Are “upscale” clients really different? Well, for starters, upscale clients usually don't remodel because they need to — they remodel because they can. They are, by definition, affluent; and they're determined to enjoy the fruits of their good fortune.
To understand these clients' expectations, just think about the sophistication of the world they inhabit. Their reference points are Porsche and Nordstrom; not Chevy and Sears. They tend to be highly educated and widely traveled, and have been exposed to a wider range of design ideas during the past month than their parents encountered in a lifetime.
Upscale clients don't buy products; they buy peace of mind. Think about the team of professional advisers that your upscale client has assembled. Their attorney, their accountant, their financial planner, and all the rest are getting paid to provide guidance.
Taken together, these characteristics are the overwhelming drivers of the upscale market. Your clients are tantalized every day with glossy visions of architectural perfection. And they expect to be able to simply hire a professional to produce it. Craftsmanship and beauty are assumed, but that may actually be the easiest part of the job. Remodeling projects are about your clients' lives — and they like to know that their lives are well taken care of by you.
Successful upscale remodelers put management of their client's “remodeling experience” at the center of the remodeling process. They employ procedures designed to build confidence and ease anxiety. This starts with mundane things like setting — and keeping — a regular weekly progress meeting. But the real impact will be felt in the specifics. Is there an agenda? Are typed minutes consistently distributed? Are cost and schedule reports up-to-date? In short, can the clients relax and assume that you will handle everything?
Your upscale clients are buying the entire remodeling experience. If the experience is stressful, even if you finish on time and on budget and produce magazine-quality work, you'll never see the referral. Deliver the experience.
Dean Brenneman, AIA, is a principal of Brenneman & Pagenstecher–Residential Architects & Builders, an upscale remodeling company based in Washington, D.C.