At the end of 2007, the owners of College City Design-Build decided that, to be a leader in the remodeling industry, their company would need to provide an educational platform for clients. Though the Lakeville, Minn., firm started with a seminar on moisture intrusion, it quickly became clear that homeowners were more overwhelmed by the remodeling process itself. So, in 2008, College City Design-Build shifted its seminar focus to design and projects. “We discuss the homeowner’s role, existing conditions, and walk them through a PowerPoint of before, during, and after photos that show how we executed a homeowner’s vision,” says general manager Bjorn Freudenthal.
The seminars give clients an overview of trends and market conditions and are a tool for College City’s sales staff. The company holds about 20 design seminars a year, usually hosted in local showrooms, with about five to 25 attendees at each. In 2010, the company highlighted nine project types including kitchens, baths, basements, green building, and universal design. It also expanded the design seminars to include the company’s new-construction division with a class on how to plan, design, and finance a move-up home.
Freudenthal had noticed during past home tours that most clients would rather speak to a designer or job superintendent than a salesperson, so the company’s lead designer is involved in seminar planning. “Clients are more sophisticated in the way they buy services,” Freudenthal says. “The lead designer helps us create that environment so clients feel they’re talking to a team that includes the builder and the designer.”
A few months ago, when College City Design-Build needed to hire a designer, Freudenthal changed the lead designer job description to include promotional duties and responsibility for the seminars. “I was looking for a design face for the company,” he says. “I wanted the experience and authority of a design person to elevate our own design department.”
The company hired Bonnie Anderson — formerly on the production team of a cable TV home remodeling show — for her understanding of the promotional aspect of projects, renovation, and design.
Anderson is an interior designer, which Freudenthal says is a bonus for the client hand-holding required in remodeling. “Some clients really value someone who can talk about furnishings and fabrics,” he says. “They tie in with the end result.”
Creating a presence with a designer who understands promotion was always part of College City’s plan, but it became critical during the recession. “We have to fight for business,” Freudenthal says. “The way to go about it is to differentiate yourself on the design end. There are a lot of builders out there who do beautiful work, but they are going out of business because they can’t bring the show to the people.”
—Nina Patel, senior editor, REMODELING.