News | Custom Builders On The Move

May 07, 2014

By Mike Beirne, Editor | Custom Builder Magazine 

Frankel Building Group: Designing The Custom Studio Experience  

Something was not right with the custom homebuyer’s experience.
 
Scott Frankel, now a principal of Frankel Building Group, Houston, noted that clients buying a $115,000 house from the production builder he worked for right out of college picked their options from a design studio that was well lit, spacious, and stocked with plentiful options for floors, counters, and other selections. Their experience was more pleasant than that of buyers for million-dollar custom homes. Those buyers typically were corralled into a cleared-out closet in the custom builder’s office or to a garage converted into a showroom. That is, if the builder even had such a space. Otherwise, clients ran around town to numerous suppliers to make their selections.
 
Scott, along with his father Jim and brother Kevin, approached family friends who operate a to-the-trade home furnishings business and, in 2012, opened a design studio in the same building. Since completing an addition, the FBG Design Studio has 2,000 square feet of space featuring products from more than 60 different suppliers. At first, the builder tested the one-stop-design-shop by having new clients visit during the initial planning stage while existing customers were brought there only to finalize room selections just before construction began.
 
“What we thought would happen is (customers) would say it’s not custom, and they don’t want to be cornered into something,” Frankel says.
 
Instead, the existing customers were impressed and many said they wished the studio was available to them earlier because it would have made the design and selection process much easier. So now that Frankel has a studio with inventory, is there a temptation to push custom-home clients toward selecting those items? In order to ensure his clients get the home they want, Frankel still urges clients to go beyond the studio’s offerings and choose from suppliers anywhere in the world.
 
To make the studio process easy to use, the Frankels developed proprietary software that uses a bar code system and a hand-held scanner. Customers scan selections as they choose their tile, countertops, cabinets, floors, colors, and other items. The software then generates a document that can be downloaded to a tablet or projected onto a big-screen TV. Customers dictate the studio’s inventory, and the software database includes every product ever ordered for a Frankel home. So if a handful of customers select the same item, the program will flag that preference, enabling Frankel to tweak the studio’s holdings.
 
“Our clients have excellent taste and spend a lot of time researching what they want. If we see 10 clients pick something, we’ll approach our manufacturers to get more of that in bulk, so we can get the price down for our customer,” Frankel says.
 
Frankel’s latest endeavor is building luxury homes at Woodlands Reserve, a gated community in the Village of Indian Springs, The Woodlands, Texas. The company will use pier and beam construction to build LEED-certified houses on 55 lots. The builder started breaking ground in April with five custom homes under contract and plans to build six more houses on spec.