Tell the Story You Want Told

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Set the bar high and understand which steps, people and skill sets are needed to reach it. Dedicate yourself and your associates to living the story you want told.

December 01, 2003

 

Heather McCune, Editor in Chief

 

What a study in contrasts. In this issue, we celebrate the best - John Laing Homes, Professional Builder's 2004 Builder of the Year. Beginning in "Different by Design", we share what makes this Newport Beach, Calif.-based builder a model for the rest of the industry. Laing, as the "Different by Design" headline hints, follows a course unlike that of most builders in the red-hot Southern California housing market and the lukewarm Denver area.

Laing's leadership team - CEO Larry Webb, CFO Wayne Stelmar and executive vice president/sales and marketing Bill Probert - knows that its greatest sales competition comes not from other new home builders, but from a buyer's existing home and the resale market. To capture a greater share of the entire housing market, Laing dedicates itself to building processes - development, design, marketing, sales, construction, warranty - and building homes that offer buyers reasons to want new.

The story on new home builders reads very differently in the general media in two major cities. In Orlando, Fla., the daily newspaper and a local television station partnered with a nearby university's students to inspect new homes in the booming metropolis. The results of this investigative piece - originally an eight-part series both in the paper and on television - revealed so many defects, most minor but some major, that the number of segments grew. Coverage of this issue lives on on the paper's and television station's Web sites. Users can access a list of the builders surveyed and see the number of defects (labeled "minor" and "major") per builder per home.

You don't want to know the number of visitors to these pages each day.

In Minnesota, the state Supreme Court must decide a case brought by a municipality against the builder of a townhome project. The suit alleges construction defects, but rather than seeking restitution under civil law, lawyers brought their action in criminal court as a means to make the plaintiffs whole by tapping the builder's personal assets.

At issue in this case: the role of building codes in protecting consumers' lives and safety and the liability of a builder for the actions of a subcontractor's employee. The implications of this decision will reach far beyond one state.

Media coverage of the case started in metro sections of local newspapers with consumer complaints against the builder. Business writers follow the case today because the financial ramifications of this decision will reach far beyond the named builder.

In Orlando and Minneapolis, builders - the good with the bad - take a beating from media coverage of the misdeeds or mistakes of a few. In this environment, builders face an uphill battle in gaining a greater share of total homes sold.

For this reason alone, lessons such as those offered by John Laing Homes become more vital. Start where Laing starts - with people. "People don't buy a product, they buy from a person," says retailer-turned-new-home-marketer-extraordinaire Probert. "We hire nice people because they make the new home purchase process easier and more fun for our customers." Make no mistake, Laing employs nice, very talented people who follow an ever-improving process designed to make buying a home fun. Process - in sales and everything else at the growing company - creates predictable outcomes.

Time spent with the John Laing Homes team reminds me of a line that journalists learn early on and never forget: Nothing beats knowing. Learn from Laing's example. Set the bar high and understand which steps, people and skill sets are needed to reach it. Never compromise on what's right. Dedicate yourself and your associates to living the story you want told.

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