From file "078_PSs" entitled "PSPFtech.qxd" page 01
From file "078_PSs" entitled "PSPFtech.qxd" page 01
From file "080_PSs" entitled "PSPFtech.qxd" page 01
From file "080_PSs" entitled "PSPFtech.qxd" page 01

Last month Standale, a three-location dealer based in Grand Rapids, Mich., began using Home Ensemble's HomeSpec material selection system, initially to help a handful of the 200 or so home builders it serves. The system is expected to help consumers make quicker, more-informed decisions about the materials used in their homes and, as a result, builders are expected to get budgeting and materials decisions from their customers faster.

In its broadest application, Home-Spec allows home builders and their customers to select from a menu of materials and get immediate insight into how their decisions impact their budgets and the cost of a home. Using the Web-based system, most likely from the builder's office, consumers can make virtually all choices related to the home and materials in real time. They are guided through screens that can be customized with the builder's logo, branding, home plans, and so on.

Top: Standale outside sales rep Patty Bylsma (left) and partner Jan Lehman (right) with Home Ensemble president Scott Kammeraad. Bottom: The dealer is using Home Ensemble's HomeSpec software to make it easier for builders and their clients to make material decisions and gain real-time insights into how those decisions affect their budgets. For example, in an area of the product called “plans,” a buyer can see available home designs for a given development, with base prices. The home buyer also might select from three possible property sizes—small, average, and large—and input a budget range—for example, $150,000 to $200,000 or $400,000 to $450,000. Once a home is selected, the customer will pick options and upgrades, such as desired grade of flooring, cabinetry, and so on. Throughout the process, a home buyer can see an updated price based on the options chosen.

To assist in this process, the site has a “standard specifications” area, where HomeSpec spells out core home design features, including:

  • house plan dimensions and finished area above grade;
  • specifications of footings and foundation, for example, 8-foot-high poured foundation house and garage walls;
  • finish floor covering, with each room designated as “hard surface” or “carpet room” with selections to be made from more detail-level catalogs;
  • cabinetry design, identifying components including base units, drawers, and wall cabinets; cabinet door styles and wood species; and cabinet finish.
  • Prospective homeowners can make changes to the standards through a menu system that is similar to those used to select and build a computer or a car online. “You can get the price calculated in real time and present it to the customer,” explains Jan Lehman, a partner at Standale.

    The system—previously offered only directly to builders—is particularly applicable to volume builders that don't have dramatic variations in materials used to construct their homes, Standale and the software vendor say. “One of the big advantages to HomeSpec is a lot of the confusion and misquoting is taken out right up front,” says Lehman.

    Grand Rapids–based Home Ensemble introduced HomeSpec five years ago to help home builders streamline the decision-making process. “We're pre-pricing and putting products in good, better, best slots so it's easier for buyers to understand the consequences of their decisions,” says Scott Kammeraad, president of Home Ensemble. “By having this hierarchy of selections, early in the relationship a builder can get a client to a budget. That's really the holy grail for the builder.”

    Top, bottom left: Patty Bylsma (left), an outside sales rep for Standale, confers with clients. Right: Partner Jan Lehman is leading Standale's Home-Spec initiative. Chris Rader, president of IT and management consulting firm Rader Solutions in Lafayette, La., says the system could benefit builders and dealers by giving buyers more information on the specific products and materials they offer. “Too often, customers use the Internet to gather information about products the supplier may not stock, which confuses the decision-making process,” he says, adding that the process—and the product—could create new opportunities by helping builders and dealers sell high-end products. “If you can sell a door for more, even at the same margins, you've just increased your profits.”

    And never underestimate the impact of a more consumer-friendly process, says Mark VandenBerge, Home Ensemble vice president of business development. “There are rewards for lumber dealers that become more consumer-oriented,” he says. “This tool is a terrific way of helping small builders compete with their bigger competitors' focus on customer service and marketing. In turn, dealers stand to reap rich dividends of builder loyalty and increased sales for offering this kind of value.”

    Taking It to the Dealer Level While the system can be used to let buyers select everything from floor plans to finishing materials, Standale's implementation will be more limited, at least initially. Standale sees the system as way to make the company more valuable to the builders it serves while increasing sales to existing customers. “We have builders who buy just lumber and some who buy just interior products, and we'd like to capture more business from them,” Lehman says.