Maurie Jones of Wayne Homes joins Greg and Kevin this week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing podcast to discuss why home builders should be focusing on so much more than just their finished product.
Maurie explains that “…a lot of builders still just focus on product, and this is what people are buying. Every builder uses the same sticks and bricks, as my old owner used to say to me, and it's what you do after those sticks and bricks that makes you different. So, if you're in the marketing department with the builder, what makes you different? It's not the product. Is it your people? Is it the experience you provide?”
Maurie says that customers expect much more than they used to. She describes buyers as being “…much more educated now. They know more because they can just get online and find out what they want. They see a product and they can Google it and find out everything they want about that product, and then come in and tell the salesperson who might not know about that product, because maybe it's something we don't offer. Any salesperson now in home building has to be really quick on their feet to be able to pivot and address what that prospect is talking about when they walk in the door. That's been a big change for us to have to get used to. They're much more intelligent. They know what they want.”
Listen to this week’s episode to understand what home builders should be focusing on as part of their digital strategy and why.
About the Guest:
Maurie Jones started at Wayne Homes 35 years ago as a Girl Friday. She is now the Senior Vice President of Marketing. Wayne Homes is a custom, on-your-lot home builder. Their customer satisfaction rating is among the best in the industry, and they are one of a handful of builders in the entire country to win the National Housing Quality award.
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 welcome to the show Maurie Jones, the Senior Vice President of Marketing for Wayne Homes. Welcome. Thanks for joining us today.
Maurie Jones: Thanks for asking me
Greg Bray: Well, for those who haven't had chance to meet you yet, why don't you start us off with that quick introduction, help us get to know you a little better.
Maurie Jones: Well, let's see. I have been with Wayne Homes for 35 years this year. I started off as a salesperson. My [00:01:00] degree is in psychology and I wanted to be a child psychologist, but then decided that I didn't want to go to school anymore. So, I worked for my father in his advertising agency for several years and then saw an ad for a Girl Friday position, and I thought that's perfect. So, I went and applied and met with the founder, the original founder of Wayne Homes, and talked to him for three hours and we hit it off and he told me I would be a consultant, not a salesperson because I told him I didn't want to be a salesperson. He said you have a degree in psychology. This job helps people. I want you to help people. I said, oh, I can do that. Okay. I can do that. Yeah. So, it all started from there and 35 years later, here I am in marketing.
Kevin Weitzel: There's a lot of people that they'll dance around the title, a lot of different ways. You're a highly compensated facilitator. You are an independent contractor that is highly compensated by a company that appreciates you just creating those handshakes.
Maurie Jones: Yeah.
Kevin Weitzel: There's a lot of different ways to dance around it. You're [00:02:00] basically, you're hawking. Every item in your home, somebody has sold to somebody. That's just the way it is.
Maurie Jones: Exactly.
Kevin Weitzel: Or and somebody's bought it, but so, Maurie, I know a little bit more about you because we've worked with you for Wayne Homes for quite some time with our IFPs, or interactive floor plans, but one thing I always like to get out of the way on our podcast is to find out one little secret, one little personal tidbit of information about you.
Maurie Jones: I have three Weimaraners.
Kevin Weitzel: Some of the best dogs ever. Man's best friend or woman's best friend, in this case.
Maurie Jones: William Wegman is the guy that takes pictures of his Weimaraners dressed up as people. They've been in Honda commercials. Whenever people say, oh, what's a Weimaraner? Then I have to explain, you know, William Wagman. They drive the Honda Odysseys. They kind of look like greyhounds, but they're not greyhounds. They're like silver labs, but they're thinner. So yeah, I have three of them.
Kevin Weitzel: That's cool. You're also a big U of M fan.
Maurie Jones: I'm a big Michigan fan living in Ohio. Yeah.
Greg Bray: So, Maurie, I have two follow-up questions on your [00:03:00] introduction. First of all, when you started with Wayne Homes 35 years ago, how did they get around the child labor laws? And second question. What was that job title Girl Friday?
Maurie Jones: Girl Friday.
Greg Bray: Girl Friday.
Maurie Jones: That was the, yes, because I would not have answered a salesperson ad. I would not have answered that, but a Girl Friday, Jack of all trades, able to be flexible and do all these things. It was perfect.
Greg Bray: Okay. That's a job title I am not that familiar with.
Maurie Jones: So, back to the day, Greg, Girl Friday was big.
Greg Bray: Okay.
Kevin Weitzel: I need to know what was Wayne Homes in a nutshell in year one that you were there versus what are they now today?
Maurie Jones: Wow. When I started the company was seven years old and we had seven locations. We now have ten. At one point we had thirteen. We've brought it back. We did not have any marketing [00:04:00] department. It wasn't franchised, but every location had a division president and that division president got to make their own decisions about what their messaging was and thank goodness my division president also had a marketing background, so he and I pretty much were able to share our marketing and advertising experience with the rest of the group. The owners at that time realized that we needed to have a brand. We needed to have a name. We needed to have messaging that was, you know, almost like a McDonald's. When you go into McDonald's in Indianapolis versus a McDonald's in Boston, it's the same. So, we worked with our agencies trying to set that up. Everyone got the same experience, no matter what they went to.
Kevin Weitzel: And I'm going to predicate my next question with a small little story. Greg, I don't know if you know this, but Wayne Homes is an on-your-lot builder. So, they're different than the average production home builder that is going into a community where they own 200, 300, 400 lots. So, my question is that how many homes a year are you selling now versus when you started?
Maurie Jones: We're selling [00:05:00] a little over 600 now, but now we are much more custom. Back in the day, when I first started, we said, no a lot. This is the house. This is what you get with the house. Well, can I add brick here? No. Can I add a window here? No. The goal, when I first started, was price. Now, it's more experience, customer experience, and customization on your lot. So, that's the big difference
Kevin Weitzel: Now, do you still incorporate the power of no, because I know Alaina Money-Garman, she uses the power of no on one of their product lines and the, hey, what's it take to get the sale done on the other product line. Do you still incorporate that power of no in any cases?
Maurie Jones: No.
Kevin Weitzel: No. You do not.
Maurie Jones: No. As the market's tightened and things went a little haywire with products, and there are things that we say no to now, just because we don't know when we can get them. We don't know the labor force that could we just, with all the things that builders are going through right now, we [00:06:00] do say no more than we used to.
Kevin Weitzel: Gotcha.
Maurie Jones: Yeah.
Greg Bray: And what's your target buyer demographic that you guys are going after?
Maurie Jones: Typically, first and second move up. Families with young children and up to grown children. A few years ago, we added in-law suites because we were getting so many people, they couldn't see it on our website, so they didn't think we did it because we didn't have a plan that had one. So, we developed it and then we put one in a model, and then that just blew up, and now we do a lot of multi-generational living with in-law suites and a wing for the college kids that come home and then leave. So, we do a lot of that, which we didn't use to.
Greg Bray: So, Maurie, let's dive in a little deeper then into your marketing team and structure that you've been able to evolve and grow with over the years, you know, going from Girl Friday now to Senior Vice President. What has been the growth in the marketing that you've seen and done and the team that you've [00:07:00] built and how did you kind of make some of those decisions?
Maurie Jones: My department at our home office is only five people and we work with three different marketing agencies. We work with one for all of our social media needs, another for our branding and our voice, and another one for our website and all our interactive. So, that has helped us immensely, getting all of their input. It's really nice because we're able to all work together. Every week we have a conference call and all of us are on the same call and we're all on the same page. The interactive agency is helping the social media agency and the social media is like, hey, we need that blog and the interactive agency gets it. It's really come full circle and it's a really good team. Whereas before, we had one agency and there were a lot of things that we didn't get done because with everything exploding digitally and online, we needed that expertise.
Greg Bray: It's interesting you highlight that. Being on the agency side, everybody struggles to keep up with the change of what's going on and as an [00:08:00] agency, we have to continue to decide, gosh, do we specialize here or do we do that too? Do we add this too? Do we claim we can do this too? It's always that fine balance and sometimes you get that agency says, oh, we can do everything that you need and it's getting harder and harder to do that today.
Maurie Jones: Yeah, and it's interesting you say that, Greg, cause my father had an advertising agency, so I grew up with that. He didn't work with builders, but I worked for him in high school. I worked for him in college and it was the full-service agency, and when I had that background and then when I came to Wayne Homes, I was like we'll just have a full-service agency and we did, and then things just exploded. So, it's really nice to have three that have their experience and their expertise, and then what's even better is that we all really work and get along. It's really a healthy relationship, which my brother, who is a marketing consultant said could never happen. So, I always love telling my brother that yes, agencies can get along and work together.
Greg Bray: If they want to survive in [00:09:00] today's world, they have to figure that out.
Maurie Jones: Yes.
Greg Bray: You can't get territorial.
Maurie Jones: Right.
Greg Bray: You gotta do what's best for the client and stay kind of in your lane, but yet, be willing to say, hey, have you thought about this when maybe the other one doesn't you don't bring it up.
Maurie Jones: Exactly. Right. Yep. Yep.
Greg Bray: For sure. That's fascinating. So, you talked about the digital explosion that's driven some of that. What has been the change that you've seen over just the last few years from a digital perspective, as far as how much of your focus is now digital versus before?
Maurie Jones: Oh my goodness. Just everything that people can find online. They don't need to come in and see you. So, that, and then with the pandemic, the problem exploded because you really had to be able to handle that. I was really proud of how our teams all came together and came up with solutions. I think we probably were in panic mode for about ten days and really trying to figure out how we were going to do this, and then we had some ideas. We put them together. They worked. The salespeople liked them and we were off and running. So, I think just the pandemic changed [00:10:00] everything.
One thing I didn't mention about Wayne Homes past. We used to be owned by Centex, out of Texas. They purchased us. So, we became a part of a huge public builder. Then we bought ourselves back in 2008. Great time to buy a home building company, 2008, but if we didn't, I'm sure Centex was looking to move us along. Our previous owners bought the company back, and so we had to start all over. New website, everything had to start from scratch because we had been part of Centex's website and Centex on your lot. That really helped open our eyes because I had to find new things in 2008. I know that was a long time ago, but...
Greg Bray: Hey, Kevin and I remember 2008.
Maurie Jones: Okay. Yeah.
Greg Bray: And I have to say, if I'm allowed a digression, I have a Centex connection at Blue Tangerine because the original owner of the company before I bought it, was a builder who sold to Centex.
Maurie Jones: Oh, [00:11:00] wow.
Greg Bray: And when he sold to them, he wanted to invest, and this was back in 98, 99, he then wanted to invest in some technology. So, he got into this little internet startup.
Maurie Jones: Wow.
Greg Bray: Which then has eventually grown into what we are today. So, Centex buying a builder is how I got into home building from a technology standpoint. So, it's just kind of an interesting connection there. Sorry, for the digression, but anyway. Well, tell us, Maurie, from a buyer's perspective, how much of these digital changes, you mentioned pandemic driven and their desire to not, of course, be in person anymore, but what other expectations have you seen change from buyers that are driving the use of technology?
Maurie Jones: Well, they're so much more educated now. They know more because they can just get online and find out what they want. They see a product and they can Google it and find out everything they want about that product, and then come in and tell the salesperson who might not know about that product, because maybe it's something we don't offer. Any [00:12:00] salesperson now in home building has to be really quick on their feet to be able to pivot and address what that prospect is talking about when they walk in the door. That's been a big change for us to have to get used to. They're much more intelligent. They know what they want.
They expect more than they used to. The pandemic has made it very difficult for customer experience and customer satisfaction because they're sick of hearing the COVID excuse, the pandemic excuse, the supply chain excuse. We try to give our sales teams all the tools and all the knowledge that we can possibly give them so we can be transparent and let our customers know what's going on, but sometimes they don't want to hear it anymore, and I can't blame them. We're frustrated too, but that's been a challenge.
Kevin Weitzel: Now, do you find that not only do the customers expect it, but they're using it as a selecting factor? That Builder A, they just want to hand me a pamphlet and that's it and I have to go talk to some schmuck in an office, or Builder B, we'll actually call it Builder W for Wayne Homes, and Builder W has [00:13:00] interactive floor plans, interactive exterior renderings. You've got a virtual design center. You've got virtual walkthroughs. When you were offering those types of things, do you find that you have ever, and granted you're being more on the marketing side, you're not necessarily in the trenches with the salespeople, but are they giving you feedback that the clients are saying we're selecting you because we can do all this with you?
Maurie Jones: I can't see what the customers are doing just from Google Analytics. One of the best things we've done with one of our agencies is create guides, and that's along with all of our home building tools. Our most visited pages on our website is the interactive floor plan, the selection guides, anything to do with design. We didn't have those before, and now we're seeing people spend much more time on the website. They're saving those interactive floor plans. They're printing them off. They're bringing them in, and saying, this is what I want. So, it's shortening the buyer cycle because they're doing a lot of the work on their own at home, and then bringing it into the [00:14:00] salesperson. But definitely, oh yeah.
We survey our prospects and buyers all the time, and we hear a lot, the other builders didn't offer this. They didn't have that assistance on their website that helped us along. I wanted to come see what else you offered besides all the things you could get on your website.
One thing I noticed many, many years ago, you could use the website almost like a tease and just here's what's here. Come on in. I mean, we didn't use to put pricing on the website. Now, you certainly, as a semi-custom on your lot home builder, you can't put pricing on everything because there's just too many things to put pricing on, but base prices and our exteriors. The things that people ask the most, we have pricing on, and there's some of our competitors still don't do that, and that really upsets customers. We hear it on surveys. We loved your website that we could go on there and we could tell exactly how much this was going to cost us, at least give us a baseline when we walked in to meet [00:15:00] with your new home consultant. You have to be much more transparent than you used to be years ago.
Greg Bray: I love the fact that you guys have learned that. You're getting the feedback that, hey, we really liked that we could do AB and C with you guys on the website. I think the builder who doesn't have that rarely gets the feedback where somebody walks in and says, I am not coming back because you don't have AB and C. Right?
Maurie Jones: Because you lose them.
Greg Bray: Yeah. You just lose them, so you don't really have that feedback about why they're not going. We run into this conversation sometimes, we're talking with builders about, oh gosh, you know, that websites get old. You might need to update it and they're going, oh, nobody ever complains about our website, and I'm like, you don't need to wait. Yeah, they don't need no, they just move on. They don't complain. You can't base that decision on that lack of feedback. It's dangerous to not recognize it.
Maurie Jones: The feedback you need to be hearing every once in a while, how wonderful your website is. My salespeople know that I want to hear that. So, they're always sending us [00:16:00] feedback of, hey, Maurie, this was harder to find. Can we do something about this? Or, oh, Maurie, they love our website. It's one of the best tools I have. So yeah. You need to hear the positives.
Greg Bray: Great feedback. So, other than that anecdotal feedback, what are some of the success metrics that you use to track your digital marketing activities? How do you see what's working, what's not?
Maurie Jones: Well, one of the things I look at is which IFPs they're doing, what homes they're downloading, what changes they're making with the IFPs. We look at that to determine what we'll offer and what we need to keep offering. If nobody ever picks that one thing we've got on there, then we eventually get rid of it. I was talking about our downloadable guides, which we're trying to give more information to our prospect. We've been working on this for about 18 months and those have just exploded because people want more information. So, those have helped us.
One thing I did was [00:17:00] we came up with one, we called it buying versus building. I had to help our agencies understand this. It was building on your lot versus building production. We call it buying versus building, but the story inside of it is why would you choose to be on your lot versus a production builder. That helped our agencies understand a lot too, as we went through that. That's one of our top downloaded because there's lots of competition out there with production builders. There's lots of opportunities. We've got them popping up all around us in the Midwest, in Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania. We had to help our prospects understand if they didn't give us a chance to come in, there had to be something that they could see of, why would I do that? That sounds hard. Why would I do that versus that?
Kevin Weitzel: Completely unrelated question. Being that you do have some of the Rust Belt there, what municipalities are you building in predominantly?
Maurie Jones: Most all of Ohio, western Pennsylvania, southeastern Michigan, northern [00:18:00] West Virginia. So, it's four
Kevin Weitzel: states.
Some of those areas, like, if you look at Toledo, they have a huge vacant rate of existing homes.
Maurie Jones: Yes.
Kevin Weitzel: So, are you competing in a different light with the vacancies of pre-owned homes versus what a production builder would have to compete against, or are you kind of removed from that because you are building on your lot?
Maurie Jones: That's a good question.
Kevin Weitzel: You hear that, Greg? That was a good question. Boom. I don't always ask good questions.
Greg Bray: Every now and then, Kevin. Every now and then.
Maurie Jones: That's a good question.
Kevin Weitzel: I'm just curious if it was a factor.
Maurie Jones: Well, I know in the past year, it's been a huge factor because the homes that were on the market in all of our areas were so overpriced for what they were getting. I mean, homes that weren't in very good shape. That's why we were so swamped. People were like, wow, I could go build a house and get it exactly how I want it, with all new things and all warranties and everything versus that where I'm paying too much and I have to put sixty grand into it.
Kevin Weitzel: Yeah. Have you ever heard [00:19:00] Quint Lears? He uses the example, he says, oh, you're buying a used home, what year is the carpet? What year is the appliances?
Maurie Jones: I've heard that.
Greg Bray: I got to go back to something you said that I just think is, I don't know, Kevin can tell me I'm wrong, but I think it's incredibly unique, and that is the fact that you are using website analytics with what customers are using and looking at and liking with those interactive floor plans to drive product design choices and options in the future. I think most builders that use interactive floor plans are probably not coming close to mining the data at that level.
Maurie Jones: Yep.
Greg Bray: I don't know. Stop me Kevin.
Kevin Weitzel: You're hitting a hundred percent.
Greg Bray: I just have to say, I think it's amazing.
Kevin Weitzel: I want to touch on two points, one a compliment to Wayne Homes or criticism of our own website, in the fact that if you're anywhere in the country, and if you want to have some fun, try it, get in front of your computer and Google Search interactive floor plan, Wayne Home beats us in the rankings almost every time, and there our [00:20:00] IFPs. We invented the interactive floor plan. So, the fact that they get better ranking than we do, we're obviously doing something wrong, or they're just doing something completely right, but yes, to that degree, we do have builders that are more sophisticated with their use of them than others.
Some of them look at it as just a little gadget to put on their website. It's a toy for the buyer to have fun with. Some people will use it just, oh, it's a great furniture planner, but if you really mine the data that comes out of the Google Analytics, you can actually see, not only everything that somebody touches, as far as most popular or how much time they spend on them, but what options they are clicking on it, which options they're looking at, and when you look at that, you can say, okay, walk-in shower owners bath. That was only really a trend in 55 plus. Now we're seeing it across the board.
We used to see that builders wanted the den as the option, and now what we're seeing is they want the den as the base plan and they can convert the den into a bedroom if they want to. Now, granted there's some flip-flop as far as home valuation that comes into play there, and as far as room count, bedroom count, but the reality is [00:21:00] Wayne Homes is doing it right. They're utilizing a tool to further improve the product line and not just them for the product line, but further improve the customer desires that they have for their end result product that they want to buy.
Maurie Jones: Yeah. Our new home consultants know that if they're selling a bonus room on a plan a lot and we don't have it on the interactive floor plan, we have a process that they send in requests and we'll get this added. We're doing this all the time. Get this added.
Kevin Weitzel: So, Maurie, you know, a lot people look up to you and what you do because you are a veteran in the industry, but who do you look up to? Who are you looking at as a resource for new ideas and concepts and, you know, seeing what works in success stories?
Maurie Jones: I really admire the people at my agencies. It's interesting because they all are just home builder agencies, which is different than when I first started working with them. They were agencies for different companies. Now they're all just focused on builders. The [00:22:00] three agencies I work with, there's some very talented women that are just doing amazing things and they help me look at what we should be doing. It's wonderful cause they bring the ideas to me. Paula Huggett at Boca and Molly Gerson at Group Two and Amy Levi at Strada. Those are the three agencies work with and those women just do an amazing job with the home building industry and different things for me to be looking at and to be thinking of for Wayne Homes.
Greg Bray: Those are some terrific partners you've got and we know them and respect them as well, and great to give them a shout out. Everybody can benefit from learning from those people. So, Maurie, as we kinda wrap up here, do you have any last thoughts or pieces of marketing advice that you didn't get a chance to share today that you just want to get out there in the world?
Maurie Jones: Well, I think a lot of builders still just focus on product and this is what people are buying. Every builder uses the same sticks and bricks, [00:23:00] as my old owner used to say to me, and it's what you do after those sticks and bricks that makes you different. So, if you're in the marketing department with the builder, what makes you different? It's not the product. Is it your people? Is it the experience you provide? That's what we try to share on our website. That's a message we try to get across.
If you want to learn about providing great customer service, I would recommend going to a Zingerman's training course and Zingerman's is a fabulous deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan that has now exploded into training classes on providing experience. I've been to several of their training classes and you will have people from all over different industries at these, and the owner, the founder of Zingerman's, he's one of the teachers of the class and they might be talking about a $13 sandwich and we're talking [00:24:00] about a $400,000 home, but treating people the same way is that's what makes it different. So, finding out what you can do to help your builders set themselves apart, and it's not the product. So, what is it about you and your team and your company that make people want to come see you?
Greg Bray: Great advice. Great advice. Maurie, if there's someone who'd like to reach out and connect, what's the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Maurie Jones: Email or LinkedIn. My emails, firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn.
Greg Bray: And we'll drop that in the show notes as well, so people can find it there at buildermarketingpodcast.com when we're done.
Thank you so much today for joining us. We really appreciate your time and your experience and learning from you, 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.