In the model home and design center process, waste can take many forms. It could mean stocking or staging an outdated or undesirable product, overdecorating a model, or offering an overwhelming number of choices.

But in a space where sales depend on customer impressions, time is also vulnerable to waste. If your sales and product strategies are not streamlined around the customer experience, then decisions that may seem like cost-saving strategies, like under-merchandising a model home, may backfire if they hurt that experience.

We’ve asked designers and sales and marketing professionals—some representing builders, and others from independent design centers and consultancies —to share their experiences and key takeaways on streamlining the model and showroom processes:

1. Don’t over- or under-decorate.

According to Dawn Duhamel, director of sales and marketing at Possibilities for Design in Denver, Colo., too much merchandise in a home can make a space feel chaotic and can clash with an increasing societal need to disconnect and reduce clutter.

“It’s imperative that model homes, given the investment, allow consumers to adequately experience the architectural space of the home. Builders aren’t selling furniture, they are selling space,” Duhamel says. “Create a welcoming interior that asks them to stay, not overwhelms them into leaving.”

On the other hand, some builders choose to stage their model homes as lightly decorated “vignettes.” This could mean that only a few of the room’s homes are decorated, or that finishing touches are left out, such as window treatments or artwork. However, while vignettes are cheaper to stage than a whole home, the incomplete experience can leave buyers confused or dissatisfied.

“Having worked on the builder side as well as for design firms, I can tell you the evidence is overwhelming: buyers simply cannot visualize without help,” Duhamel says. “For the small amount of savings a builder recognizes in a vignette, there is a much larger payoff by fully merchandising a model, especially in secondary bedrooms.”

2. Don’t include features that aren’t available to customers.

Duhamel recalls that it used to be common for model home designers to include “built-in millwork, specialty tile, and finish details that were not offered to the builder’s consumer.” However, today’s home buyers are far better educated on the home purchase and design process, she says. They often research the builder and available products before they visit, and usually expect to see exactly what is included for the home’s listed price, as well as options and upgrades.

“In the past we may have been able to custom-design a bookcase in a study,” Duhamel says, “whereas now we work with the cabinet manufacturer to design something that can be easily replicated and offered to the customer.”

3. Strategically curate your product assortment.

Over time, certain products or lines may be discontinued or fall out of fashion. Keeping them on display in a showroom may take up space that could be used by a different product, mislead buyers if the product is no longer available, or lead to an unnecessary quantity of choice.

To keep showrooms and model homes current, Jane Meagher, president of Success Strategies , recommends forming a structured program around merchandise management. The program should be proactive rather than reactive, evaluate the merchandise on a schedule, and take input from across departments, including purchasing, construction, design, and sales.

“The national brand’s supplier representatives can be a good source of information,” Meagher suggests. “Historical sales data can be a good source of information. But, those are just components. We also have to look forward to trends, and what we see happening. We have to be the experts for our consumers to trust, and put products in front of them before they have to wonder why we don’t have them.”

4. Vary finishes between rooms and models.

One move Duhamel identifies as a mistake in communities with more than one model home is the use of similar interior finishes between models. Instead, she sees multiple spaces as an opportunity to showcase the choices that customers have.

“Today’s shoppers are eager to see ideas and want to be inspired by the choices they see in models,” says Duhamel. “If a builder is investing in models, it’s important to be able to leverage them as on-site design studio, where buyers can experience a variety of selections.”

If only one home is available, builders can use the same strategy by varying finishes from room to room. Meagher recommends “displaying a wide variety of styles and/or finishes, while staying appropriate to the design integrity of the model home, to draw the customer’s attention to the opportunity to personalize – and the design studio, if the builder has one.”

5. Consider your demographic.

Depending on who your potential buyers are, certain features may make or break the model home or showroom experience on a wide scale.

Geographic location can be a strong indication of which products will and will not resonate, but Meagher notes these barriers of difference have broken down as buyers have gained more access to style information from across the country.

“These days everybody has access to Pinterest, everybody watches ‘Love It or List It’ or ‘Property Brothers’ or any of those,” she says. “We are hyper-exposed to top design styles, and trends move quicker today than ever before. So the geographic lines are blurring a bit. Not that they’re gone, they’re just not as profound as they were.”

Age is another consideration. “Design is totally subjective,” says Marnèe Duffus, regional manager at BuildersDesign. “What millennials think is a great use of space may not be what baby boomers find appropriate.”

However, Meagher says demographics, particularly age and generations, are generalizations that may not be reflected in an individual. “What we’ve found is that style is not really driven by age,” she adds. “It’s more driven by unique personality factors.”

To pinpoint trends that resonate with a given demographic or location, Duffus recommends partnering with a model home merchandising company. “Finding a partner who will do research on your buyer demographic and curate the home to their liking is the best way to ensure your model home will be your strongest sales tool,” she says.

6. Follow a set plan for each customer and project.

Whitney Harvey, vice president of sales and marketing at Magnolia Homes in Germantown, Tenn., recommends a carefully crafted plan for each design center visitor. “Although this may sound like a basic step it can be a challenge to keep meetings on track at times,” she says. “For a new build, we send out a welcome e-mail with an agenda to be reviewed prior, and this has significantly helped prep our buyers.”

Meagher recommends bringing customers in for a design studio preview ahead of the larger appointment. “A big way to eliminate inefficiencies in the design studio world is to better prepare the customers,” she says. “I don’t generally recommend having buyers come in for the first time and make final decisions within a few hours on the same day. Most buyers need time to explore, evaluate, and be ready to make lasting decisions.”

For model homes, Duhamel suggests making sure the model home team is well-coordinated—and not just the sales representatives. “Bring the entire model home team—construction, architects, interior designers, landscape architects, sales, marketing, advertising agency—together for an initial kickoff meeting so that everyone understands the vision,” she says. “This one meeting can save time and money, as all parties involved are on the same page from the start.”

7. Balance the physical and the virtual experience.

While digital tools such as virtual tours and product catalogs have become an important part of the model home and sales process, none of the design or sales experts interviewed believe that a virtual experience can replace a physical model or design center experience, even in part.

Physical and present experience gives a better impression of how a product will actually look and feel in the home. “Virtual tours and online products are effective for guidance toward a style and or how to best use a space and or detail of product,” says Karen H. Shelly, design manager at HHHunt Homes. “The physical sample is the most effective when it comes to the color, touch, and feel of a product.”

On the other hand, model home and design center experiences provide the opportunity for customers to cultivate a connection with the builder. “The digital selections experience is important, but I believe it should be paired with, not used instead of, a top-notch design studio,” Meagher says. “Right now I think people need to see and touch, to ask all kinds of questions, and to really be treated like VIPs. And that’s not an experience that they’re going to get without that human connection, without physically touching the products and seeing what they look like.”