Courtesy Grayhawk Homes

Recently a customer walked off the street into Grayhawk Homes’ new sales center/headquarters in Columbus, Ga., with no Realtor in tow and no concrete plans to buy a home. She was just looking. Within a week the buyer had signed a contract to purchase a home.

While that might happen regularly to other builders, it was unusual for Grayhawk, which sells 90 percent of its homes through Realtor contacts and never had people who were “just looking” show up at its old headquarters.

David Erickson, Grayhawk’s president, expects it might become more common than not in the future now that the company has moved its headquarters and sales center to a prominent corner of a shopping center along a well-travelled local traffic corridor with easy access to most of the city. It’s also within half a mile of several different realty companies and four mortgage companies. “We are at least three times as visible as we were before and, more important, more visible to all the people who are moving around in the real estate corridor,” Erickson says.

The move was more than just a practical expansion for the company, which was squeezed into a nondescript building in a less traveled location before. “A significant component of what we are doing [with this move] is to change our business model,” says Erickson. “Previously we were a construction company that, once we had a contract, would work with the buyers on design.”

“Now,” he adds, “we are changing that dynamic. Now we are openly advertising and making ourselves available for someone to come in off the street by themselves or with a Realtor.” And that makes it possible to get buyers jazzed about design options earlier in the process.

It’s not that Grayhawk was struggling to sell homes before. It’s, by far, the largest builder in the Columbus market, selling 303 homes in 2011, landing at No. 82 on Builder’s Builder 100 list. But headquarters space was tight before, and all the home options were squeezed into 400 square feet.

Grayhawk’s new offices take up 6,500 square feet, with 1,200 of it dedicated to space where buyers can shop for fixtures and fittings in a showroom environment. It’s eye-catching outside as well. Erickson built out the façade to resemble a home with a front porch overhang, small gable, and Craftsman-style columns.

There was a steady flow of traffic in the first month it was open, with several dozen Realtors stopping by as well as home shoppers. “People get really excited coming in here because of all the selections,” says Kathy Holley, Grayhawk’s customer coordinator. “People are seeking a lot more upgrades, and they are asking a lot more about upgrades so I think we will sell more.”

Erickson was adamant about keeping the company’s sales staff in the same building with the rest of the company.

“It fits in with our business model,” he says. “We are a production [home building] company in that we did a lot of houses last year. Yet, at the same time, we have sizable custom home options.” Grayhawk is willing to, “within reason,” change its plans to fit customers’ needs and desires. So having the sales office in the same place as the operations departments makes it easy for sales agents to check quickly whether a customer’s customization request is feasible.

Erickson says the new location is costing his company $30,000 more a year, but he would have had to expand the old location anyway, and, besides, he thinks it will eventually pay for itself.

“If we get four or five sales a year off that location, or the customer experience is better, it’s worth it,” he says. Plus, he expects the obvious investment in a prominent location will bring a good number of less measurable benefits as well. Among them will be sending a message to home shoppers and the Realtor community that Grayhawk Homes is a distinguished, stable, and long-time local business.