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Although older consumers want the same on-trend products and features that other types of home buyers do, affluent 55+ buyers demand more than that, according to panelists at a recent educational session at the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas. Buyers in this demographic expect an elite customer experience that starts with the product selection process, said the presenters, who talked about how builders can meet this demand in their design center spaces.

Boomer buyers want a concierge-level experience similar to Nordstrom’s personal shopping service, which matches buyers with a personal stylist who scours the store and sets up pre-selected clothes for a customer to try on, said panelist and design studio consultant Jane Meagher, president of New Jersey-based Success Strategies. In the same way, builders can gather advance information about their affluent active adult customers and prepare an array of items when they visit the design center.

“They are relying on you to be fashion forward and be the authority on trends,” Meagher said. This means making sure the design studio has the most current products available. “Having outdated or discontinued product robs your stores from the opportunity to show something you can monetize.”

Meagher and co-presenters Lisa McClelland, Toll Brothers’ vice president of design centers, and Josh Goldschmidt, president of Eagle Construction of Virginia, gave their tips for design studios that meet the needs of this educated, well-off group:

--Access is important. Goldschmidt’s design center is located in a well-trafficked retail center near a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and is open seven days a week. “We get a lot of foot traffic and many times people come back a second and third time with their friends,” he said. “They want to show them what they’re thinking of in a new home.”

--Keep it fresh. In keeping with national retailers, make sure your centers have displays that change with the seasons or during holidays, said McClelland. “Good retailers don’t let their stores go dormant and stale,” she said.

--Leverage social media. Affluent active adult buyers are tech-savvy and use social media sites to research the latest design and product trends. “They’re very active in terms of creating wishlists and being able to take the time to create their budget and be prepared before their first appointment,” said McClelland.

--Make it personal. Effective design studios allow buyers to personalize their homes without being overwhelmed by choices, says Goldschmidt, whose team members select packages of products to help streamline the selection process. “The affluent baby boomer wants what they want. It’s really a part of our sales process and sales teams’ goal to really make sure that they understand they can do that.”

--Help with decisions. The three panelists all agreed that one of the biggest stumbling blocks to new home sales is a slow product selection process. Savvy builders make it easy for them to compare and contrast products and visualize how they will be installed. One of Meagher’s builder clients displays tile in 18-inch-high vignettes just as they would be used in a backsplash.

--Don’t get bogged down. In each of its 30 design centers, Toll Brothers designates the month of April for a yearly cleanup of SKUs. Outdated products are dropped to make way for new models only during this time. “The rest of the year is locked down,” said McClelland. “This means we’re not having to move samples in and out of the studio and our model home merchandising firms now have a stable list of what’s in each studio.”

--Consider online selection. Web-based product catalogs are becoming more commonplace with home builders, but can be time-consuming and expensive to implement, says Goldschmidt, who is just starting to roll out Eagle’s online catalog. “It’s the future for sure. People want to be able to shop 24/7,” he said. “We see as very current but very challenging.” Eagle’s process has involved cleaning up SKUs and getting the back office integrated with the online sales system, but “we think it’s going to put forth a tremendous amount of value,” he said.

--Show value. The affluent active adult buyer does not like to waste money and needs to see that every purchase is a smart financial decision, Meagher said.

--Upselling is crucial. Older buyers are more amenable to select upgrades in the design studio because they are not as liable as younger buyers to take on projects later. “Get them focused on having a complete solution for their ultimate dream home,” said Meagher. “Remind them of the hassle of DIY and that they want the best overall value, not necessarily the cheapest price.”

--Host events. The panelists agreed that design centers should be used for events like lunch and learns, happy hours, Realtor outreach, and cooking demonstrations. Eagle uses it as a way to treat customers on the VIP pre-sales list and help them learn about the product selection process, something many older buyers appreciate.

“With affluent baby boomers they come in early so they are always well represented at these events,” Goldschmidt said.

--Connect with sales. Show your sales team how to leverage your design studio to sell more homes, Meagher said. They can connect it to the brand and culture and leverage it as a differentiator in the marketplace. Successful builders bring customers into the design studio before a sale is inked, so they can start to envision their dream home. “Reimagine the customer journey,” she added.