I was very fortunate today to meet up with an old friend of mine, a colleague in fact, from my heady (not hedonistic) days working with Foxtons. When managing the Putney office he was in fact my valuer but such was his talent, he now runs a significant sales and marketing team for Berkeley Capital.
I specifically wanted to see his latest product at South Quays Plaza in Canary Wharf and we were going to talk about his interactive showroom to test out the technology they are using.
Are models really needed?
Whether housebuilders really need to consider large scale, physical models in their showrooms has been an ongoing thought of mine. They are expensive to build and even more expensive to transport – should you be one of the developers that has to insure and maneuver them around the globe to international shows and exhibitions – so I have always been skeptical. Not from the point of their use but from a more cost benefit analysis perspective.
I have seen some developers who have done away with models entirely and relied purely on a digital showroom – one used four interactive screens as a flat table They were a great showcase (but the technology really wasn’t working well when I tried it) but it lacked the wow factor that a model brings – not to mention the quasi meeting point that is a natural place for people to congregate and discuss.
What I saw today really reinforced their existence. However, I still believe that using models in isolation does not give the maximum benefit to clients or show room staff. I do however, see that they have a very clever involvement in a more technological display that augments the natural features of a model. But…..it has to be the right technology that doesn’t get in the way. It needs to be a seamless experience for both parties.
Using Augmented Reality doesn’t always work
As mentioned, models create a focal point but I have seen some developers try to incorporate technologies like Augmented Reality to superimpose digital images over the model (often using iPads and triggers at certain points).
The issue with that approach is the fiddly nature of Augmented Reality applications and they can interrupt the salesperson and their flow – constantly trying to work with the AR device to ensure the experience is smooth means that the actual sales pitch (lets call it that), is interrupted.
Lets look at how Berkeley have gone about using technology with the model.
How to integrate your model with technology
The team at Berkeley positioned the model as a stand out feature of the showroom but connected to it is a large interactive screen to the side of it – probably at least 30 inches – which hosts an entirely digital mock up of the London, the local area and the development itself. It is linked to the physical model as you would expect but in a nice subtle way.
Equally there is an even larger interactive screen (at least 60 inches wide) on the wall where people can just peruse themselves at their leisure. I have no doubt, when they move to the 3,000ft2 marketing suite later this year, that there will be several more of these around the room.
The sales process with an interactive screen and model
What is clever is that it takes the client on the journey and the user experience has obviously been meticulously thought through. The software obviously aids the sales person as there is a very clear process that can be followed taking a client through all details. Equally it is intuitive enough that someone who is not technology savvy could easily navigate it all themselves.
Ian and Ellie, the sales guys on the floor state they use it with every client that walks through the door and feel it helps them sell the development well. Interestingly it appears that they start on the interactive screen to give a general idea of London and the area, before moving to the model itself to start talking about the development itself.
I would suggest this is the key area where they are qualifying the client, which view are they interested in, how high do they want to be (this particular development has over 60 floors in the 1st phase). The key here is the listening aspect of the sale and where the model is imperative. If you are focused too much on the tech it can get in the way. The model takes that way, it allows for a physical interaction.
The interesting element of the process is that they would then, once they know more about what the client is looking for, go back to the interactive screen to source particular apartments to show the minutiae of detail . They can actually bring up particular apartments and look at the views from the windows (a key point liked by clients apparently) as well as get more of a feel for what they are buying.
What next for models…..?
3D models are great and I still do feel they are needed but they are not really moveable. You can’t transport them easily and this means that you have a limited scope of interaction.
This is where I feel these guys, as well as any developer for that matter, need to look at the interactive screen as a broader tool than just restricted to shows, exhibitions and showrooms.
Whilst they may be incredibly complex software programs that need a lot of processing power, a paired down version could easily be made available on mobile devices that consumers ANYWHERE in the world could download and interact with. Whilst they may not have the model or the salesperson with them, it will be a great introduction to the development and equally will mean that your marketing efforts are not restricted to just a limited sphere around your events or showhomes.
As for models. I don’t suppose they will be disappearing anytime soon. However, I have seen some examples where developers spend a lot of money on their central models but then, when they consider global exhibitions and travelling, they opt for paired down, 3D Printed versions of the originals.
Given the cost of 3D Printing is decreasing, while the quality is increasing, it seems a natural step for minimizing cost whilst maximizing flexibility. If you are travelling you can just print them out at the destination (assuming there are 3D Printing studios in the country). However, one of the real benefits to 3D Printing is when you come to making subtle amendments. With large expensive models it isn’t that easy to redo it all. With 3D Printing…..you just print it all out again. Marvelous!
Ultimately today reinforced the need for models in showrooms but equally it showed just what a well thought through technology aspect can do to improve a client (and showroom) experience.
There is however a need for housebuilders to think outside of the showroom. When so many people around the world are interested in UK property as an investment, thought needs to go into breaking down the geographical limitations that these showrooms and exhibition models have.