Street Smart

When the housing market turned upside down several years ago, the day arrived for the team at Custom Design & Construction, El Segundo, Calif.—as it did for most remodelers—to develop a strategy for continuing the company’s growth. Meetings were held, adjustments were made, opportunities fell into place and ultimately CD&C was relaunched in September 2011 in a street-level, showroom-style design center that attracts potential clients, keeps them excited and engaged with their creativity.

For this 26-year-old, full-service design/build remodeling firm, which handles everything from the first idea to the final handshake, including financing if a client needs it, its new business model mirrors observations of market shifts and client behaviors. Clients no longer asked for teardowns and rebuilds or whole-home remodels. Rather, they asked for a bathroom remodel or bedroom remodel, looking for the biggest bang for their buck.

Today, the biggest bang within an existing home tends to be in kitchens and bathrooms, which is why 60 percent of the design center’s vignettes are devoted to these two spaces. Bill Simone, president, says the design center has two purposes:

  • Get the client’s creative juices flowing.
  • Demonstrate CD&C’s quality and what’s possible.

“Clients might not like exactly what they see in the design center, but what they see gets the creative side of their wants and needs to come out, and projects evolve from there,” he says.

CD&C breaks down its business, and the design center vignettes, into three levels of projects, Simone explains. “Level one is the ‘pull and replace’ kitchen remodel, maybe to improve a little bit on the work triangle, for example. This is the baseline project typically in the $40,000 to $55,000 range. The second level would involve significant improvements in the layout of a kitchen and going with some more upscale finishes, using more creativity in the design, which would be in the mid-$50,000 to mid-$70,000 range. The next rung higher would be more involved, including taking out or building walls, or opening a kitchen to a great room, amounting to an upscale project starting in the mid-$80,000 range and up from there,” he says.

Choosing the Location

Any business based even partially on foot traffic must choose its location wisely. “We looked at a number of buildings, including one around the corner. This space, however, is connected to a building owned by one of my business partners, so when it became available it was a natural fit,” Simone says.

Prior to moving into the design center, CD&C’s office had limited public access in a high-rise office building with no signage, says Randy Ricciotti, vice president. “This new space provides us access to the public, and gives passersby the ability to simply walk in. In the old space, no one knew we were there unless they were looking specifically for us,” he adds.

In addition to street-level windows, another benefit is being so close to El Segundo’s many major corporations. The business plan calls for catering to all levels of local employees, not just the top-tier executives and management.

To attract foot traffic, CD&C spoke with the owner of several food trucks that park nearby and created a win-win agreement in which trucks use its front entry parking area, Simone explains. This keeps the trucks off the street and the police happy. “The street we’re on [Mariposa Ave.] is the main thoroughfare. Employees walk past on their lunch hours every day. The food trucks park next to us, people line up, order food, then come into the design center.”

The choice of location has worked as planned: CD&C is doing work for employees of Boeing, Mattel and other large corporations in the area, Ricciotti says. A shift is being observed, too, from small projects toward large additions and whole-house remodels.

Designing the Design Center

The business model was developed as soon as the 11,000-square-foot building became available. From concept to move-in required little more than a year, much of which was spent designing a floor plan that would work.

The design center occupies 2,500 square feet of the entire CD&C building, which includes 4,000 square feet of office space plus its finance company in an additional 4,000 square feet. Managing the design center is the responsibility of Arielle Chesler, director of interior architecture, who says the vision was to keep it open and free-flowing without abrupt transitions from one space to the next. “We also wanted to show the widest variety of capabilities within the vignettes. We want people to see our quality of work and be inspired to do something, then hand over the reins to us to design something completely custom that’s all theirs,” Chesler says.

“All the flooring is the same, and clients do not need to move in and out of doorways. We wanted a big space that flows,” she adds. It’s undetermined how often the vignettes will change, but the plan certainly is to keep them current.

Today, less than one year in its new home, the number of prospects has quadrupled from this time one year ago, Chesler says. Projects evolve from clients’ questions, such as, “Which granite did you use on that display?” CD&C’s response is not to sell them granite, but to ask, “’What are you interested in doing,’ and we get the bigger project from that conversation,” Chesler adds. CD&C does not sell product; it sells service.

Simone adds, “We developed an automated drip marketing campaign specifically designed for the ‘walk-in’ traffic. Without the design center, we would not have captured those prospects. And we are now seeing a percentage of those prospects convert to leads and clients. I think the design center has contributed to our growth, but I also believe that people have settled into what is now our new world and are ready to improve where they live after having waited for so long.”

Event Marketing

The design center is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Staffing duties are handled by CD&C’s nine-member team. In addition to greeting potential clients and showing them around the design center, the space will be used for event marketing.

“Certainly the design center has given us the ability to drive people inside. Now we plan on starting a series of informational events for the public, including Remodeling 101, for example,” Ricciotti explains. “In fact, the space is designed with event-based marketing in mind. One kitchen is fully functional to do demonstration cooking, complete with a camera and TV screen above it. Some events we’ve had specifically have been directed to our clients. We’ve also opened the space to marketing groups and nearby businesses.”

Simone adds, “We’ve hosted a half-dozen or more events already. We’ve had guest chefs do cooking demos for potential clients and team-building exercises for upper-level execs of local corporations. During these events, we try to capture as much information about attendees as they’re willing to give us. Although all of this has not translated into built projects, it has turned into many promising leads.”