Remodelers have limited options to showing new clients their portfolios because their work is confined to a private residence. Typically, to overcome this problem remodelers resort to before and after photo galleries, showrooms and videos.
But is that enough?
Rick Hyatt, president of Atmosphere Builders, based in Blacksburg, Va., didn’t think so. He believes prospective clients have difficulty visualizing projects with photos or staged showrooms, and the best way to help them understand the possibilities is to bring them to the actual work site.
For years Hyatt took new clients to the homes of previous clients, to show them his work. And even though his clients were happy to open their homes, something about doing that felt uncomfortable to Hyatt.
“I’ve thought about some of the risks involved in having strangers in past client’s homes and the possibility of losing a relationship from a loyal client if something were to happen,” Hyatt says.
It came to a head when Hyatt found himself in an uncomfortable spot, after a past client overheard a new client’s snide comment about her decorating choices while touring the home. Hyatt decided he needed a new way to showcase his talent.
In 2011, Hyatt was looking to purchase an investment property when he came across a plain, average-sized property in a middle-class neighborhood up for auction. “I saw potential in that home and a way to differentiate ourselves,” Hyatt says.
He decided to turn it into a model home to showcase his work—turning a plain-Jane home into a high-quality masterpiece, one room at a time. This would also provide an alternative to inconveniencing past clients to open their homes to strangers. “This house is neutral territory,” Hyatt says. “I don’t have people to rearrange their schedules, and people can say whatever they want.”
Purchasing a home for the sole purpose of showcasing your remodeling is a big investment, and if Hyatt was going through with it, he had to make sure he was doing it right.
So he documented every step of the home’s transformation with video, photographs, floor plans, designs and project descriptions. Everything that goes into that home has a strategy behind it, such as hand picking high-end products and materials; strategically designing rooms in different styles; using universal design and green principles; even placement of controls and switches will be used as a selling point.
“We’ve completed two bathrooms and are about 80 percent done with the ‘Euro bath,’” Hyatt says. The Euro bathroom was named after its steam shower, LED lighting and fancy toilet, a design that was created by students from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Another bathroom embodies relaxation with neutral tones, copper fixtures and a tub.
Because Hyatt is working on this as a side project in the evenings and the weekends, he is currently in Phase 1, which is interior work. Phase 2 is exterior work, and Phase 3 is landscape architecture. By the time it’s complete, IDEA House will have dedicated Website (www.ideahousetour.com), logo and a branded name attached to every room.
The pace allows Hyatt to learn as he goes. He’s approached manufacturers of the products he chooses to put in the home—the response has been very positive, and the companies are collaborating with him by providing product information to include on the Website.
He’s even discussed the possibility of co-sponsoring continuing education courses with manufacturers at the home.
When Hyatt gives potential clients a tour IDEA House, he points out unique design features, as well as where walls once stood and shows them from what angle the before photos were taken for comparison.
He’s also learned that bringing clients into the unfinished areas home is just as beneficial. “I thought I needed to finish the home before showing it, but actually, most people are just as interested in seeing the unfinished spaces and learning more about the process,” Hyatt says. The unfinished spaces are great for discussing additional benefits when hiring him, like dust control, floor protection and jobsite safety.
Because the home is not considered a commercial space, people must make appointments to tour the IDEA House. In two years, Hyatt estimates 60 couples and about 30 individuals have toured the home. He’s opened the door to architects and students, with one professor from Radford University’s Interior Design concentration sending each semester’s new students to tour Hyatt’s space (See “Students contribute to the IDEA House” to find out how Hyatt is involving architecture students on this project).
The time and financial investment of the home requires measurement on the return.
“I’m going to have to measure ROI over the course of a few years, but right now I am committed to this project and pleased with the results,” Hyatt says.
He believes he’s received hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of remodeling work from the house, and he can directly measure the house’s upsell value, tracking client requests for features from the house into their projects.
“Floors, sinks, faucets, fireplaces, even pot fillers, have been recreated in client’s homes after seeing them first in the IDEA House,” he says.
Hyatt is building a reputation for design style as well. He says Blacksburg, Va., is known for its rich history, including older,
colonial-style homes. However, when people enter the IDEA House, they are surprised to see the contemporary design and materials Hyatt has chosen—the cutting-edge look of the home is differentiating him.
He’s also received two local media placements from The Roanoke Times and New River Valley Lifestyle Magazine. He says he several people in the IDEA House neighborhood approached him at a recent home show after recognizing his company from the trucks outside the home.
“They said they were wondering why the renovation was taking so long,” Hyatt says.
When explaining the home to potential clients, Hyatt believes many people are impressed with his out-of-the-box marketing strategy and the commitment he has to his remodeling business.
Even if the home turns into a larger financial drain than Hyatt can bear, he has no intention to sell. “The value of the home probably exceeds the neighborhood already, so reselling wouldn’t make sense,” he says.
If that happens, Hyatt plans to call the steamy Euro bath his own. –Morgan Zenner