Upscale remodels must be picture-perfect the day clients move back into their space. Anything sub-par —from landscaping to lighting — will downgrade client satisfaction and endanger the possibility of repeat business. “If an owner gets a bad landscape job, it's the last thing they remember about the whole project,” says Mark Peterson, president of M/A Peterson. “It tends to sour them on the process, even though we did our job.”
Peterson's Minneapolis–based company added in-house landscaping and interior design rather than trying to lasso subs into doing consistently good work. “We can provide the most convenient process possible by integrating all design disciplines into one build experience,” explains Chris Elliot, who heads Peterson's landscape division. “You can't have a strong enough partnership [with outside subs] that will match what we can do as one company.”
Peterson includes landscape and interior professionals as part of its design team and builds the extra cost into its contracts, with prices varying depending on the scope of the job. “[The individual professionals] are introduced early so the client can get comfortable with the people they'll be working with,” Elliot says. “The more we control the difficult remodeling process, the more efficient we can be,” he points out. “We brought cabinetry [in-house], because we were dealing with delays. Now we control, to the day, the construction process.”
Pass-Through Arrangements With Pros Cabinetry was also a sticking point with Newport, Del.–based Rockland Architects & Builders. “We want clients to [have the benefit] of a professional kitchen designer —an expert,” president David Heaney says. “Kitchen designers lay out and spec the design, and supply and install the products,” he explains. The process is a pass-through relationship, which absolves Rockland of any financial or warranty responsibility.
Unlike Peterson, Heaney prefers to assemble an outside team of interior, lighting, kitchen, audiovisual, and landscaping experts. Except for interior design, all arrangements are pass-through. “Anytime you use a team of experts, you create a superior product,” Heaney says.
Rockland contracts include a minimum of eight hours interior design help for clients, from a partner paid by Rockland on an hourly basis. “We used to let clients pick paint [and other finishes] themselves, but once we realized that a professional made such a huge difference with client satisfaction and our schedules, we added the minimum hours in all contracts,” Heaney says.
Barbara Arrington of Wilmington, Del.–based Arrington Interiors (on the Rockland preferred list), points out that her third-party status soothes clients, who like having a second opinion on design choices.
She is brought into the process after the first round of blueprints, and scrutinizes details such as whether the customer's couch will fit along a family room wall. “Clients feel overwhelmed with R-values and options for foundation treatments,” Arrington says. “By the time it comes to pick tile, their brains are fried.”
“Model Home” With Sample Displays While many remodelers address customer satisfaction with services, Rob Morris, owner of Arlington, Va.–based Morris-Day Designers & Builders, is trying a different model — a model home.
He recently joined forces with Rose DiNapoli, a former client, creating an interior services company called Morris-DiNapoli. Using a 1920s bungalow, Morris is setting up a “model home” completely outfitted with the types of furniture, wallpaper, rugs, and other items that complement the home styles that the company designs. “The spirit of any room is 30% how it's finished,” Morris emphasizes.
“When people remodel, they almost always need the same things: dining room table and chairs, rugs, and armchairs,” Morris points out. “So we'll set them up in our studio, then we can use catalogs to talk about options.” Morris-DiNapoli will sell the items from the model, which will open this spring, and from catalogs for cost plus 25%.
Regardless of whether you provide in-house services or assemble a group of dependable subs, providing finishing-touch services makes for happier customers. And, as Elliot notes, it adds revenue: “Where there is money to be made, we like to make it.”
Cati O'Keefe is a freelance writer based in Cincinnati.