Builders try retail approach: Estridge, Davis plan north-side home stores

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Two locally based home builders are staking out retail storefronts in a bid to reach out to customers who might want to buy a new home while they’re picking up a gallon of milk or a pair of shoes.

Carmel-based Estridge Cos. plans to open its HomeExperience store in Clay Terrace in late spring or early summer, while Indianapolis-based Davis Homes LLC in late April will move its showroom into a Krogeranchored shopping center at 96th and Meridian streets.

For both companies, the storefronts will replace much smaller design centers at the builders’ corporate offices, where home buyers come to debate the merits of berber vs. frieze and ceramic tile vs. vinyl.

Estridge and Davis hope to capture walk-in traffic at the retail locations, tapping into a segment of buyers who may be undecided on which builder to use or even whether they will build a new home.

Estridge is taking its retail location a step further, setting aside about 2,000 square feet of the 8,000-square-foot Clay Terrace store to sell home accessories. In theory, a shopper could buy a new lamp or pillow and then select a house and carpet to match.

Other local home builders have opened larger, more visible showrooms in recent years around the city, but Davis and Estridge appear to be the first to open them in shopping centers, said Steve Lains, president of the Builders Association of Greater Indianapolis.

Nationally and in central Indiana, newhome construction is tapering off after several years of rapid growth. Higher interest rates are expected to contribute to a 3-percent to 4-percent decline in the number of new homes built in 2005 and 2006, according to the National Association of Home Builders, based in Washington, D.C.

In the nine-county Indianapolis area, the total number of permits issued for new single-family homes dropped 2 percent between 2003 and 2004, to 13,037, after falling about 1 percent the previous year.

Grabbing customers where they already shop may be one way to keep sales high, but Lains said he doesn’t believe that’s the motive behind Davis’ and Estridge’s move.

“I don’t see it as a reaction to a slowing in the marketplace as much as I see it as a change in the way the consumer looks for a new home and the features in a new home,” Lains said.

In recent years, builders have started using the Internet and non-traditional areas, such as the concourse at Conseco Fieldhouse, as marketing tools, Lains noted.

Shopping centers are the next logical step, he said, for a home-buying public that has become accustomed to making choices about a new home before ever physically driving to a subdivision and walking through a model.

For Estridge, the high-profile Clay Terrace store will hopefully expose more people to the company’s name, said Tom Korecki, director of marketing for the Estridge Cos. The company also plans to move its corporate offices to 20,000 square feet of office space on Clay Terrace’s second level, just above HomeExperience, from the current location in an office center on Carmel Drive.

The builder expects that 90 percent of the people who stop by HomeExperience will be drawn into the store by the home accessories, Korecki said. While they are there, however, they might notice a video display talking about Estridge communities or be drawn in by the displays of options available to Estridge home buyers.

Estridge is also working with manufacturers so that HomeExperience customers will be able to find out how to buy a particular stove or tile they see in the showroom for their existing home, Korecki said.

“It’s not just for our customers,” he said. “Any consumer could get ideas there and purchase things.”

Although most home builders’ local design centers are open to the public, they are geared toward people who have already signed a purchase agreement to buy a home.

At C.P. Morgan Co. Inc.’s design center near 86th Street and Interstate 465 on the northwest side, for instance, brochures and maps of the locally based builder’s communities are set out for the merely curious, but the focus is on helping buyers choose options for their new homes.

“The vast majority of [customers] have already made their decision,” said C.P. Morgan spokesman Scott Bowers.

C.P. Morgan’s 12,000-square-foot showroom opened in 1997 in response to increasing customer demand for more options in new homes, another major factor in Davis’ and Estridge’s decision to build new showrooms.

Like Estridge, Davis’ current showroom is in a few thousand square feet of office space at company headquarters. The new design center will occupy about 7,500 square feet of space vacated last year when Meridian Music moved to Carmel. Davis will use another 3,500 square feet or so for staff training rooms, said Dave Allen, Davis vice president of purchasing and marketing.

Davis builds about 1,000 homes a year in the nine-county area, and the number of options for appliances, finishes and fixtures is constantly on the rise as customers demand more choices, Allen said.

And if someone wanders in on his or her way to buy a gallon of milk, all the better, he said.

“We are hoping for some people walking past to walk in and see what’s going on.”

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