What's the one concept you need to master as a successful retailer of any product or service?  Some say it's technology, some say it's authenticity, or any of a long list of other critically important concepts. However, design, with its varied implications and meanings, is defining our world.

If you doubt me, read Daniel Pink's book "A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future."  Pink lays out a compelling case: Because we live in a world of abundance (a plethora of choices, easy access to everything we want), design really matters. And good design is accessible to everyone because of advancing technology and rising prosperity. He points out that Michael Graves has designed libraries, museums, multi-million dollar homes and now, toilet brushes for Target.

The point is that everyone has an increased desire for and access to good design.  That is not really new.  But as the housing industry emerges from the downturn and steps up to the plate in this new playing field, we need to catch up – and quickly.

What are the implications for the home builders? Today's savvy home buyers demand floor plans that are well designed. They respond more deeply to logos that are better designed, they will stay longer on your website if it is user friendly (i.e. better designed), and they want homes with products that reflect their personal lifestyle and design preferences (i.e. better designed).

For example, if buyers need convenience, perhaps they’d be interested in a “kitchen convenience” package featuring roll-out full-extension drawers, an extra-deep corner cabinet, pull-out trash can, and extra-deep pot and pan drawers. Likewise, if the buyers’ design preference is modern and streamlined, make sure your design studio is updated to reflect this in every product category: linear tiles, clean-line cabinets, quartz countertops, stacked cabinets, modern faucets, and contemporary lighting fixtures.

Potential customers also want to visit you in spaces that are well designed. That means model homes, sales environments, and design studios that inspire them to stay and explore and interact with your brand, your products, and your team.

Here’s just a few ways to accomplish this. Your sales environment can feature a video about your personalization experience and state-of-the-art design studio; you could have an interactive lifestyle questionnaire to get buyers  thinking about actually living in your new home and the products and features that might make it uniquely theirs.

Your design studio also should feature interactive opportunities so that buyers can “feel” the radiant heat floor, touch the different trims, and see paint options together. Use these interactive displays to create combinations of products so buyers fall in love with the right one for them.

Your sales center and/or design studio can feature photos or videos introducing the design studio team individually with a brief explanation of each person’s background and how he or she will help buyers create their dream homes.

Author Pink quotes a former Sony chairman as saying, "We assume that all products of our competitors have basically the same technology, price, performance, and features. Design is the only thing that differentiates one product from another in the marketplace."

In our industry, many buyers assume that all builders build a more-or-less quality home and they seek to differentiate on the basis of design. But the concept of design can be intangible and sometimes scary for home builders that still operate as construction companies rather than as retailers of the most expensive and emotional purchase someone will ever make. But it doesn't need to be. There is lots of strategy behind good design.

Just like any other retailer, you have to sell the right products in your store and price them right to sell. You are leaving money on the table -- lots of money -- if you have essentially the same Design Studio products you offered two years ago. Product trends move fast, and savvy buyers have access to the latest information in the palm of their hands.

Once you've strategically crafted a comprehensive, defined collection of products, you need to present them inside of a well-designed retail space. There was a great article in the September issue of "Metropolis" called "Listening to the Food," which profiled emerging restaurant designers who understand the connections between menu, price, and place.  All of the points could easily be made about Design Studios as well.

A top-notch restaurant achieves harmony through the creation of physical elements to accent the aromas, tastes and textures of the food.  A first-rate design studio creates an environment that inspires creativity, increases the perceived value of the available products, facilitates comprehension to speed decision-making, and is the backdrop which enables a world-class customer experience.

The connection of products and place is an inherent part of the design of a smart design studio that delivers a maximum return on your investment. How would you rate yourself on the "Successful Retailer" scale?  Drawing on cutting-edge research from around the world, Pink lays out a compelling argument for why the more subjective, holistic, synthesized reasoning of the right-directed brain is going to become more prominent in the future than the more analytical, process-oriented, linear left-directed thinking.

Are you ready to compete on this level?

Jane Meagher is president of Success Strategies, a premiere design studio strategy, training, and consulting company, and creator of many national award-winning design studios.