When a handful of small Minneapolis-St. Paul builders decided in 2008 to join forces on a woman-centered marketing campaign, they had no idea how timely a decision that would be. “What started out as a marketing strategy turned into a survival strategy,” Rick Storlie of New Home Sales Coach told attendees at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas Tuesday.

The secret? A co-operative marketing strategy built on a “Woman-Centric” approach to the new-home business, which was inspired by a 2005 survey that found that women were the sole or primary decision-maker in 91 percent of new-home purchases.

According to Paul Foresman, director of business development for Design Basics, the Omaha-based floor-plan company that developed the concept, builders who follow the “Woman-Centric” model take a different perspective on designing, marketing, and selling new homes. Floor plans are presented in terms of areas for “de-stressing,” “storing,” “entertaining,” and “flexible living.” Marketing events also are less about presenting a home’s “features and benefits” than they are about providing an irresistible opportunity for prospective women buyers to mingle and socialize. Such experiential marketing events might include traditionally feminine activities such as a cooking demonstration, a spa night with mini-facials and chair massages, or a faux finishing class.

Finally, houses, such as those built by NIH Homes in Elk River, Minn., offer specialty features intended to appeal to busy moms or corporate women executives alike. A “drop zone” just inside the house has a pull-out drawer with an outlet for charging cell phones and PDAs. A “work-in” pantry includes outlets and counter space for kitchen appliances, which reduces clutter in the actual kitchen. A master bath cabinet contains a drawer with an outlet and metal bins for storing a hairdryer or still-hot curling iron. 

The five Minnesota builders embraced the approach, working with Foresman and Storlie to execute their plans. They pooled their marketing dollars, allowing them to establish a bigger campaign than any of the five builders could have afforded individually. They arranged for their salespeople to meet once monthly as a group to share ideas and brainstorm ways to overcome buyer objections. They produced group ads and media materials that identified their Woman-Centric model homes across the Twin Cities area. And, they launched the campaign in conjunction with the Twin Cities Parade of Homes, allowing them to piggy-back on the attention and press given to that much larger event.

It worked better than anyone expected. Major newspapers ran section-front articles on the Woman-Centric builders and their homes. Local magazines and Web sites covered them too. Would-be buyers flocked to their models; a competitor told Helen Severson of Severson Homes in Lakeville, Minn., that her Woman-Centric house received eight visitors to every one of his. And in October 2008, one of the worst months for home builders in recent memory, Jeremy Skogquist of NIH Homes made a most memorable sale, selling a woman-centric home with the specialty features above for 97.5% of list price to a couple who walked away from a house already under construction up the street and its non-refundable $10,000 earnest money deposit to buy from NIH instead.

Why? The wife liked the NIH house better.

Alison Rice is senior editor, online, at BUILDER magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN.