MOST SALES INFORMATION centers are instantly forgettable, says Wayne Hancock, the executive director of Estrella Mountain Ranch, a sprawling 20,000-acre master planned community in Goodyear, Ariz.

“They have pretty little pictures of pretty little people doing pretty little things,” Hancock says.

He needed much more than a typical information center to convince home buyers to make the drive past other communities with similar homes at a lower price point. Hancock needed a place to show them the lifestyle that he believes makes his community a better value despite a higher price tag.

“We have projects they will pass on their way to us that will sell them a home for $25 a square foot less, and they're good homes,” he says. “Why should they buy from us? If it's my models against a competitor's, I'll lose as often as I win. … No one understands the lifestyle unless we can explain it. This building helps us be a winner.”

EXPERIENCE PAYS OFF: Estrella Mountain Ranch's sales information center houses interactive exhibits proven to boost sales. To do that, he needed to get buyers out of their cars long enough to do more than grab a map on the way to the model homes. He wanted them to learn about the Jack Nicklaus-designed public golf course, the miles of trails and extensive parks, the stocked 72-acre lake and the residents' free access to boats, the 25,000-square-foot recreation center, the concerts and the farmer's market, and the three on-site schools. That was going to take a lot more than a topo table and a handful of brochures.

Hancock began traveling the country, trying to find an existing center he could copy. He didn't find one, and instead, wound up designing and building an 8,400-square-foot information center called the Luminarium Home Finding Center. In January, the center took home the Gold Award for best sales information center in the Nationals, the NAHB's top award from the National Sales and Marketing Council.

Sales Strategies Easily seen from the highway, the Luminarium's 28-foot-tall copper sphere is particularly dramatic when lit at night. Inside, the sphere is home to a planetarium-style theater for viewing a film about the community's lifestyle.

But the theater is only one part of the center's sales strategy, Hancock says, which begins the moment visitors open the door and continues through every part of the experience. In addition to the theater, the center also features a comfortable reception area, an innovative “Discovery of Life” room with information on various aspects of community life at the Estrella Mountain Ranch, a children's play room, a builder showcase room, and a real estate agent's office.

LIFE IN STYLE: Displays feature various aspects of community life from golf to schools to sailing. photos: courtesy estrella mountain ranch “Our industry doesn't do a real good job in selling compared to other industries,” he says. “I was looking for a way to sell the community, not just give them a map and tell them how to get to the models. … We give them an experience.”

The building is designed to respond to four stages in the selling process—a warm welcome, an emotional introduction to the community, specific information about the amenities and lifestyle, and details about product and pricing, Hancock says. The first is a comfortable introduction without the feeling that a sales person is going to attack them. The welcome desk is set in a back corner; a Realtor office is just off the lobby. Guests are welcomed and offered cookies and a glass of ice water. Even that step is intentional, Hancock says. Most builders in his market offer visitors bottled water. That's fine, but bottled water can be tucked in bag and taken away. Not so with a glass.