When Evans Coghill set out to sell its homes in the brand-new Riverwalk community in northern South Carolina, company officials figured the sports-centric development would be a slam dunk with young and middle-age buyers.
While its hiking trails, kayak spots, and nearby velodrome have been popular with these age groups, two-thirds of sales so far have come from baby boomer customers, a demographic that the company hadn’t planned to market to at all. Nevertheless, older buyers flocked to Riverwalk after seeing an ad in the local paper that promoted the company’s downstairs-master ranch houses. Up until that point, chief marketing officer Alan Banks was skeptical that the firm was getting any play from its print ads, but the response from this one changed his mind; in fact, several boomer buyers showed up to Riverwalk with the newspaper in hand. The company is now retooling its product line to include more master-down offerings at Riverwalk and beyond.
From this lucky mistake, officials at the Charlotte, N.C.-based firm learned not to make assumptions about what their buyers want. They also realized that contrary to popular opinion, print advertising is not dead. “We dismissed a demographic and an ad source only to find out they were both a niche we should have been exploring for Riverwalk,” he says.
Founded in 2001, Evans Coghill’s success has been built on taking chances. It was one of two home builders that initially signed on to Riverwalk, located on the brownfield site of a vacant textile factory in a community struggling with unemployment. During the housing downturn, it expanded its business model to include infill projects near downtown Charlotte. And, the 10-employee company recently began construction in two suburban neighborhoods that survived the recession—River Run in Davidson, N.C., and Cheval in Charlotte, N.C.—where houses sell on spec from the $600,000s to the $700,000s.
Besides the large production builders that dominate the Charlotte market, the firm’s biggest competition comes from existing homes. Its mantra with customers is “Why buy new?”—a question that salesperson Forrest Ranson explored in an eight-part blog on the company’s website. The article, which has been popular with buyers and Realtors, details how a newly built home can be priced in line with a previously owned one while offering greater energy efficiency and lower maintenance. “In infill neighborhoods especially, this has helped us a great deal,” Banks says. “It helps us position ourselves as the ‘New vs. Old Experts.’”
Local real estate agents drive 70 percent of the firm’s business so Evans Coghill treats them like valued members of their marketing team. The company hosts weekly meetings with groups of Realtors that promote its new vs. old message and detail available homes and incentives.
Personalized customer service is also key. The Evans Coghill home page invites clients to “Ask Alan” and provides Banks’ direct phone line. The promotion has brought in calls from buyers and real estate agents, and Banks quickly refers requests to the right person at the company. By using a free Internet-based phone system, calls easily can be forwarded within the company or sent to a feature that transcribes voice mail messages into email.
The company plans to expand its social media outreach and recently hired Philadelphia-based ad agency Group Two to help with this. “We haven’t figured out how to work it into our infill projects,” says Banks. “We’re big believers in social media marketing, but I don’t believe that social media can sell every home in every situation,” he says, a lesson he learned from a group of newspaper-reading baby boomers.