The Art of Image Warfare

Just because a custom home builder is small, doesn’t mean it must project a small image. Perception can mean a lot to many customers, which is why Tom Stephani, president/owner, William Thomas Homes in Crystal Lake, Ill., created a marketing program that projects his custom home business as larger than life.

Stephani’s mission was to create an image bigger than reality to show people the company is involved in the community, that it is local, and has been around for a long time. With beginnings in 1999 as a new division of an existing development company, Stephani’s team felt it was important to create a large image out of the box and create public awareness that the company is not new, but it is part of one with more than 100 years of experience.

A major element of the marketing plan is to remain active in the community. Stephani is active in the chamber of commerce, as well as the local home building association. “By being active, we get a lot of press. Plus, the association gives out a builder-of-the-year award, which we received in 2000 and 2002. So the public knows we’re a respected builder as well,” Stephani says.

As part of an active, multifaceted business structure, Stephani organizes custom builder seminars on a regular basis. The public is invited to learn how to go through the design/build process. “We send press releases about these seminars to local newspapers and they are happy to print it. We also buy an ad or two for the event, but ads are not a big element. We attract groups of 10 to 40 people. It’s a great way to get your name out there.”

As is the case in most populated parts of the United States, developable land is difficult to find and acquire, Stephani says. “One thing we do to find land is work with the local realtor community, and the ones that have their ears to the ground. We have good reputations with them, give them business, pay commissions, and they are comfortable with us. Sooner or later we pick up on land about to come on the market before it hits the market,” he explains.

To acquire land, small custom builders have to engage in guerilla warfare, hide behind trees, and not march down the middle of the road like big national builders, he says. “I believe you can survive like this. There’s always a place for the small design/builder. He offers a hand-holding capability that national builders can’t offer.”