As sales manager for Solivita, an active adult community in Poinciana, Fla., being built by Avatar Holdings, Marty Cohn attends about a dozen real estate shows a year in the Northeast and the Midwest. The shows are all geared to baby boomers interested in buying Florida real estate. And the competition can be fierce: Most usually feature exhibitors from 12 to 15 master planned communities.
Cohn's goal at the shows is to introduce prospective buyers to Solivita, a 3,000-acre community with 4,500 units at build-out. Like every other real estate sales manager, he relies on strong collateral materials to help potential home buyers see the benefits of his community—year-round sun, championship golf, beautiful homes, amenities galore, and national awards to back it all up. They gotta see it if you're gonna sell it, veterans such as Cohn will remind you.
If there's a drawback to having a community with a lot to offer, it's the cost and the weight of the collateral. Solivita's brochures pack 50 to a box; each box weighs 30 or 40 pounds. Shipping is one issue; lugging around the boxes at the shows is quite another. If Cohn takes 1,000 brochures, that's at least 600 pounds of paper he needs to move around. That doesn't include the videos, which may not weigh as much, but are just as cumbersome.
If someone asks to have a packet mailed to them, which happens between 75 to 100 times a week, it costs about “$11 and change with the video, including postage and man power,” Cohn says.
Double Savings All that changed in 2002 in a light-bulb moment. Solivita's entire award-winning brochure—plus the video, its floor plans, the TV and radio jingle, and information on Avatar and its awards—was on the company's Web site. It was all sitting there in front of them. Why not just burn a CD-ROM and hand that to people? A few ounces versus a couple of pounds looked awfully good to Cohn's budget—and to his back.
It made sense to Jon Lawson, Solivita's director of sales and marketing. It didn't require creating any additional material and the potential cost savings was enormous. The cost of the CD-ROM is about a dollar; mailing it with the video runs just a little more than two bucks. Plus, it's an easy matter to update a CD-ROM when prices change or new phases open.
The only question was whether enough active adult buyers would be computer savvy and able to undertake the effort. Cohn regularly surveys prospects at the shows and has consistently found a strong acceptance rate.
“Most do have computers,” Cohn says. “Some say they're from the old school and don't know anything about computers and don't ever want to, so we still take a fair amount of brochures. But I'll bet you 75 percent of them answer positively to the computer question.”
Junior-sized In creating the CD-ROM, Solivita went with what's called a junior disc. (For the uninitiated, open the CD-ROM drive on a computer and look at the tray where the CD sits. There are two circles; the smaller one is for a junior disc.) The smaller disc fits neatly into a man's shirt pocket or the smallest ladies purse, making it simple to carry.
“It's so much more convenient,” Lawson says. “Would you rather walk around with a CD-ROM or a big brochure? When they get in the car, the first thing they do with a brochure is throw it in the back seat. For whatever reason, people think the CD-ROMs have value. They hang on to them longer.”
For Cohn, the practical benefits to using the junior disc may be even more important than the savings benefit. The lightweight format makes taking his collateral material to shows a virtual piece of cake.
“For me to travel with 500 CD-ROMs rather than 500 brochure packages is a tremendous advantage,” he says. “It's not just money; it's the savings in aggravation. You don't have to lift heavy boxes. I could take a thousand of those little CDs in a suitcase and still have room for clothes.”
A prime example, he says, was a three-state real estate brokers' convention he attended this past fall in Atlantic City. With some 3,000 attendees, the logistics of taking that many brochures was problematic.
“We'll give them each one of these little CDs,” he says. “If I had to take 3,000 brochures, it's almost undoable.”
Plus, Lawson says, the format demonstrates to visitors at the shows that Avatar is a sophisticated company that is up to date with technology. And, since they're usually carting around an armful of brochures, the compact CDs are a real convenience for them.
“They're thrilled,” he says. “They're walking around with these big bags. It's five ounces with the same information. I tell them, ‘Here, take one of these. Go have fun.'”
Don't Stop the Presses Lawson and Cohn stress that the CD-ROM doesn't eliminate the need to print brochures. There are still plenty of prospective buyers who like to have something they can hold in their hands and pore over. “Some people want to touch and feel,” Cohn says. Generally, when people request a package from the home office, they prefer to receive the brochure. But every dollar that's saved on the brochures can be spent on traffic-building ads or other marketing efforts.
The next version of the CD-ROM will probably include virtual tours of models and Solivita's design studio, Lawson says. Cohn is excited about that possibility as long as the technology is sufficient to make the images true to life.
When that section of the home-buying process can be added, it will open up a whole new area of cost savings, Lawson says, because the buyers can make most of their decisions on a self-service basis and dramatically reduce the amount of time and staff it takes to help them select their options.
“We could probably cut our design staff in half,” says Lawson, “because they come in ready to pick out their stuff.”