Showhomes Home Staging Hits Franchise Expansion Goal
Showhomes home staging is one of the few companies in franchising that has succeeded in using social media to have dramatic breakthroughs in franchise sales. Their brand journalism approach to social media deserves the credit and any franchise professional should read this article by the Daily Vista to learn how they did it:
By Stephanie Jacoby
Managing Editor, DailyVista May 11, 2010
Showhomes, a home staging provider, announced it has added 11 franchise units by April of 2010, thus surpassing its expansion goal and setting a company record for new units opened, according to the company.
The Nashville, Tenn.-based company expects that 2010 will be its seventh consecutive year of steady incline. Showhomes is also on track to open 40 new locations this year, even further exceeding its 2010 goal of 25. Showhomes has opened 20 franchises in 2009, compared to the 15 that were projected, and intends to sell out all available units by 2014.
“If you take a step back, we are a home-based business, we are in a hot category of small business, the cash requirements for opening are low, we have an excellent track record, we have some of the best franchisee validation in the industry and we have a really high potential return on investment,” Chief Operating Officer Matt Kelton said in a statement. “When you add it all up, I can’t think of a better franchise in today’s market.”
Showhomes is a home staging franchise that uses live-in home stagers to help realtors sell vacant houses. These live-in home stagers help manage vacant houses while they are on the market for sale and offset a home owner’s expense to stage the home.
Thomas Scott, vice president of marketing, told DailyVista that Showhomes has been around since 1986, but has really seen a boom in its business due to the heightened interest in the art of staging a home for sale.
“HGTV started airing home staging shows, and thanks to them, home staging became a buzz word,” he said. “Staging preps houses for sales – they show better, and that started our momentum. During the current housing bust, when everyone is talking about how bad the market is, we’re one of the few good stories out there in real estate. It’s been golden for us to expand.”
The depressed real estate market has been very helpful for Showhomes, and as such, the company has plans to build out a national foot print, which may include an upwards of 150 to 200 new units.
“We’re well on track to do that, we’re ahead of where we thought we’d be, so it’s a good problem to have,” Scott said. “We’re expanding heavily in the Northeast, and adding more units in Florida, Texas and California. We’re expanding wherever there’s interest.”
Showhomes is big in Southern California, and is hoping to open in Napa Valley and in Sacramento in the coming months. Kelton says that the franchise does well in many markets, small and large, because there are vacant houses everywhere, and even in the boom, it has a lot to do with how often people move. Most consumers will purchase new homes before they sell their old homes and move all their furniture to the new place, which creates a need for vacant home staging.
“Franchising in general has been struggling. It’s one of the real ironies in the market, because in a recession more people want to start their own business more than normal because they’re out of work so there is a big disconnect between franchise companies and people who want to open a franchise,” Scott said. “With our forward-thinking approach, we engage customers and put information out there. Aggressive Blogging, social media and social media PR have really generated sales for us.”
Coupled with Web content, guest blogging and other types of non-traditional communications, Showhomes’ current online content and social media efforts have allowed folks who are naturally interested in real estate or home staging to tune into the company story long before they talk to a salesperson. When they do inquire about either owning their own Showhomes franchise, or requesting the company’s services, they have already done some research and are engaged.
“We’ve also found on the franchise sales side, one thing that’s working today is old-school trade shows,” Scott said. “The entire last decade companies spent getting connected to the Internet, and now with all those portals, people don’t trust sales people.”
Scott says his company saw a big turnaround at trade shows in 2009 and that they now produce almost a third of its overall sales. Consumers want to meet a live person and those that have an inherent interest in the industry go to Showhomes’ booth and meet their team.
“We are also big on what I’d say is social media PR,” Scott said. “We’ve found we have to be way more aggressive and more targeted with the PR we do – it drives a lot of the brand. PR works for us but only because we produce releases that tell real stories and don’t read like what a PR firm produces. We turn our releases into real stories that will get a journalist’s attention.”
“There’s no such thing as viral content in today’s market, it’s just good content,” he said. “We tend to produce things in-house because we find most PR and marketing firms don’t know how to produce good content. I’m a former journalist and I use journalists to do our writing. We know how to produce a campaign the gets results because we all have a very keen idea of what’s interesting and what’s absolute junk. The junk gets tuned out – the really interesting content is what you need to fuel a successful social media campaign.”
Showhomes finds that consumers in today’s market are using Google as a starting point for any kind of research. In line with this research, Scott spends a great deal of time tracking back to see where customers have found a link to the Showhomes Web site, and also implements quite a bit of search engine optimization to stay top of mind when it comes to home staging.
“We do lots of hyper-local searches – generating leads from Google searches and from Craig’s List,” he said. “We had to adapt our marketing in the last year, because social media has really changed the way customer make buying decisions. We’ve had to revamp almost everything we do and it’s been great for our franchisees. We’ve come up with more cost-effective campaigns, but it takes lots of brain power and going against the conventional wisdom.”
As far as potential franchisees, mortgage brokers are Showhomes’ target market at this point, which gives the company an opportunity to grow in the mortgage broker industry, which is struggling these days. Other interested parties are folks that are simply interested in real estate, not necessarily realtors themselves, just those intrigued by the industry.
Scott said that a lot of these marketing efforts are handled through his own consulting company Brand Journalists; adding that due to his journalism background, his team of former journalists and writers assists with social press releases and other web content as soon as he needs them. “What has emerged is that getting results is all about the content; you produce intelligent content, designed specifically for that audience, and that’s what fuels social media, instead of a PR agency or a marketing, or an SEO or a Web firm, you have a content strategy firm that produces PR, social media content, blogging content and all the other various pieces that go with it.”
Scott said that those who can tell the company’s story are the ones that truly generate traffic. Outside of franchising, these types of agencies are building content and are quickly becoming a mainstay in the communications industry.