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

225 Female Perspectives in Home Building - Jennifer Johnson

This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Jennifer Johnson of Olivia Clarke Homes joins Greg and Kevin to discuss the value female perspectives bring to the home building industry.

Women make or influence most home-purchasing decisions, yet they are underrepresented in many areas of home building. Jennifer says, “Females make over 90 percent of the buying decisions for homes…”

When different viewpoints are valued on a home builder team, a better home is built. Jennifer says, “Having all perspectives at the table, regardless of the industry, makes a better final product when everybody is represented.”

A woman’s outlook and experience bring unexplainable benefits to home builders and their customers. Jennifer explains, “Just bringing a female perspective to the table…that has really differentiated us here. People walk in and go, what's different about this house?  It's almost intangible because, yeah, it has a dining room, it has a kitchen, all the basic components that you need. It's not really about room count necessarily, it's how you use the space and really thinking through how you would live in this home.”

Listen to this week’s episode to learn more about how important female voices are in home building.

About the Guest:

Award-winning builder Jennifer Clarke Johnson has established one of the nation’s first female-led homebuilding companies. Knowing that women make 91% of home buying decisions, Jennifer recognized her unique opportunity to build a brand that “delivers the lifestyle that we, as women, want to create for ourselves and our families,” she said. Since founding Olivia Clarke Homes, Jennifer has produced an elevated, intriguing, and unique brand resulting in excellent customer experience and true buyer connection.

Prior to launching Olivia Clarke Homes, Jennifer led in both Land Acquisitions & Division President roles. Jennifer has earned national recognition as a member of the 2016 Professional Homebuilder's Class of 40 Under 40 and 2017 Project Manager of the Year. Her company, Olivia Clarke Homes, is a three-time award recipient at the 2022 & 2023 Dallas Builders Association McSAM Awards.


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 OutHouse.

Greg Bray: And we are excited today to have joining us Jennifer Johnson. Jennifer is the founder and CEO at Olivia Clarke Homes. Welcome, Jennifer. Thanks so much for being with us today.

Jennifer Johnson: Thank you, guys. It's my pleasure to be here.

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

Jennifer Johnson: Great. So, I founded Olivia Clarke Homes in [00:01:00] 2020. Really I've spent my entire career in home building. Started off interning for a builder my senior year in college and just kind of worked my way up and got the opportunity to start this company.

We currently build about 80 homes a year, and we are depending upon when lots get delivered, planning on year-over-year growth of close to 100%. So, the company's on a good track.

Kevin Weitzel: Very good track.

Jennifer Johnson: I have two Children. They're both in college and so I'm an empty nester and enjoying life.

Kevin Weitzel: So, I have one question, but I have a pre-question. My pre-question is, is there any significance to Olivia and the Clarke being that your name is Jennifer Johnson?

Jennifer Johnson: Very good question. We get it all the time. Those names are my two children's middle names. My son is oldest and his middle name is Clarke, which is also my maiden name and it's Clarke with an E, and then my daughter's middle name is Olivia. So, somebody had a brilliant idea of putting those [00:02:00] together.

Kevin Weitzel: That is super cool. So, okay. So, we got to the part, one of my favorite parts of the show, which is where we're not trying to embarrass you, but I want to know something that has nothing to do with the home building industry, something personal about you that our listeners will learn on our podcast.

Jennifer Johnson: Okay. Well, I guess if someone were trying to get to know me or who are you, what's your personality like? I would say that if Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, we know they're best friends, right? BFFs. If they would just take the time to get to know me, I would be their third BFF because I share their same sense of humor, their banter, the love of music and to sing. I am not a great singer, but I love a great sing-along. Like if you take me to a concert, better be ready for me to just be singing in your ear because I just love a good sing along and it makes me happy. So, if those two guys would just get to know me, I would fit right in and I would just be part of their group [00:03:00] and we would have a lot of fun together.

Kevin Weitzel: So, what you're saying is you'd be willing to dress up like in a styrofoam cup commercial or a cup-of-soup commercial, sing along with Justin Timberlake.

Jennifer Johnson: Absolutely.

Kevin Weitzel: I'm going to see if I can make that happen.

Jennifer Johnson: I wish you would. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you should follow us on social media because they get me to do a lot of crazy things that I don't think a lot of other people would do, so. It's just a taste of what I could do with those guys if we could just meet.

Greg Bray: Well, Jennifer, just give us a little more detail about your company. What areas do you guys serve? What type of buyer are you ideally working with?

Jennifer Johnson: Yeah. So, you know, we're in the Dallas Fort Worth marketplace, and we are staying primarily in Collin and Denton counties. So Frisco, McKinney, Salina. We're about to enter Aubrey, which is just a little bit further west, and we will be in Denton, and then a little bitty town called Lakewood Village. So, we try to stay in definitely the A markets. Great school districts.

We're serving the move-up buyer [00:04:00] primarily. We started out, we do have a segment of our product, we're doing attached products. The old-school word would be duplexes, but I preferred to call them paired homes. We only do pairs of two, townhomes. That's a way to be more affordable. Unfortunately, land prices don't afford us a place where we can hit the entry-level buyer with those duplexes. But we sure are helping a lot of families be able to get into homes by offering the paired home product.

Kevin Weitzel: Well, affordability also means something different in different markets. Like in Texas, you can buy like a 5 billion square foot house for like 250 grand.

Jennifer Johnson: No, those days are over. That used to be the case, but not anymore.

Greg Bray: Now, when you're talking about this attached product though, you're selling each unit separately, or are you selling the whole thing to the same person?

Jennifer Johnson: Separately. It's zoned as a townhome, I just choose to only do pairs of two, but each side is sold individually.

Greg Bray: Got it. Well, that's definitely an interesting take on the whole [00:05:00] affordability option to allow people to get in and be able to afford something. Or, of course, you're talking about move up, so there may be some folks there that are also trying to maybe downsize from something larger as well.

Jennifer Johnson: We've sold a lot to empty nesters, who their children now have the big family home with five bedrooms and all the kids and this consumer wants the freedom to travel, to have multiple homes around the country, but still have a beautiful home to come home to with great amenities. And so, that's where we've really kind of morphed into serving that niche of consumer.

Kevin Weitzel: Do you ever just think of the dynamic of what various consumers have and what their mindsets are? With the topic being so heavy around the country of affordability, isn't it crazy that just right out of the other side of our mouth, we talk about how people will have multiple homes in different areas of the country? So, there definitely is two Americas or maybe even three or four Americans. I guess it just depends on what rung of that ladder you live on.

Jennifer Johnson: That's so true.

Greg Bray: So, Jennifer, [00:06:00] you mentioned that you started right out of school, interning, working with a builder learning the ropes of the business. Where was that moment where you said, I want to do my own thing, I want to start my own company? Cause I'm going to be honest from my view of the world, a woman-owned home building company is a little unique and rare. There's not tons of them out there, at least that I've come across. So, what kind of made you go, I'm going to do this on my own?

Jennifer Johnson: Well, you know, honestly, it was never a dream that I had. I didn't set outgoing, I want to start my own business and run it and all that. I was very happy being a division president, running the division for a larger company. But honestly, change for a lot of people just happens because the opportunities aren't there where you're at anymore.

So, I was at the top of what I was able to achieve in that business because it was a family-owned business and I didn't have the right last name. And I totally respect and love everybody there, but I had risen to the top of the ladder. So, I [00:07:00] was looking to just continue in my career and continue to learn and grow and do more, and it just kind of organically started out of seeking another opportunity to just further my career.

I've got over 25 years experience here in this marketplace and the industry, and so I was just talking one day with a friend of mine who owns a land development business. He makes a living by selling lots to builders, and so we just started talking. And he's like, hey, you want to make money once or twice? Why don't we partner and sell the lots to me, you can sell them to other builders as well. But it was really kind of a win-win in terms of a build.

So, we partnered together to start this company. So, I have a built-in lot supply. You know, I supplement that from other developers and everything like that. But without lots, you're not in business. So, that really cemented the decision to move forward with this. So, to sum it up, I wasn't [00:08:00] looking for it. We just kind of organically were brainstorming and said, let's do this.

Kevin Weitzel: Well, being that you started in 2020, you're obviously no slough because I mean, 80 homes is, is pretty significant in any market. And the fact that you're doing that with, I assume a small team, how big is your team there?

Jennifer Johnson: We are about 20 all in. And some of those are contract labor that work part-time in different disciplines, but 20 of us. Yeah.

Greg Bray: Jennifer, what was the biggest surprise when you started, the one thing you were like, Oh, nobody told me about this?

Jennifer Johnson: Wow. You know, I would say, lending, interim financing was the biggest surprise. The company I'd worked for previously was very well established, had a great reputation, a long history of success. We never even thought twice about how the house was getting financed and built. It wasn't my world. I didn't deal with the lenders in the banks. [00:09:00] So, having those conversations and having to go and say, this is, you know, at that point, a hope and a prayer, but will you lend me some money, was a little bit more difficult than I had anticipated that being.

But, thankfully, we've navigated all through that. And even with the banking issues that have nothing to do with home building, but as home builders, you know, you're put in the same space as all real estate. That had impacts as well as to what the lenders could do to finance our business. Those were things totally out of my control, but yet it does impact the company. So, navigating through that was very much a surprise.

Greg Bray: I'm fascinated by the startup journey. You're getting started, you're looking for a name. You're looking for who do we want to be. You know, what do we want to take the market? What are some of those marketing and positioning types of discussions look like early on? Did you already know I want to have this type of product and I want these types of [00:10:00] locations, or were you trying to decide what would sell best? And how did you kind of go through some of that sales and marketing, you know, startup conversation?

Jennifer Johnson: The marketing was probably more challenging for me in terms of establishing a brand. The product part was very easy. I had been doing that previously, designing product, understanding the consumer, working hand in hand with our sales team to get that feedback of what the consumer is wanting. And thankfully, I've worked for a great company and great leadership that really taught me that how valuable and important it is to listen to your consumer. Because you can put something out there and if people don't want it, you can't just force it. You can't say, well, I'm just going to build this and y'all better like it.

Kevin Weitzel: Yeah, you can, but it makes it difficult to pay back those lenders that funded the project.

Jennifer Johnson: Sure does. Sure does. So, it's nice when people want what you're producing. Something that I know has set us apart that honestly, I haven't had to try [00:11:00] hard at is the fact that I am a woman. As women, we see things through a different lens. So, even when I was designing homes for the other company, and I was in tandem with that ownership, and he and I would sit there and have lots of debates about how would you use this space, how would you live in this space?

And just bringing a female perspective to the table, started setting that company apart for sure, in terms of the product, or it helped with that, and that has really differentiated us here. People walk in and go, what's different about this house? It's almost intangible because, yeah, it has a dining room, it has a kitchen, all the basic components that you need. It's not really about room count necessarily, it's how you use the space and really thinking through how you would live in this home.

So, I do have an emotional attachment to every home that I design, because I really envision how would I live in [00:12:00] this home. How would my family function? How would I entertain? And then, what compromises would I be willing to live with to keep the home affordable, but yet still have it functional for my family?

Because we all have to make compromises because we're not building multimillion-dollar homes. So, finding the places of compromise that really don't impact the way you live, but can help keep that price more affordable, I think, is at the heart of everything we do. We really think about how our consumer is going to live, how these families are going to live in the home.

And thankfully, that's not something I've ever had to try hard at, you know, thinking about it. It just came naturally. Females make over 90 percent of the buying decisions for homes, so I think it's resonated with our consumers.

Greg Bray: So, is it fair to say that there are a lot of builders who may not be tapping into that female view that you've described?

Jennifer Johnson: I think it's very fair to say that. You know, not that I want to help [00:13:00] my competition out, but iron sharpens iron. But I think having all perspectives at the table, regardless of the industry, makes a better final product, when everybody is represented.

Kevin Weitzel: So, you kind of bring up an interesting aspect there that you're looking at it through a different lens if you will. What about your amenities? And I know this seems kind of crazy, but a lot of times selling a home isn't just selling your home. You mentioned that you want to be in choice school districts, which if you're looking for empty nesters, why does it need to be near a good school? But

Jennifer Johnson: Because everybody thinks about resale. Regardless if you're an empty nester or not, you want to make a good financial decision.

Kevin Weitzel: What do you see as hot things for amenities? Do you have the luxury of being able to have extra space for parks or pickle ball or bocce ball, whatever?

Jennifer Johnson: Well, you know, I'm not the developer of the community, so I'm buying finished lots. But if the developer does ask for our opinions on what should the amenities include, then yes, of course, we love to [00:14:00] give that opinion. Yeah, pickleball is huge. Walkability, you know, for hike and bike trails are really big, and a pool, you really need to have a community pool.

Greg Bray: Jennifer, you mentioned just a minute ago this idea that the differences that you're bringing to the product itself. You used the word intangible, that it's been hard for you to even articulate maybe to a person, but the buyer kind of feels it when they're looking at the home.

Have you tried in your marketing to actually verbalize that and try to figure out how do we tell people who haven't visited our homes yet why they should and what's different there? And what is that kind of exercise look like in trying to take this feeling and then turn it into messaging and communication to prospective buyers?

Jennifer Johnson: Yeah, that's hard. I mean, I would say from the messaging that we've tried to do, like, on our website and some other things is we really, you've noticed a lot of images if you've been on our site, a lot of [00:15:00] images. We search for ways to bring the consumer in without putting it in their face. So, it's not about just the four walls.

So, you'll see a lot of images where you don't even see the people's faces. So, you might be able to put yourself in that situation with your child, or on a vacation somewhere, just very nostalgic, very reminiscent of the life either you want to build with your family or memories of a life that you had with your family. We have those all over our website and in our collateral. I'm not a marketing expert and I do struggle even talking about myself because I'm just not that type of a person. So, it's been a struggle to get that message out and try to articulate the feelings and the intentionality that we put in.

I remember this lady bought one of our first, probably our first, 20 buyers she walked in and her husband told me [00:16:00] this and he was about in tears. He said, my wife was in the kitchen and looked around and said a woman had to have designed this home because everything is exactly where I would put it. Absolutely a woman designed this home. And they had five daughters. When they found out a woman did design this home and a woman does own the company, he wanted all of his daughters to meet me and be inspired. And that was very humbling.

Greg Bray: Well, Jennifer, as you were kind of working through this, you know, growing and selling, how do you decide which parts and pieces you want to keep kind of in-house on your team versus bringing in maybe partners or agencies, especially around some of these marketing tactics, since that's our audience today? You know, what's your process in deciding what's in-house versus partners and outsourcing?

Jennifer Johnson: Yeah, you know, when we first started, it was all out of house. And thankfully, I will say, you know, starting a business, any business in 2020 definitely had its challenges. We barely even touched on those, 2021 included in that. But one of the benefits [00:17:00] for us starting during that time is demand for housing was very strong. Who is Olivia Clarke? We've never heard of you guys before. And we would tell them our story and our background, but then they quickly be like, okay, I just need a house.

So, it really helped overcome the lack of brand awareness because we were in an infancy stage and we had little to no budget to get brand awareness out there because we hadn't realized any revenue yet because it takes so long to especially then it took so long to build a house. So, we were able to get by with some things that if we were to start the business today, we would definitely need a much bigger marketing budget. We benefited from that time in the sales and marketing perspective and because demand was so incredibly high.

But to get back to your question, we were completely out of house at that point, or I was doing it myself on like PowerPoint or Publisher, and it was very, very crude. And then, just little by little, I was able to resource [00:18:00] some people who could do the renderings. The thing I did make the largest investment in and we still do it today were our digital assets. Because when we started, we didn't even have a model built.

But I had to sell houses because I have a takedown schedule. I've got to purchase these lots, build the houses, get them sold. There was no time to say, okay, wait, let me build a model. I have everybody come and see it. And then we'll sell some houses. You don't get to do that with a startup. So, investing in the digital assets from day one was a game changer.

We sold 30 million dollars of real estate without a finished home based upon our digital assets. And most people thought the home was built. They would call us and go, where can I come and see it? We're like, well, come see me, but we don't have a house for you to walk through yet. And they're like, really? That made all the difference. It was the best investment I could have made.

That always will remain out of house. There's the great companies who did that for us. We use Focus 360 and we still [00:19:00] do. We're not going to change that. But in terms of our staffing, we have hired, for this year now, we have a marketing director. We're doing our collateral in-house, you know, but. We still keep out of house the PR and the overall brand management of the company. Especially on the brand that keeps it fresh, to make sure we're tweaking the brand when we need to or refreshing, you know, just kind of our look or images having that fresh take because we look at it every day. It helps elevate the product and the brand. But the day-to-day and the events, the company just grew and thankfully we were able to afford to hire and bring that in.

Greg Bray: Well, Jennifer, what are some of the things that you're looking ahead now over the next year or two that you think are critical issues for builders in general, not just specifically with marketing, whether it's interest rates or affordability or what other types of issues are you trying to prepare your company for over the next couple of years?

Jennifer Johnson: The biggest issue is the price of [00:20:00] land just continues to skyrocket. There's a growing disparity between what the public builders are able to afford in their land purchases and the private builders. Obviously, I fall in the latter of those two. So, preparing ourselves to put more equity into the deals because, you know, lenders are demanding more equity on their A&D loans.

And so, that's trickling down from the developer to the builder. It's because the demand is so high. So, like, hey, builders, I've got 30 of you who want this piece of property, which one of you wants to give me the largest deposit? So, strategically being prepared for that and having our capital stack right and being able to buy right.

One thing that's helped us out is to have really great builder partners. I came up in my career through the land acquisitions tract, another discipline in this industry that has very few women in it, or it had very few women. That's changing a lot, especially since I've been doing it. So, because I have those relationships for the past 20 years with other [00:21:00] builders, that's very much helped us to get into deals that we would otherwise not be in because they do enjoy working with us.

You know, they worked with me for 20 years. They know what they're going to get, that I do what I say, I'm going to do. I'm a good partner. When issues arise, we work together to get through it. And by working together, we all can be more successful. So, keeping those very strong, positive relationships with other builders in our marketplace is huge for us.

Kevin Weitzel: So, I want to ask you one thing. I want you to imagine going into a time machine to the way, way, way long, far ago time of 2020. What advice would you give to a slightly younger Jennifer going through this journey all over again?

Jennifer Johnson: Probably to have more confidence, that I was successful prior to when I thought I was. I was very conscious about this company being successful, and not for me [00:22:00] necessarily. I mean, for me and my investors, but my driving motivation has been for the next generation so that our daughters can do what they love to do.

We've really struggled, as you said before, with female leadership in our industry my overall dream or success would be, you know, that the next generation, it's not even a question in anybody's mind on hiring the best person for the job. We're not even thinking about gender. There were so many roles I was overlooked for and not even considered because I wasn't a man. I wasn't even considered based upon my talent skills and abilities. And really, that's what I want for our daughters is that they would just be considered upon with their talent, skills, and abilities. That's it.

And so, I've been so hyper-focused on, I can't fail because if I fail this company, the next generation is going to be impacted. That's some burden I've carried. I remember the day that somebody that I highly respect looked [00:23:00] at me and I said, man, I really hope I'm successful. And she said, Jennifer, you already are, you're already doing it. You've done it. That was so freeing to me. And so, I wish I would have recognized a little bit earlier that just by taking a step and the risk that I did take to do this did make a successful.

Kevin Weitzel: Who was that person? Who told you that? And the reason why I ask is that I believe that people in along their journeys in life can significantly point to a handful of people that truly made a difference in their life. Who was that person for you?

Jennifer Johnson: That person was Debbie Dykstra. So, Debbie and her husband, Don, own Bloomfield Homes, and they have been some of my biggest supporters even before I started the company. Don told me, I mean, probably seven years before I started the company, Jennifer, why don't you have your own home building company? And I looked at him like he had three eyes. I said, you're crazy. The next year I saw him, he asked me that same [00:24:00] question again. He planted the first seed that I could do this.

And then his wife, we were at an event together, she just said, you are already successful. It was a game-changer for me. And that was probably 2022 when she said that. And so, had I realized that a little bit earlier, I think it would have helped me breathe a little bit better.

Kevin Weitzel: Greg and I had the pleasure of interviewing Don. He's a fantastic individual,

Jennifer Johnson: Pure gold inside and out. I mean, he's just the best of the best. I've been so blessed to have known him here in this marketplace and have his encouragement and mentorship. He and Debbie both hand in hand started that company and he'll tell you I didn't do it alone. Debbie was very instrumental.

Greg Bray: And they have quite a story of success in that company as well.

Jennifer Johnson: They sure do. He's writing a book. so when his book comes out, you'll have to interview him again and I can't wait to read it. He sent me a few excerpts.

Speaker 3: Is the title Just One House? Wasn't his thing, Greg?

Greg Bray: Just one more house. If we can sell just one more house, then we'll try this or that and experiment. He was a big experimenter. [00:25:00]

Jennifer Johnson: He sure was. He's awesome.

Greg Bray: Well, Jennifer, thank you so much for spending so much time with us and being so open with us today on your journey. It's been fascinating to see just a little bit behind the curtain of how you've created this, and certainly you've got more to do, I'm sure, and more coming. But if somebody wants to connect with you and reach out, what's the best way for them to get in touch?

Jennifer Johnson: Yeah. Our website is oliviaclarkehomes.com. Clarke has an e on it or any of the socials, we're Olivia Clarke Homes, TX, Instagram. Or email info@oliviaclarkehomes.com and they'll get it to me.

Greg Bray: Well, thank you again. And thank you everybody for listening today to The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine.

Kevin Weitzel: And I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse. Thank you. [00:26:00]

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