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This week Lauren St. Martin, marketing manager at Creative Homes, joined Greg and Kevin to discuss the power of interactive floor and site plans and how they improve engagement. They also discuss how implementing an OSC can be a benefit for both marketing and sales.
Lauren has a rich background in branding and design. Creating a highly effective brand, and delivering that message is what she does best. Lauren has worked to grow Creative Homes’ brand and sales year over year, all while staying true to the company's core values and passion statement.
Lauren says it's essential that the entire team knows your company's values and messaging so that it is clear that everyone is on the same page to deliver the best customer experience. At Creative Homes, Lauren strives to deliver an unmatched customer experience before, during, and after the build of their brand-new home.
Greg Bray: [00:00:00]Hello everybody and welcome back to another 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: We're thrilled today to be joined by our special guests. Lauren St. Martin, the marketing manager at Creative Homes. Welcome, Lauren.
Lauren Martin: Hi, thanks for having me.
Greg Bray: Well, thanks so much for taking the time to join us, and as just let's dive right in. And Lauren, why don't you just introduce [00:01:00] yourself to folks who are listening today and tell us a little bit about you.
Lauren Martin: Perfect. Well, my name is Lauren, marketing manager from, for Creative Homes out of Minnesota. And I live in Wisconsin, the lovely state of Wisconsin with my husband, my son, and our wiener dog, Lucy. That's kind of me in a nutshell.
Kevin Weitzel: Well, that's the business you, and normally I ask, you know, like, oddball question, like tell us something secret about you.
But I happened to know that you were a bartender. So what signature drink there? You're talking to a drinker here.
Lauren Martin: Loaded question.
Kevin Weitzel: Oh, I know just, the one that you're going to surprise of fat guy like me walking into the bar that just, Hey man, I've got to drink something awesome.
Wow. Me today. What is it gonna be
Lauren Martin: a Long Island ice tea,
Kevin Weitzel: Long Island.
I seen it, right. I'm a wine and scotch guy, just so you know, for future reference for gifts around the holidays.
Lauren Martin: I'll keep that in mind.
Greg Bray: And, [00:02:00] and just because of Wisconsin we got to ask about cheese, Is there some favorite cheese or something there?
Lauren Martin: I don't necessarily have a favorite cheese, but I do enjoy a good squeaky cheese curd. If it's squeaky, it is the best cheese curd.
Kevin Weitzel: If it doesn't sqeak, it's not a cheese curd.
Lauren Martin: Exactly
Greg Bray: And I apologize if that was a stereotypical insulting question to ask someone from Wisconsin, but you know, that's all I know about Wisconsin.
Lauren Martin: I won't take offense to it because I didn't grow up here. I grew up in Minnesota. I just live here now, on the other side of the border.
Greg Bray: Okay. Got it. All right. Awesome. Well, Lauren, tell us a little bit about your professional background and how you got into the home building industry.
Lauren Martin: Yeah. I have been with Creative Homes for about six years, just under six years.
I had my recruiter many, many moons [00:03:00] ago. Give me a call and let me know that she had an interesting opportunity for me. I come from a heavy background in design. I was in package design and large format graphics before, the world of home building. and she mentioned this company and I had said, you know what?
I don't know if I'm interested in a marketing role, I'm not interested. I just don't know. and she said you know what? I think that it's going to be well worth having a conversation with the owner of this company. I think you two would really hit it off. So I said, Oh, why not? and I did. And. Meeting Nick Hackworthy. The owner of Creative Homes was definitely what brought me into this industry. He is very passionate about the home building industry and he kind of, he grew up in it and he lives and breathes, Creative Homes and everything. And he just made me want to be a part of this [00:04:00] world. So part of the home building world, and it was just, I knew that.
That was my next step. And I took the job and I, now here we are.
Kevin Weitzel: So with that being said, and in full disclosure, we have at Outhouse done some work for Creative Homes, interactive floor plans, interactive site plans. but what I was really impressed with is that Nick Hackworthy was so heavily involved in that initial, phase of just learning about the product and wanting to make sure that, you know, if he was gonna allocate the dollars to it that he had full buy-in. Yeah. And we don't actually get that from a lot of owners. A lot of owners just trust their teams or, you know, or just kind of say, it's, they're going to handle it. But it was really kind of really a breath of fresh air to see an owner that heavily involved that really wanted to see a success of that implementation.
But I do have one weird thing about him. I think that he, and I don't know why, but I picture him because he has that high level of[00:05:00] involvement walking around with that office space cup. And then walking into somebody's cubicle and being, yeah. Does he do any of that?
Lauren Martin: A little bit, Yes.
Kevin Weitzel: The cool thing is that he did, make the decision to move forward that, and then he implemented his rock team.
But then, I guess I really want to know when you do implement that tech,
what headaches came about of it, you know, what were the deciding factors on wanting to move into that tech side of the world? Implementing interact for plans and our site plans?
Lauren Martin: You know, it was always something that we had been interested in.
It was kind of had come down to finding the right fit, finding one that offered all of the options that we were looking for from a fit and finish. we interviewed a few different. Companies and tech companies to do this for us. And we just had a great experience with you, Kevin, and your team. I [00:06:00] know.
and honestly, it, what it came down to was the functionality of what your product could offer us. And honestly, it has been, it was a pleasure. It was almost seamless working with your team and delivering our assets and having you guys just completely run with it. And then what you've delivered us was, you know, with the minor round of modifications, it was nearly perfect to go right out of the bat, which was great.
You know, ideally what, what we were looking for. And at that point, we were like, well, shoot, why didn't we move forward with this sooner? Because we saw such a great response from our customers and our sales team using this, that we were like, wow, this was something we should have implemented years ago.
Kevin Weitzel: I know that Caroline said that, she, said that working with you was like working with rockstar and she's one of our rock stars by the way.
But yeah, Caroline [00:07:00] Ryan said that it couldn't have gone any better, you know, obviously every count can have some revisions and stuff, but, let me ask you this, and this is kind of a different angle, outside of the tech, when do you, as a marketing manager, Determine, whether you want to do something in house or outsource it to a provider as strategic partner if you will.
Lauren Martin: I think it comes down mostly to time and resources, you know, do I have the time to do it? Does it make most sense for me to spend that time? My valuable time working on that versus working on something else that could yield more results? I mean, I could have. Tried to learn interactive site maps myself and implemented that entirely on my website alone.
But that would have taken me who knows how much time. And that would have taken me away from the day-to-day marketing things that need to run the business.
Greg Bray: So Lauren, when [00:08:00] you implemented, you know, some of those tools, you made the comment a second ago that. That your customers had a really positive reaction to that.
What did that look like? I mean, I don't know where they're just calling you and it's like, finally, you put these on your website or, or what, what kind of reaction were you seeing that makes you feel like there was that, that engagement with the customers?
Lauren Martin: Yeah, so, no, it wasn't, that phone calls were coming in off the hook or anything like that.
We did some marketing around. The new offering of interactive floor plans on our site with our online sales specialist. And he kind of walked through a video of exactly how to do it, pick your options, change things around. And it was just very friendly, very inviting. And we advertise that quite a bit via social, social media and on our website alone.
And the positive experience we had was. [00:09:00] I had our sales team reach out to me specifically and said it has been so much fun to watch our customers come in with a floor plan, printed out, exactly knowing what they want, how they want it built, knowing that their extended truck will fit in the garage. Just little things that you don't necessarily think about, you know, you don't know if your truck's going to fit in the garage because the standard garage may not work with your extended fit Ford F150, but that is an option with the interactive floor plans to see that that fits.
So it's a nice add to see, you know, what do you, where do you need to bump things out? Where do you need to add a couple extra square footage. Like what, what is your family gonna need in order for them to build the best possible home to fit their needs. And [00:10:00] that is exactly what that tool gave us and people were solved.
People enjoyed it so much. It was really fun to watch. People will be like, I have my home it's right here. When can I start building it?
Kevin Weitzel: Well, you said some magic words. You said that your sales team bought into the tech being implemented, you know, to the that tool being implemented on the website. So when you get that, and I think that's a very important aspect, you know, you can, you can have the owners or the marketing team spend all the money they want and implement.
You know, X, Y, and Z, but what it really comes down to is if you don't get the buy-in from your sales team, you don't get the buy-in from your clients, or if your web designer, it makes it, you know, a game of Where's Waldo to find the content you just threw money in the toilet. Really.
Lauren Martin: Yes, so we spent a ton of time, involving our team on the interactive floor plans.
And we said, Hey, you know, these are going live, play around in them. Let me know how you feel, [00:11:00] like tell us what you're thinking and they bought in right away. So, which was surprising and a happy surprise, we'll say. So it was, I was very happy to see that my team was adapting to using this tool because it really only benefits them.
Greg Bray: So Lauren, let's talk a little bit more about your team and how you're set up. So as, as a marketing manager at Creative Homes, how has that put together? You know, you came in from a graphic design background, you know, so you were probably thinking, Oh, I'm going to get to do some art somewhere along the line.
Right. But then you discovered that marketing's a little more than just that piece. Right. so how did you kind of create that team?
Lauren Martin: Yeah, so my team has changed. Year over year. we've had different sales leaders, different marketing professionals come in and out. And basically kind of where we're at [00:12:00] now is we have myself, we have a marketing coordinator and we have a online sales counselor who is heavily involved in the marketing team and the sales team.
And that has kind of been the best fit because we have, you know, we have a doer, we have, the voice and the face. And then we have somebody who's doing the more strategic messaging of, you know, where we need to implant implement and what we need to implement. So that has kind of worked best for us, a small team, but we're small and mighty, and we do have some great outsource partners working with, Do You Convert, and the people over at Outhouse and we just recently redid our website with the people over at O'Neill and all really great experiences.
Greg Bray: That's terrific.
Kevin Weitzel: That is a pretty lean team. and obviously, you know, having the strategic partners definitely helps, but with that lean team, like, just how many homes are you guys [00:13:00] selling a year?
If you can disclose that.
Lauren Martin: Yep. So we're on track to do about 250 this year. just under 200 last year. And we have been growing upwards and upwards, and we do have a lean and mean team, but it's, hasn't stopped us from growth year over year. And.
Kevin Weitzel: And with that kind of volume you're, you're pretty much one of the major players up in your market then, correct?
Lauren Martin: One of yes.
Kevin Weitzel: Yeah. One.
Greg Bray: And did you, did I understand you correctly, that your online sales counselor is considered part of the marketing team versus part of the sales team? Or describe that a little bit more?
Lauren Martin: He sits on both. he, which is a win for me in marketing. he is a great asset to our team.
He offers, he originally was on the sales team out in the field, and he w expressed interest in the online sales role when it opened up. And we were so excited to [00:14:00] bring him in house. And I was thrilled to have him be a part of my side of the team, working closely with me because he is so knowledgeable on the sales side of piece that I. New, but not nearly as well as he did. So he brings a different set of skills to the marketing team that we don't necessarily have. He brings that extra voice from the sales team.
Greg Bray: I think that's an opportunity that I don't see a lot of builders tapping into is that insight that the OSC.
Can have about what's working. Where people, you know, not finding their answers, you know, what are the common questions? You know, what tools do I need to really help, you know, move these people through the process? I think that's a terrific insight and way to structure that team where they're kind of that bridge almost between marketing and sales.
And sounds like from what [00:15:00] you've described. So kudos on doing something that I think is a little unique out there. Maybe I'm wrong.
Kevin Weitzel: Greg, I think you're dead on. I think it's forward-thinking to have that OSC be that liaison between the two or a somewhat of a liaison to where, when you're rolling out new programs, new technology, new tools that are going to feed the beast of the sales team, that any of the feedback needs to come back through that person.
Back to back to that marketing manager. I love it.
Greg Bray: Lauren. Tell us a little bit more about your evolution over the last, you mentioned, you know, five or six years, from where you were five years ago with kind of the digital piece of your marketing plan and how that's changed and evolved over the last few years.
If, not, maybe you've been doing it all along. I don't know, but how's that evolved?
Lauren Martin: No, definitely not. when I was first brought on, we were, I mean, as you know, and most other people in this industry know [00:16:00] that the home building industry alone is very traditional, especially from a marketing sense and where we are.
I felt like five years ago, five and a half years ago when I first started with Creative, I was, I would say heavily 70%. Print verse 30% digital. And it is slowly evolved to, I mean, today we're at a minimum, completely flipped, 70% digital, 30% print. We still have print. We're not going to get away from print in this world.
Just this industry isn't going to allow that people like paper when they're building a house. and that's completely fine, which is good for me because I do both. but it has been a fun. Ride to watch it transition from one to the other. It's given me an opportunity to learn more and challenge myself, to experience new things, and reach out to new and different [00:17:00] people.
And watch our company grow from, you know, evolving from the website. We had day one to the website we have now. And I would have never if you had asked me five years ago, if we would have had an interactive piece on our website, I probably would have said. No, we don't need that.
Greg Bray: And, what would you say to someone today who does not have an interactive thing on their website?
Lauren Martin: I would say you're losing out. I mean, I think that you know, we saw it. With the nationals first, and now we're slowly starting to see more local builders use this, but I'd have to say in our market, there is a very small handful of people who are utilizing interactive pieces on their site. You know, we have a very few amount of builders that we compete with here locally that have even OCS.
Which is a huge advantage. I mean, it's a resource taken off my plate [00:18:00] where I don't have to feel the kneeled leads to my sales team to hope that they're, you know, taking advantage of these leads that are coming in digitally. I have somebody who's taking those leads and nurturing them and get them getting them right to where they need to be in order to buy a house.
Greg Bray: So when you look then at these tools, you are seeing a clear, competitive advantage compared to your other local builders that, that aren't using those similar types of tools on their website. Did I understand that correctly?
Lauren Martin: Yes. That's true. That's true.
Kevin Weitzel: A year in analytics and the year anniversary of implementation of, they, if you track it the close, the time it takes to close an actual client as compared to what is what it was before that because you know when somebody utilizes it just saying the interactive floor plan, they've already.
Propelled themselves further into the funnel than somebody that just looks at [00:19:00] a floorplan slick or eyeballs, a static on a website. so I'd be curious to know what the numbers are, as to, you know, the time it takes to, you know, from first touch to closing the contract, what that, what that close ratio and timeframe looks like.
Lauren Martin: Yeah, the close-ratio is definitely higher on people who are using that tool. The timeframe is very dependent on that buyer. I mean, we offer, we service a wide variety of buyers from move up to rightsizing, downsizing all over the board, and we have some buyers who. Come in and we call them floor plan for floor pops.
and they purchase on that same exact day that they walk in. And we have some people who will, you know, we're nurturing these leads for, you know, six months and they could do six different floor plans, interactive floor plans on our site, and [00:20:00] we have to teach them and let them experience. You know, why, why this plan over this plan is main level living more important to you?
You know, do you need that master on the main is upstairs fine, you know? We have to, our team is highly educated on our floor plans in order to give the best option to our customers.
Kevin Weitzel: Greg, I got to admit something. I just asked a completely loaded question. I knew the answer to that question, not from them, but from all the stats of all the IFPs, we have out there.
I know that IFPs, regardless of who supplies them, shortens up the timeline, it takes to close a client. And I know that you'll see more in influx of leads that come from them. So. I apologize to the listening audience that I asked a loaded question. You did say something pretty important. You said something about floor pops and a very short cycle of people just drop dropping in what is the climate like up there in your market?
are you guys seeing that same [00:21:00] heavy, you know, increase the traffic due to COVID that other bills, you know, that, other areas of the country are seeing number one? And number two, where are you at in your, inventory levels? Are you, are you ahead or behind the game on keeping up with inventory and the appropriate amount of inventory per year market?
Lauren Martin: Okay. You asked about six questions there.
Kevin Weitzel: That's what I do.
Lauren Martin: Trying to circle back, floor plops for why can't I say that floor pops? we are seeing a higher increase in traffic, especially digitally. what I will say is. We aren't necessarily seeing a higher increase number volume in traffic coming into our doors.
But the people who are coming into our doors are buyers. They're not looky-loos, they're not, I'm looking for design ideas there. I would like to build a new house and I would like to build a new house now. so. Can we circle [00:22:00] back to one of the other questions you asked there?
Kevin Weitzel: The other question was that, what is your inventory levels looking like?
Are you selling so much that you're actually running out of inventory or you stay in comfortable and well poised to be able to close deals as they come in?
Lauren Martin: You know, I would say probably two to three months ago, we were definitely having a influx. In inventory, but now we're, we saw that happening.
So we're putting more things in the ground. So we are putting more homes in the ground. We are setting ourselves up to not see that again. but you know, we're seeing home buyers all over the board if they want inventory or if they want to build. So. Do we have enough inventory for those people? Not everybody, but we are set up pretty well in order to accomplish those buyers who.
Greg Bray: Lauren you, mentioned that when you [00:23:00] first rolled out some of the interactive tools, like the floor plans, that you had this overwhelming kind of positive response from buyers, and that was a little while ago, do you feel like buyers are still reacting to these tools Like, Oh, this is new and cool.
Or do you feel like it's expected now and that they, their expectations have evolved and changed regarding these types of tools?
Lauren Martin: No, I wouldn't necessarily say that their expectations have changed from a digital side only because there aren't that many people in our marketplace who are using. These. So it is a little unique for us to have these interactive floor plans and site maps on her site.
So people can actually do the things that they need to. So I wouldn't necessarily say that they're coming to our website expecting it, but I would think that [00:24:00] they, they are coming to our website expecting to talk to someone and to talk to someone now. So that's where our OSC comes in heavily. And he can help guide them to where they need to go on our site or where they need to go in a sales model.
You know, we get people who chat on our site immediately and they just want, they don't want to spend that time looking on our site to figure out an address of where they need to be. They say, Hey, I would like to be in this school district. I have, you know, my budget is X and where do I need to go?
Who do I need to talk to? And our OSC is like, let's do this.
Greg Bray: So they're, they're coming, knowing exactly what they want and where they want it and just, but they don't even want to mess around searching through the home. Just tell me which one, sign me up. Here's my check. Well, that's awesome.
So Lauren, what are, what are some of the things that, that you're watching from a technology standpoint and looking at even [00:25:00] just around, you know, our industry, other industries, different things that, that intrigued you?
Lauren Martin: Yeah, I think, As far as exploring, you know, what new tech options are out there.
I'm always trying to stay on top of what other people are doing, what is innovative, everything along those lines. But I think this year is a prime example of, you know, being open-minded to adapt, to change very quick, quickly. you know, we didn't expect a pandemic this year. I definitely didn't. No one likes to fly on the seat of their pants, but this year has been really challenging in a lot of ways and a lot of good ways.
with that being said, we can always plan and prepare for the future. But I think the biggest thing is keeping an open mind and being able to take on new challenges and having a young team. We have a very young team at Creative Homes and having that team who's willing. To work through those challenges [00:26:00] is really important for the future.
And you're really only as strong as the team you surround yourself with and having that strong team is really important.
Kevin Weitzel: So let me ask you this, especially since you come from a heavy graphics background, where do you look for areas of inspiration, whether it be in the housing industry or outside of it?
Lauren Martin: Yeah. So I try to keep it on-trend with, you know, different marketing groups on Facebook or on Facebook, not necessarily Instagram, but Facebook and LinkedIn. And I, I follow a ton of podcasts. I keep a close eye on a lot of the digital agencies around town, seeing what they're doing, who they're working for, what.
New things. Are they implementing? I have a lot of friends in that space still. So I'm a relationship gal. I'm not afraid to pick up the phone and say, Hey, how's it going? What's working for you. You know, talk to me about what you're seeing. that's kind [00:27:00] of how I get the best insight is from just sharing stories and listening.
To what other people have to say that I trust in this space.
Greg Bray: Lauren, I was going to ask you, you know, based on that, what is your favorite podcast? But since Kevin has now said that we're not allowed to ask loaded questions.
Kevin Weitzel: But were you alluding to possibly the Digital Marketing Podcast?
Greg Bray: Yeah, I don't know. I'm not going to ask the question. It's going to be loaded. So got it. So, Lauren, we were so grateful for the time you spent with us today. Do you have any last words of advice or thoughts you'd like to share with the people listening?
Lauren Martin: Yes. You know, I'd really like to challenge everyone to make new friends inside and outside of your industry. Inside this industry, they can kind of be your best-kept secret. You can share what's working and what's not in your market and you never know what people are going to react to. It might work in your market, might not work in their, [00:28:00] my market.
it's been very beneficial to me to rely on those relationships. The people that I've met through connecting via, Do You Convert or, even with Kevin at Outhouse, different build partners, we've seen across the country. You know, utilizing those people, they're in this space every day, just along with you and you need, you need friends to, get you through the day.
And sometimes it's just nice to rely on, you know, those industry leaders. So you can share your stories and figure out what's working and hopefully gain some nuggets on. You know what to implement next?
Kevin Weitzel: You just put a new twist on the village, raising the child because it's home builders, the home builder billing, the village that builds.
The network that builds the home builder. I just blew my own mind.
Greg Bray: And I know that everybody can't see the visuals, but you should have seen how big Kevin's eyes just got through that. That [00:29:00] was impressive. We might have to release a clip-on that. So Lauren, if somebody wants to reach out and connect with you, what's the, what's the best way for them to get in touch?
Lauren Martin: I'd say you can definitely reach out to me on LinkedIn
Greg Bray: LinkedIn's great. Yeah. Perfect. It's perfect. Well, Lauren, thank you again so much for your time today. We've learned a lot. we appreciate you sharing some of your experiences with us.
Lauren Martin: Yes, of course. It's been my pleasure,
Greg Bray: And thank you everybody for listening and we invite you to join us again.
Next time on the Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine
Kevin Weitzel: and I'm Kevin Weitzel with Outhouse. Thank you.