Are We Underselling Our Buyers?
Think back just a bit.
Who would have ever thought five years ago that manufacturers would be able to affordably offer ceramic tile, stainless steel farm sinks, and large, walk-in showers in their homes?
It’s increasingly common for manufactured home professionals to have a photo album on their phones of amazing homes they’ve seen, or been a part of bringing to market. My regular rounds provide a nice album of merchandised interiors for Clayton Homes. A sweep through five or six images can change even the most jaded opinions of our homes.
Why Not Find A Way?
Patriot Homes had heard about my work from some of the leading site builders and invited me to work on their homes. As an introduction, the plan was to attend The Tunica Show and walk every home, come back with suggestions on products that could aid the designs. The purchasing agent at the time had other plans. The reason?
Because “We don’t do things that way in our industry”. The plan came together after getting to know each other, and with some give and take on both sides, we provided some innovative but still cost-effective looks for consumers who are influenced by HGTV and the home decor magazines. Add to that, our project gained the attention of Home Depot, which designed some product lines just for us.
The Louisville Show
Among the greatest places to get inspired is the professional seminars at manufactured housing trade shows. It’s a great place to hear the valuable success stories, and to learn from some great experiences.
Last year it was a real treat to speak at the Louisville Show and to see the evidence of how far we have come as an industry.
Typically at shows we get to see the best of the best, but it’s an industry show and not a consumer show. So, how do we share who we are now? How do we share with potential customers who think we are still the mobile home of the 1970s?
More than 90% of consumers now start their home search online, and if homes aren’t professionally staged and photographed, it will be harder to convince that consumer to come to see the place in person. Many of the major manufacturers provide photography to help you sell homes. But what if the customer falls in love with the home they see online ad? If they come to your community or retail center and see something with no skirting, dated furniture, and no electrical power, they are going to feel deceived. So for practicality, and for progressive business practices, we are tasked with creating masterfully staged home that can be photographed and made availabe for tours.
But Why Luxury Brands?
You would think spending time researching luxury brands and how they do business would be a waste of time, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Many of the trends and products that consumers want start at the luxury side of the business, then filter down to affordable design. Progressive manufactured home builders have recognized this. You’ll see some of their team members walking shows like the International Builders Show, The Kitchen and Bath Show and the High Point Furniture Market. They are learning about new trends that connect with consumers now – many at price points way above what our customers expect to spend. But they take these ideas home.
They do some research on how to get this look for less, then incorporate it into their homes.
Something that many luxury brands are good at is listening. They don’t tell their customers “we can’t do that,” they say let’s figure out how we can make your dreams come true.
The Fruit That Makes The Wine
Jean-Charles Boisset is the perfect example of this. When he was 11 years old his schoolteacher grandparents brought him on vacation to the United States from France, and as someone who grew up in wine country, he fell in love with Napa Valley – especially the Buena Vista Winery. He said right then that someday he was going to own that winery. After coming back to the U.S. for college, he did buy it and restored it to its original grandeur. The Boisset Collection is now 27 wineries in the U.S. and France and has expanded into a luxury lifestyle brand. After listening to his customers, he discovered their frustrations with buying at home the wines they discovered when they traveled, and how many stores wouldn’t even try to help them get what they wanted. They tried to sell the customer something else.
If you think our industry has a lot of rules and regulations, you should research the wine and spirits world!
But, not one to take no for an answer, Boisset kept asking questions, kept researching, and discovered a way to sell directly to consumers through “ambassadors”. These were and are friends and neighbors in the community who could assist on wine journeys and get the best value for customer tastes. Customers can go online and buy wine from the wineries and it’s delivered right to their home, cutting out the middle man, and also making sure that the wine has been stored correctly. A brilliant move for everyone, but few people are as brave as Boisset. He alone completely changed an industry.
The Value of Listening
Think about what listening more to our customers could do for our industry as well.
LG Appliances is one of the most highly respected appliance and electronics companies in the world. Based in Korea, the company understood other markets but were having trouble understanding, and selling to the luxury buyer in the U.S. Wisely, they hired a well-known and respected leader in the luxury appliance world here, and started Signature Kitchen Suite. One of the first things they did was to build and open their Experience and Design Center in Napa. When asked why Napa, the answer was that “it’s the destination for the culinary world and close to Silicon Valley, the hub for the tech world.” Since they build smart technology appliances for their Technicurean® customers (a word they came up with and trademarked), the location made sense. They design appliances that have never would have been available in the consumer market. And now LG is the company that keeps the pace for others trying to reach those heights. Customers are invited to the EDC to be hands-on with the LG and SKS appliances. It helps them understand all of the technology and features the brand offers.
What does all of this have to do with manufactured housing? Everything.
Extend the Invitation
When is the last time you asked customers or potential customers for an open dialogue on what they want? What’s important to you? Or are we price selling or value selling? Do we just assume our customers are on a particular budget? Do we educate them first and see what upgrade or home can be something they want and will pay to have?
One impressive interaction recently came from Bryan Rogers, regional vice president for Clayton Homes. We had a day with the sales team in Desoto, Texas. Rogers was inside the homes, showing the teams all of the special features each offered. He covered how to show the homes to potential customers. We all learned a lot listening that day, and as the merchandiser of these homes, it helped me understand the features I needed to highlight with my designs.
What To Do Next?
I’m going to break the rules (again) and offer some suggestions – And I would love to hear your ideas as well.
1. Press Tours and a guided consumer tour of our homes at shows
It’s understandable that we want to avoid having non-industry people in our homes at trade shows where pricing is shown and conversation can go in a lot of different directions. But what about doing a pre-show or something after hours at a specified time that allows media, bloggers, influencers, and potential homeowners to take guided tours through our beautiful homes? Tour them like Bryan with the Desoto sales team, showing them what makes our homes such a great value. Let them take a lot of photos that they could show to friends and share on social media. Pricing could be removed, and we could show them what we want them to see.
2. We expect the customer to always come to us – why don’t we go to the consumer?
Jean-Charles Boisset is doing this by hosting the “Alchemy of the Senses” tour. He has gone coast to coast renting luxurious estates that happen to be for sale, and brought his team of chefs, designers, sommeliers, and marketing people with him to create an experience of a lifetime. People tend to remember tasting experiences more than visual ones, and an event like this proves that point. Teaming with retailers and communities in an area where the consumer lives, and creating a unique sensory experience where they could see, touch and understand our homes sounds like an “out there idea”, but it would set us apart. Food actually cooking in our kitchens, people tasting and chatting in our dining rooms, playing and cajoling in our family rooms, gathering in our flex or outdoor spaces.
3. Get social
Yes, the mention has been made, but social media is more important than ever because this is truly where your customers are spending their time. Creating a Pinterest account and sharing unique design details in your home, or recipes that can be cooked in your kitchens, or lifestyle shots and ideas really can make people rethink their perceptions about manufactured housing.
4. Sell it, Don’t Save It
Shari McLellan and her team at Clayton Homes of Victoria have figured out that it makes a lot more sense to sell her lot models furnished than to move everything into storage and try to reuse it later. This gives them the advantage of saying “yes!” to that customer who wants a home that looks as good as the model – they can own the model home and everything in it. And, The homes on their lot are always fresh and up to date.
When you are attending and touring our industry shows, or some of the shows for other industries, don’t forget to take many, many photos. Pick up the literature. Ask the questions. All of them. Challenge yourself to take home at least one great idea every day.