Since nearly the first day the company went design/build more than 10 years ago, HUB Design/Build co-owner Lynne Graves Stephenson has accompanied clients to area showrooms for product selections. The company calls these junkets “road trips,” and they are part of the service that comes with the company's design-and-estimate fee.
“The last thing in the world I want is one of our clients picking out their appliances without adult supervision,” says Mark Stephenson, Lynne's husband and co-owner (Big50 2004). He explains that those selections must be made with a number of factors —countertops, electrical, HVAC, budget, etc. — in mind, and that clients rarely have the ability or resources to consider all of it. “High-end remodeling isn't just showing clients three types of carpet,” he says. “You have to cater to the selections process.”
As times have changed, shuttling clients from showroom to showroom isn't enough to control the selections process. The emergence of the Internet has given homeowners access to just enough information to cause trouble.
“The Internet can be a great resource,” Mark says, “but it can also be a dangerous place.” Anyone can put almost anything up there, and once clients read something and get it in their heads that it's true, “it can be very hard to untangle that mess.”
So HUB Design/Build customers visit the company's design studio before, after, and between “road trips” to surf the Web on a 50-inch flat-screen television — under Lynne's supervision. “It's difficult to integrate selections into the very complicated remodeling process,” Mark says. Overseeing the clients' Internet use helps set reasonable expectations. “We can't stop our clients from surfing the Internet,” Mark says, “but we can minimize what we call ‘remodeling porn' — things that are not in the budget, that are impractical, or that are total fiction.”
The Stephensons are up-front about these processes with potential clients. In fact, they are something of a selling point for the company. “Clients tend to appreciate it,” Mark says. “If they didn't, they'd hire somebody else.” But it's a two-way street: It benefits HUB, too. “It makes the job go faster and easier,” Mark says. “It seems like it's a high-end, luxury service, but it's not.”