attention to how small those bills are likely to be. That gets buyers thinking about how much less money every month they will be spending, leading them to consider spending that extra cash on more options in the home.

“We did better this year than last year, and we attribute it in no small part to the bunny and also that San Antonio is a healthy market with job growth,” Bastoni adds. He expects those factors will continue to help sales in 2012, too, but new neighborhoods will play into that as well. Imagine is opening five new communities with higher price points, from an average of $250,000 to $275,000 now to about $325,000. He expects the company will come close to doubling business next year—from the 70 to 80 house range to up to 150. “The banks are very supportive of us,” Bastoni says. “We are a small company, but we are profitable.”

Imagine is dreaming up more ways to show, rather than tell, how different its homes are. It has a new campaign that also demonstrates the impact of sealed, insulated attics. It shows the frosty roof of one of its homes on a cold morning next to a competitor’s house on the same morning, with no frost. The point is to show that the competitor’s house is leaking heat.

Then there’s the one explaining that you don’t shop for a car anymore with fins that gets six miles per gallon of gas, or a black and white television, like your grandparents did. Yet people still buy houses with the same components in their grandparents’ home—aluminum windows and fiberglass insulation. “This ain’t your grandfather’s house. Announcing spray foam insulation in every home,” the ad says.

“It’s about education,” says Bastoni. “And the first part of education is to get the customer’s attention and focus.” 

Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Antonio, TX.