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Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast Digital Marketing Podcast Hosted by Greg Bray and Kevin Weitzel

199 The Power of Good Interior Design - Lori Ann Dinkins

This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Lori Ann Dinkins of Mood Interior Designs joins Greg and Kevin to discuss the power of good interior design can have in helping home builders connect with home buyers and sell more homes.

Unfortunately, some home builders don’t place as high of an importance on interior design as they should. Lori explains, “Sadly, interior design is last. It's kind of thought of as an afterthought and I get why. I really do. It's like builders build. That's what they do. And they're focused on the supplies that they need in order to build. We want to be brought into the conversation earlier to help them know that once you build it, you got to sell it. And that's where marketers come in. But marketers are often brought in after it's built, and we think it kind of should be reversed. So, for builders who understand what it takes to sell a home, we're one of the first phone calls. We're looked at as a partner in the process. But for builders who really believe that the house itself will sell itself, we're usually not a priority.”

Potential home buyers relate more emotionally when they can see themselves living in a home and good interior design facilitates that connection. Lori says, “Honestly, our belief is buyers cannot see their life in an empty model. They just can't. So, we help bring the model to life based on the demographics and the lifestyle of the community. Our designers are trained to do our research and to look for how can we bring this house to life.”

Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about how interior design can aid home builders in the home buyer journey.   

About the Guest:

Lori Ann Dinkins is the President & CEO of Mood Interior Designs. Lori has identified an underserved market in the commercial housing industry and surrounds herself with hardworking professionals who are eager to jump off the cliff of opportunity with her every day.

Having managed millions of dollars in strategic capital improvements as part of value-add investments, Lori created a design process that helps clients accomplish the investment plan often created during underwriting. In this way Operators have a very clear picture of FF&E costs, to plan accurately, and not be surprised late in the game.

When Lori isn’t walking properties or zooming with her 100% remote team, she loves spending time with her favorite people (aka Family), traveling the world, and playing tennis.


Greg Bray: [00:00:00] Hello everybody, and welcome to today's episode of The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.

Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin Weitzel with Zonda and Livabl.

Greg Bray: And we are excited today to welcome to the show, Lori Ann Dinkins. Lori is the President and CEO of Mood Interior Designs. Welcome, Lori. Thanks for being with us today.

Lori Dinkins: Hi there. Thank you so much for having me.

Greg Bray: Well, Lori, why don't we start by just helping people get to know you a little bit? Give us that quick overview and introduction of yourself.

Lori Dinkins: Yeah, sure. So, I actually am in Charlotte, North [00:01:00] Carolina. That's where I live. I'm a Midwesterner by birth. I consider myself a Midwesterner who lives in the South. I have two boys. I've raised them here. I'm an entrepreneur at heart. I started my own businesses when I was a kid all the way through now. Some have been wildly unsuccessful and Mood actually is pretty successful. So, it's nice to finally balance things out.

Kevin Weitzel: So, before we dive into any of that, can you do me a favor and just let us know some personal factoid about yourself that has nothing to do with work or the home building mystery or anything else? Just so our listeners can learn something about you today.

Lori Dinkins: Of course. Well, I taught English in Seoul, South Korea right out of college. Why that's interesting is I'm not an English teacher, and I'd never traveled abroad. I saw an ad in the back of kind of a magazine and I thought, well, that sounds neat. How hard could that be?

Turns out it's really hard. You need a lot [00:02:00] of training to do it, and I didn't have any. So, it was an adventure that lasted a few months. It's still one of the best and worst decisions of my life. Worst because I wasn't prepared and best because I wasn't prepared. Right. I learned a lot. So, that's something a lot of people don't know.

Greg Bray: Did you find out you needed a lot of training before you got there or after you got there?

Lori Dinkins: No, I found out when I got there and I was assigned at this school called Sisa-yong-o-sa. It was an after-school program for kids. I thought I was going over to teach adults. It was for kids. The kids would be taught a lesson in Korean and then I would teach that same lesson in English. It was really hard to teach when I don't speak the language. I'd never eaten the food. I'd never traveled abroad. Like, it was the makings of a disaster, but I met amazing people and it was really cool.

Kevin Weitzel: All right. So, here's the follow-up question on that. Did [00:03:00] you teach them more English than the Korean that you learned while you were there?

Lori Dinkins: Oh, that's such a good question. Yes, because I can still remember the three phrases that I learned and I hope that I taught them more than three phrases. So, yes. I could say thank you. I could say please and goodbye. Hello and goodbye were similar. So, those are the things I knew how to do.

Greg Bray: Well, at our house, we call those character-building opportunities. There we go, so.

Lori Dinkins: Yes. I built a lot of character during that trip, for sure.

Greg Bray: Well, Lori, tell us a little bit more about Mood Interior Designs, the kind of work you guys do, your ideal clients that you like to work with, and more about that background.

Lori Dinkins: Yeah. So, Mood Interior Designs, we're a commercial housing design firm. So, we work with multifamily and student housing and home builders. We are turnkey. So, we handle everything from the initial finishes conversation all the way through installation and professional photography [00:04:00] and all that happens in between. We partner with a national warehouse company. So, we procure, we warehouse, we do all of the above.

How Mood got started was really, I'm not an interior designer. I'm an entrepreneur, like I said, and I'm a businesswoman, and I saw an opportunity. I was working in marketing for a design firm. I did a project all around this design firm and how they were running their business. What I discovered was they were saying no to a lot of projects, and I thought that was interesting and why were they saying no.

Doing a deep dive, they couldn't afford to say yes to a lot of the projects that were coming their way. Some of these projects were home builders. Their budgets are small, their timeline is fast. Sixty-day builds, ninety-day builds, and they're like, we need you to have furniture in ASAP. So, Mood was born out of this opportunity of how can we say yes more often than we say no.

Kevin Weitzel: Before our [00:05:00] interview, I actually had this weird brainstorm and I thought that maybe the name Mood came from when you're walking in your house in the middle of the night and you slam your toe into a coffee table and you were like, Ooh, that put me in a bad mood. Somebody shouldn't have put that coffee table right there. It needs to be moved over here. And then maybe you're like, Hey, maybe I'm going to interior design. It wasn't like that?

Lori Dinkins: I did not stub my toe into this business. No, but the idea of Mood and Mood boards is we want to set the tone. We want to set the mood and help builders and help property management teams and help asset managers set the mood with their brand through furnishings and through finishes. And so, we've been able to build a business around this idea of how can we say yes. What is your budget? We'll work with your budget.

The other thing that we do differently so that we can say yes, is we've eliminated design fees. Interior designers get a bad rap because a lot of times builders can't afford to hire, they think, a design firm [00:06:00] because all the fees, and we've taken that off the table. What is your budget? We work with your budget. We design according to what you have instead of us setting this budget. It's been a popular idea because it makes it simple. We've just tried to simplify the process.

Greg Bray: Have you found that builders are reacting well to that kind of different model that you're putting out there compared to some of the other designers they've worked with?

Lori Dinkins: Yes. We have. I really think here's why. The way that we approach a design, we try so hard to speak the language of the builder so that it's not up to our clients to learn our language. It's up to us to learn theirs. So, when builders work with us, we answer the phone, we assign a project team, and we design according to their needs instead of them having to adopt what the designer thinks should happen.

On my staff I have real [00:07:00] estate agents that now work for me because we want to help them sell their homes that they're building. That's literally our job, and we do that through interior design. We do that through furnishings. And so, because we consider ourselves part of the team, builders are really receptive to that. I'm going to talk about budget a lot. Because we understand budgets and how they fluctuate, we're able to pivot quickly.

So, we'll take a call from our builder or GC while they're at Lowe's or Home Depot. And they're like, what you specified isn't available, what's plan B? And I answer the phone, my designers answer the phone and we help them on the spot. So, they're receptive to the access that we give them and that we are not married to a specific finish, if it's not going to work in the purchasing process.

Greg Bray: [00:08:00] So, for a builder who is thinking about how to design, where does this fall on their priority list? Do they typically understand that it can be a differentiator and a real powerful tool, or is it mostly like, Oh, well, I got to put something in here, so I might as well pick out something here because I can't just leave an empty? I'm sure they're all over the place, but what's been your experience there with builders and their focus on the power of good design?

Lori Dinkins: Sadly, interior design is last. it's kind of thought of as an afterthought and I get why. I really do. It's like builders build. That's what they do. And they're focused on the supplies that they need in order to build. We want to be brought into the conversation earlier to help them know that once you build it, you got to sell it. And that's where marketers come in. But marketers are often brought in after it's built and we think it kind of should be reversed. So, for builders who understand what it takes to sell a home, [00:09:00] we're one of the first phone calls. We're looked at as a partner in the process. But for builders who really believe that the house itself will sell itself, we're usually not a priority.

Greg Bray: Do you have an experience you've had where you went in and said, gosh, if you would just change these things, you would just skyrocket that value, that perception, that emotional connection that buyers would have? Anything come to mind where you just went, man, you just totally missed it, let's just change these things and watch what happens.

Lori Dinkins: Well, I can come up with several examples and I'll talk with the physical property itself. So, we did a project here in North Carolina. Sometimes we're brought in after the builder has tried to sell it their way and it isn't selling. And so, we're brought in to say, help us fix this. Honestly, our belief is buyers cannot see their life in an empty model. They [00:10:00] just can't. So, we help bring the model to life based on the demographic and the lifestyle of the community. Our designers are trained to do our research and to look for how can we bring this house to life really.

So, this particular one, 55 and older, while they didn't have the guest room for grandchildren. They had it as a traditional guest room. It was a two-bedroom, primary, and then the second bedroom we made into a kid's room. Because 55 and older communities, they're grandparents often. We created the model to be more in line with the community of people who were buying, and it helped and the salespeople knew it. And the marketing team got on board and we were brought in and it helped them sell their community. So that's an example.

Greg Bray: That's a great example of really kind of stepping back and looking at it from a different [00:11:00] perspective. I'm sure that that can help people go, oh, yeah, that's what I want here. You know, I want to be able to have the grandkids visit and have their place. Right? Feel comfortable.

So, when you think about the impact that a change like that has, what are some ideas that salespeople maybe don't like when you come in and kind of say, Hey, we should do this instead? Do you ever get some pushback from the sales teams? Like, Oh no, no, the buyers aren't going to like that. Or do you find that they're very receptive to the ideas that you bring?

Lori Dinkins: I think mostly the team, the sales team specifically, are really receptive to design. We keep things pretty neutral. We do two things. We keep it neutral, but we also, depending on where it is, North Carolina design is going to be different than California. It's going to be different than Texas, and Arizona, and in the North. So, everywhere we go, we try to bring elements of the community in so that it feels not cookie cutter and it feels like someone actually lives there.

I have designers in California, Texas, [00:12:00] and Maryland. I mean, my designers are everywhere and we do our research ahead of time so that the salespeople and the buyers coming in feel like the interiors match the community, which matches the city or town that we're in. Right? So, if we're by the water, it's going to be a little bit different than if we're in the mountains. And so, we consider all those things and salespeople really appreciate that because it helps them. We try to give them talking points so that when they're giving a tour, we can help them sell.

So, interior design is so much more than just a sofa and a side chair, and some bar stools. The thought that goes behind it and what my designers are trained to do, that's why we feel like we should be considered part of the team because we care about selling that house really just as much as the salespeople and the marketing people.

Greg Bray: So, for Kevin, have you ever put in a special mirror for people with sideburns that help them get a straighter [00:13:00] cut when they're trying to shave?

Lori Dinkins: I think that's an awesome idea. I'm going to pass that along to my design team.

Kevin Weitzel: Hey, so no, seriously though, do your designs, is this like a basically collaborative process or do you usually get cart blanche where you can, you know, give them an entire palette, here's what you need to do, here's what we need to do in your models in your homes, here's what you need to do in all of your future locations? Or is it more of you give them a couple of choices they pick from?

Lori Dinkins: Yeah, it's yes and. When we're given a project, depending on if we're new to the relationship, or if it's just an ongoing. Oftentimes we work with whole portfolios, so we know the people, we know the product, we know the brand. And so we're given, hey, this is a 4-bedroom, 2-and-a-half bath. You know, we want one bedroom to be a kid's bedroom. We want wallpaper. We want accents.

So, some people are real specific about what they want in their models. Or if we're talking about a clubhouse, they tell us how many sales agents are going to be there. And [00:14:00] so, who are we planning for? So, if we don't get that information automatically, we have a kickoff call. It is completely a collaborative process. So, we need to have conversations like that so we know how to best design.

And then our process is, we take that information, we go to the design team, they put a concept board together, including finishes, including if sometimes we're asked to do flooring, usually not with builders, they already have their people for flooring, but we get as much information as we can. We put a concept board together, present it. The builder says, yep, love it, or let's change a couple of things. We go back and do a design board and that's when we get into the really good details of furnishings, fixtures, all of it. Once we have that, we go for final approval.

Once the final approval is there is when we invoice and procure, warehouse, and install. And we have a designer install, and we do [00:15:00] that on purpose because having a designer there, everything looks great on paper. You know, we can present a whole lot of things, but once you put it in the space, sometimes the builder is, like, oh, we thought there was going to be a window there or a door there, but last-minute change. We forgot to tell you. So, we have a designer there to adjust the furnishings should we need to, but it's collaboration the entire time.

One of the differentiators, besides our no design fees, is we are available. I answer my phone. My cell phone is on our website. We want to communicate with our clients because this isn't just a one-and-done conversation. It can't be. The stakes are too high. And so, we make ourselves available to communicate throughout the whole process.

Greg Bray: So, Lori, let's talk a little bit about the virtual side of design and the way that we can communicate that to buyers before they come, and some of that. What are some of your thoughts on [00:16:00] the ability for buyers to kind of customize in advance, you know, some of those options in the home? And how can a designer help builders decide what to make available for some of those choices that maybe a buyer can select from?

Lori Dinkins: The first showing is online. So, we understand that, and so helping builders and marketers, website designers put their best foot forward. Whether it's helping them with the rendering, helping them with finish selections, helping them not have too many choices. There's so many choices that they are inundated with to help narrow those choices down so that it's an easy process for the buyer to make decisions. We don't want them to have decision fatigue before they really even get started.

So, we really collaborate with as many people who are willing, marketing or builders, to help the process. So, if it's interior design, if it's finishes, we want to help you select your [00:17:00] standards and we look at the demographic and the community. And we don't want you to kind of oversell your finishes. If you don't need to. Right. You don't want to intimidate people by the finish selections. So, we absolutely help people make those decisions online to make their first experience just as positive as them walking through the property.

Greg Bray: I think you hit on something really interesting with that decision fatigue concept. In reality, you walk into a place and Oh, pick a faucet. It's like, Oh, my gosh, there's a bajillion faucets. Right. And it's just totally overwhelming. And so, then what do you do? Well, you start looking at prices. And then a couple of little things that help you narrow it down. And even with color, it's like, Oh, my goodness, what color do you want? I don't know, right? And some people do, but I love the idea of moving toward more of the packages or the pre-curated concepts. Kevin, what are your thoughts on that decision fatigue concept?

Kevin Weitzel: Brother, you already know my action on this in that I am fashion stupid. I am [00:18:00] so fashion challenged there, Lori Ann, that yeah, I need Garanimals for adults. I mean, it really does come down to that.

Lori Dinkins: Thank you. I say that. I need Garanimals. So, that is exactly right.

Kevin Weitzel: So, can I give you a quick three-question rapid fire?

Lori Dinkins: Sure.

Kevin Weitzel: Question number one. HGTV leads us to believe that you just knock down the walls and paint everything gray. True or false?

Lori Dinkins: False.

Kevin Weitzel: Absolutely false. That's the correct answer. Question two, if in your model home, if you have a three-bedroom, two-bath, should you show your third bedroom as an office or as a bedroom?

Lori Dinkins: Hmm. I'd say office.

Kevin Weitzel: Boom. That's also the right answer. And number three, there's no right or wrong. It's just, that's my opinion, and it happens to be I'm the person that asks the questions so that's the right one. Alright, so and question number three, what's the hot color gonna be in 2024? Hot interior color in 2024?

Lori Dinkins: Golly.

Kevin Weitzel: And greige is off limits. You can't say greige.

Lori Dinkins: I honestly think Drift of Mist is [00:19:00] a pretty hot color. It's neutral, but it's interesting. We want it to be clean, but Drift of Mist makes it interesting.

Greg Bray: Kevin, this is why she's a designer because that is not a color to me. That's like a beach resort or something. I don't know.

Kevin Weitzel: I don't even know what that color is.

Lori Dinkins: It's in the white family. For listeners, you can't see, but it's what's behind me.

Kevin Weitzel: I'm in. You already sold me on it.

Lori Dinkins: Yeah, it's a great name too, right? But thank you for those three questions. I'm glad I win all three.

Kevin Weitzel: You're right in all three cause I think 2024 Sherwin Williams is going to be like, Hmm, that Drift of Mist maybe that's it.

Lori Dinkins: Yes.

Greg Bray: Lori, when you're talking with builders, what's like one of those awful mistakes that you see builders make with their design where you just kind of go, Oh boy, this is going to be fun?

Lori Dinkins: It's funny. When we walk into a space, we can tell if it's been homemade as far as the design. So, the biggest mistake is to assume that [00:20:00] anybody can design. It really is a skill. People spend years and years and years at this craft for a reason. We get calls from clients that says, our property manager or our sales manager is really good at design. Well, what they're really good at is going to Hobby Lobby or to their local whatever and doing the best that they can. And it's really fine if they're doing their own home, but if they're designing for anybody walking in the door to buy that house, it can't look like an individual person's opinion on the walls.

We just went to a property the other day, and the woman who is there giving us a tour is the woman who designed it. So, we're really mindful of that in making suggestions on how to improve the space without insulting. But that's one of the biggest mistakes across the board is [00:21:00] just let Susie do it or my aunt Jane can do it or whoever. It's way more important than just letting somebody with no experience handle that job.

Kevin Weitzel: Lori Ann, you're so on it. On the digital side, we run into this all the time. Where a home builder says, you know, my nephew just graduated high school and he knows how to use a computer. I'm going to have him build a website.

Lori Dinkins: And then it looks like their nephew built the website.

Kevin Weitzel: Yes, it happens all the time. I'm telling you.

Lori Dinkins: Yeah, so it happens. So, that is a little delicate, but that is one of the biggest mistakes. Also to that point, the reason why they're doing that is because they run out of money and they don't really have money to put into hiring an interior design firm, which is a misconception. We are affordable, not just because I say so, but because what is your budget, and then that is the budget.

It is true a lot of design firms say, here's how much it's going to be in order to work with us and we've [00:22:00] flipped that question. What's your budget? And that's what will be paid in order to work with you. Don't let your aunt or your nephew or your friend or your neighbor design your hundreds of thousands of millions of dollar community. Don't let them do that. It's just misappropriating funds, I think.

Greg Bray: So, along those lines, I was kind of thinking you might go a slightly different direction with that where they want it to look the way they like it versus being a little more customer-focused. I see that a lot with web design or graphic design where it's like, well, I, as the builder, the business owner, whatever I like this and I like that. Therefore, everybody else must like it too. As opposed to, what does the customer really like or who are we trying to connect with and make that connection? Do you ever run into that issue as well?

Lori Dinkins: Absolutely. I mean, in marketing, you all know that we have what we call an avatar of who's coming to your website. We have that too. Who [00:23:00] is the audience? The builder isn't the audience. That happens a lot. So, the builder's personal taste isn't the audience. The research that we do as a design firm is to look at who's living in this area, who do you want to be living here, who is going to be walking in the door to the salesperson. So, we're going to design to that avatar. We're going to design to that buyer and kind of set aside our personal opinions.

We do that internally. My designers, I know who's designed what based on their personality. And so, we have that conversation internally a lot of, like, I know you like neutral. I know you, but this client likes color. So, we need to design to what the client wants. Same thing with builders. We got to set that aside and know what is your ultimate goal, which is to sell the house. So, we got to design to the buyer.

Kevin Weitzel: With fashion and architecture and stuff being cyclical and trends come and they go and they come back. [00:24:00] And how long am I going to have to wait until I can have a home that looks like it was built for a 70s circus pimp, you know, with lots of velvet and beads and lava lamps and big old fat carpet, you know, when is that ever going to come back?

Lori Dinkins: Well, it's funny you say that because it kind of is. I work on the student housing side and that would go over well. That whole vibe you just said would be perfect for student housing.

Kevin Weitzel: I missed my calling, Greg.

Greg Bray: Back to school. There you go.

 One last question before we kind of wrap up. How can a builder use their design as a way to differentiate, other than just after people walk in? How can they improve maybe their marketing messaging that says, hey, our design is better than the guy down the street? Much nicer, of course, than that. What are some suggestions you have for how they can use design in their marketing to really make a difference in their messaging?

Lori Dinkins: Part of our service is we provide professional photographs after we've installed. [00:25:00] I'm so surprised how few of them actually use those photographs. So, that's interesting to me. So, more photography and less focus on floor plans. There's so much information about floor plans. And yes, that's important, but people need to visualize themselves in the space and so, I do think lifestyle images. Get that model done as fast as you can, or the clubhouse done as fast as you can as far as interior furnishings and use those photographs and build a story around what is about to happen in this community.

So, I think early on the model and the clubhouse or some community park areas as fast as we can get that online. And not just visual, but like, as far as photographs, but tell a story. Help people know that they belong in this new community that you're building with the words that you're using and the photography that you're using.

Greg Bray: Well, Lori, we appreciate you being with us. Do you have any last words of [00:26:00] advice that you'd like to leave with our audience today?

Lori Dinkins: Yeah, I really think don't be afraid of interior designers. We're pretty great. And I say that because I do think people might be intimidated or we speak a different language. We really try to speak your language and our job is to help you do your job and we just do that through design. So, if I could say anything, it's that. Bring us into the conversation as early as you can, because we're just here to help.

Greg Bray: Don't be afraid of interior designers.

Lori Dinkins: Don't be afraid of us.

Greg Bray: You heard it here. Well, Lori, if somebody wants to connect with you, what's the best way for them to reach out and get in touch?

Lori Dinkins: Sure, we have a website moodinteriordesigns.com. Like I said earlier, my phone number is on the website, so give me a call, love to chat. But we're also linked in and all the other places, so we're easy to find.

Greg Bray: Awesome. Well, thanks again for sharing with us today, and thank you everybody for listening to The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine. [00:27:00]

Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin Weitzel with Zonda and Livabl. Thank you.

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