What’s the one concept you need to master as a successful retailer of any product or service in today’s world?  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 today.

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 starts to really matter.  And good Design is now 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 today has an increased sensitivity to, desire for, and access to good design.  And that is not really NEW news.  But as our industry emerges from the downturn and steps up to the plate in this new playing field, we need to catch up. Quickly.

What are the implications for the homebuilding industry?

Today’s savvy homebuyers demand floorplans which are better designed, they respond more deeply to logos which are better designed, they will stay longer on your website if it is more user-friendly(ie better designed), and they want homes with products which are more up to date and reflect their personal lifestyle needs and design preferences (ie better designed).  They also want to visit you in SPACES which are better designed.  That means model homes, sales environments and Design Studios which inspire them to stay and explore and interact with your brand, your products, and your team.

Author Daniel H. 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.”  WOW.  In our industry, many buyers assume that all builders build a more-or-less quality home and these buyers seek to differentiate on the basis of design.

The concept of design can be a fuzzy, mushy, intangible, and sometimes scary one for many homebuilders who still operate as construction companies rather than retailers of the most expensive and emotional purchase of someone’s lifetime. But it doesn’t need to be.  There is lots of strategy behind good design.

It is both an art and a science to come up with a clearly defined, strategic “universe of choice” from which your homebuyers can choose their cabinets, counters, flooring, faucets, lighting, and other home finishing products.  This complicated, but highly worthwhile task, involves analyzing and compiling one set of products to speak to your various target markets, complement your floorplans (possibly consisting of more than one product line), match your brand position in the marketplace, reflect the trends today’s homebuyers are demanding…and ultimately maximize per-home revenue.  Just like any other retailer, you have to sell the right products in your store, and price them right to sell. I PROMISE you that you are leaving money on the table, lots of money, if you are offering essentially the same Design Studio products you offered two years ago.  Product trends move fast, and savvy buyers have access to the latest and greatest, literally, in the palm of their hands.

Once you’ve strategically crafted a comprehensive and defined collection of available products, you need to present them inside of a well-designed retail space.  There was a great article in the September issue of “Metropolis”( www.metropolismag.com) 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 which 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 which will deliver 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, Dan 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?