Faced with a spiraling decline in the market, many builders are cutting corners wherever they can. Van Metre Homes, however, has continued to do what it does best: building homes that meet consumers' current needs and expectations. That has lead to incredibly high levels of customer delight, earning the builder the 2008 Avid Award for builders closing 100 to 499 homes a year.
“We listen to our customers as we go through the process,” says Brian Davidson, executive vice president. “We run focus groups with people already in our homes, and we respond quickly with product that meets the needs in our market.”
Thanks to an in-house architect, Van Metre is able to modify homes quickly to hone in on what today's buyers really want. “We don't hold on to something dearly despite what the demand is in the market,” Davidson says. This willingness to continually redevelop product is a major factor in Van Metre's success, enabling the builder to delight home buyers by giving them homes that they feel have been customized just for them.
Despite a housing slump that has caused sales to drop this year, the company has retained its focus on customer loyalty. A survey of home buyers reveals that more than 96 percent of Van Metre's customers are willing to
|Brian Davidson, exective vice president, credits an "expectations book" for smooth transactions.
“We have tremendous teamwork between departments,” says Merle Phillips, vice president of sales and marketing. “Everyone comes together as a team to face challenges. Everyone has customer service front and center.”
A major factor in Van Metre's success could be the fact that it does not have a customer service department. Instead, the superintendent who oversaw the home's construction performs the 60-day and year-end walk-throughs. This system not only provides continuity for the homeowner, it fuels the superintendent's motivation to make sure the home is built right the first time. “The best way to sum that up is accountability,” Davidson says. “In the end, the salespeople and the superintendent are the face for the customer. They know they are not being handed off from one group to another. That's the same through the warranty period.”
Knowing that customer satisfaction is closely tied to expectations, Van Metre Homes has assembled an “expectations book” that clearly spells out what home buyers can expect at every phase of the process. Meanwhile, the company closely analyzes its Avid surveys to identify potential problems areas. Even if the company's scores are where they need to be, the leadership team will look at the lowest scores and figure out ways to improve them.
Whereas about 15 percent of Van Metre's sales come from home buyer referrals, an additional 5 percent stem from the apartment complexes the company manages. “We hold seminars to convert apartment residents to homeowners,” Davidson says. “If they're happy with their apartment, buying a home from us is the next step up. It's someone who doesn't have to sell their home in a tough market.”
Repeat customers and generational buyers also feed into the success of Van Metre Homes, a privately held company that's been in business for 53 years. Whether they want to move into larger or smaller homes, repeat buyers often want to stay in the community, says Candy McCracken, director of land development. “That's because our communities are just as important as our home designs,” she says. “We develop our communities as well as build them.”