Working with Builders
March 30, 2012 - 2:51pm

Lighting showrooms deal with two types of builders: smaller, locally owned companies with tight budgets and margins and large, national companies—also with tight budgets and margins. The resulting tendency to point clients—most of whom take their builder’s word as law—toward a lower-end product can be frustrating for growing showrooms that have their own margins to meet.

“Lighting, especially high-design lighting, is expensive,” says Yaacov Golan, owner of Atlanta’s C Lighting. “Architects never budget enough, and that’s unrealistic. The truth is that a customer [usually] has money to spend. It’s kind of sad builders don’t let them.”

Builders’ penny-pinching doesn’t have to discourage showrooms. Turns out, a little customized outreach and face time with the actual homeowner can attract big-ticket sales with a builder of any size. According to the National Assn. of Home Builders (NAHB), home buyers too often feel overwhelmed or rushed during the purchasing process.

When a builder sends clients into your showroom, ushering them out of the “sea of fixtures” into a more streamlined area specifically set up to reflect the designs and styles most often blessed by custom builders can alleviate this frustration—and make the builders more willing to send clients your way. What’s more, sprinkling a few higher-price point options throughout also increases the chances of a higher-grossing sale. Efforts may have to be more overt when dealing with the second breed of builder, however, since large corporations generally have their own design studios—and purchasing teams with an eye on the bottom line.

“Bigger builders like to control their customers’ experience,” says Elliot Mintzer, Builder Sales Manager for Kichler Lighting. “Some are even publicly traded and have to answer to the financial community.”

Forging partnerships that create mini-lighting showrooms inside those design studios provides direct homeowner access—and an opportunity to sell up—altogether avoiding the hassle (and cost) of working through a purchasing middle-man. It’s an idea to which many homebuilders are warming up.

“We don’t want [clients] going to lighting studios, carpet showrooms and a multitude of places,” Brian Hutt, National Director of Design Studios for Lennar Corp. and its subsidiary U.S. Homes, recently told the NAHB. “We want to solve their problems. It’s easier for them to schedule one appointment where they can talk with everyone they need.”

Whether on your own turf or working from a builder-run studio, watch your language once in front of the home-owner. Focusing on “personalization” and “choice” rather than “upgrades” and “options” can work psychological magic, opening minds (and budgets) to products most clients may never have otherwise considered.

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