HERE'S A NEWS FLASH: HOME BUILDERS ARE creatures of habit. This, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing. The method you use to build your houses is an accepted prescriptive process that, when done properly, yields an exceptionally well-built home. Until some genius comes up with an idea that is more cost-effective and more efficient, this method will be slow to change.
Other accepted practices in the building industry, however, are ripe for reconsideration. One of these is the options and upgrades process that builders use. Typically, buyers select a floor plan and then, from a laundry list of choices, select, mix, and match products and options as they wish. This seems like a good idea—if you're a custom builder who wants to offer anything and everything to your buyers. It may not be so good for a production builder.
“This type of system is usually complex, and builders don't like complexity,” says Guy Minnix, director of contract marketing and strategy at Whirlpool Corp. in Benton Harbor, Mich. That complexity often leads to mistakes in the field, he says. It also requires a fair amount of effort, employees, and time to maintain.
Brand-New Day Smart builders these days are moving in a different direction, paring down the process and offering prepackaged options that are easier for buyers to select and easier for staff to manage.
“We definitely see more builders [streamlining the options process],” says Shawn Oldenhoff, manager of builder channel marketing at Kohler, Wis.–based Kohler. “We see it with more large builders and even regional ones who are looking for efficiencies in the merchandising packages.”
Kohler has set up powder-room programs with builders that allow buyers to select a pedestal sink and a toilet from one of four product lines; the options start with the company's value line, Sterling, and progressively move up to Wellworth, Devonshire, and then Memoirs.
“This started about two years ago when builders started looking at retailers like The Home Depot,” Oldenhoff says. “They realized they can't offer everything and be efficient.”
Cambridge Homes, a D.R. Horton company in the Chicago area, used the conventional options process once upon a time. In recent years, the builder, which does about 1,800 condos, duplexes, and single-family homes per year, has examined the system's value to the company and its drawbacks for home buyers.
“We felt that the process was too complicated,” says Kelly Frank, director of national accounts at World of Cambridge Design Center. “We found that our buyers felt overwhelmed by the amount of options, and we wanted to make it easier for them.”
After a pilot program with Whirlpool appliances yielded positive results, Cambridge Homes prepared to institute more packaged options. Under the test case, buyers were offered four levels of Whirlpool products, from basic products up to KitchenAid on the high end.