The kitchen is undoubtedly the place many builders tend to leave margin—or even a sale—on the table, according to cabinetmaker Merillat. The company's latest consumer research reveals that 64 percent of shoppers say the kitchen is very important in making the decision to buy a home. And yet, the company says that shoppers spend an average of about a minute and a half in a typical model home kitchen.

With better merchandising, Merillat believes builders can get shoppers to interact more with the various kitchen features, upping the amount of time they spend in a model kitchen and generating greater interest in purchasing.

To test this theory, Merillat interviewed 200 home shoppers—current homeowners ages 30 to 59, who were considering buying a move-up home in the $200,000 to $450,000 range—to find out what kitchen features piqued their purchase potential. Working with Schumacher Homes in Ohio, Village Homes in Colorado, Niblock Homes in North Carolina, and Drees Homes in Maryland, Merillat noted differences in shoppers' behavior in a conventional model home versus a “super model.”

Merillat defined a “super model” kitchen as having achieved a high score—an average of 107 points—on its system of indexing responses. The system divided kitchen features into categories that were weighted by importance. A super model generally contained a large number of upgrades in such design categories as kitchen focal points, cabinets, organization features, countertops, flooring, appliances, adjoining spaces, and merchandising tools and props. (See “The Differences” below.)

DINE AND DASH: New-home buyers spend about a minute and a half checking out the kitchen in a model home, says a study by the cabinetmaker Merillat. The study revealed that without a super model, 74 percent of shoppers failed to interact with the kitchen (opening appliance doors or peering into cabinet drawers). The result was that shoppers spent an average of 68 seconds in a conventional model versus 110 seconds in a super model.

Merillat marketing services manager Jim Potthast says this is a missed opportunity to profit from sales of upgrades. Each product can be a “point of self-discovery” for shoppers, encouraging them to “test drive some of the features” and experience the value of such items, he says.

However, Potthast says an easy fix is placing small merchandising tags on various products. “The signage really works,” says Potthast. “You don't have to do a lot to get noticed.” However, he warns, “It's not only putting them in, but [it's also about] telling people about them.”

The study, called Model Behavior II, is a continuation of the original study released in early 2005. Model Behavior I collected information on model home shoppers' behaviors, suggesting that upgrades are integral to the development of a super model.

To score your model homes, contact Merillat at for a copy of the research CD.

The Differences SOURCE: MERILLAT