Like many custom-home builders, Jeff and Scott Morrell, owners of Morrell Builders, in suburban Rochester, N.Y., always kept their hand in the remodeling market (about 20% of their business in most years). As the economy shifted, they began focusing more on that segment.
Many builders find it easy to enter the remodeling market but often find it difficult to stay there. To escape that trap, the Morrells — who partnered with James Barbato, owner of local Pride Mark Homes, a new-home builder and property management company — realized that customer service and education would be the best strategies for success and developed the Inde (Intuitive Design) showroom.
Create an Experience
Once they decided to shift gears, the Morrells visited showrooms along the East Coast with Jane Meagher, owner of Success Strategies, a consultant who designs showrooms for builders and remodelers throughout the U.S. and Canada. “The major difference is, we wanted our showroom to be designed for remodeling clients’ needs,” Jeff Morrell says.
For the Morrells, that meant taking the design/build process and refining it to a one-stop-shop for clients — an antidote to what the Morrells saw as an essential problem in both the custom-home building and remodeling industries: a flawed selections process that has clients running back and forth around town.
The newly built 5,000-square-foot Inde studio has several kitchen vignettes, from traditional to modern, along with bathroom, patio, den, and mudroom vignettes. There’s an outdoor area with roofing samples, as well as stone, slate, and wood decking choices. A staircase mock-up includes several spindle and banister types, as well as wood tread options. There are hundreds of countertop samples — 120 choices of granite alone — and three cabinet lines as well as flooring, faucet, fireplace mantel, stair railing, trim detail, siding, and lighting options.
The Morrells have created an experience offering customers not only product choice but an educational component explaining the design/build process. Homeowners can work with on-staff architects, designers, planners, and project managers, as well as use interactive computer screens to see how a design might suit their home.
Worth the Risk
While there are a few large remodeling showrooms in the nation, including Airroom’s two massive spaces outside Chicago, Repp Construction’s 5,000-square-foot showroom near Buffalo, and Rhode Island Kitchen & Bath’s 3,000-square-foot showroom in Warwick, R.I., many remodelers have pulled back from spending money on showrooms. Not that long ago, The Home Depot closed its high-end Expo Design Centers nationwide.
But Meagher says that now might be an opportune time to create a showroom. “If you can create such a strong point of differentiation even if the market pie isn’t as large as it was, this is really one of the smartest and best long-term investments.”
According to Meagher, clarity of your company’s goals — visually, spatially, operationally — is key in developing a showroom. Knowing your client market and location are also critical. “In Rochester,” Scott Morrell says, “You don’t have the high-highs or the low-lows [in real estate].” He believes people are ready to spend money on remodeling again.
Inde showcases products of varying price points, and the building itself is located in a well-trafficked area near other retail. Because of its construction industry connections, the company also is able to rely on direct relationships with vendors, which helps with costs.
Recognizing that they are going to be a big fish in a small pond, the partners are sensitive to smaller remodelers in their market. Inde works with outside remodelers and also sells its own design plans for others to build. “Some [local] remodelers are seeing this as a better customer-service experience for their clients,” Jeff says. “We want to be good neighbors with the remodeling community.”
—Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.