With double digit growth for two consecutive years, Strata is making a name for itself – and its developments – as PHPD found out when we joined Chief Executive Andrew Weaver at the company’s Ackworth development, Elegance.
Understand your buyer – it is a fundamental rule of all business, and one that housebuilder Strata places right at the heart of its approach. “Our market is young and urban, and semi urban,” Andrew Weaver, Chief Executive of Strata Homes told us when we visited in November.
With a purchaser that has an average age of 25-35 Strata Homes has created an approach that is centred upon issues which it believes are key for this market: design and customer experience. Andrew Weaver explained: “Buying a house is not about a transaction and a moment in time, it is about genuine relationships that are shaped over a longer period. We want to create an experience for our customers that would be more typical of a lifestyle brand, that is the kind of homebuilder we want to be.
Headquartered in Doncaster Strata operates predominantly in Yorkshire and the East Midlands and currently has 20 sites – all within an hour and 45 minute drive of its head office. Currently building around 700 homes a year it employs around 178 staff and was recently named in the Sunday Times BDO Profit Track 100 where it was ranked 20th in the league table.
Engagement and advocacy
With its emphasis on the first time buyer and young family market the company uses a number of techniques, including social media and social advocacy, alongside pre-launch and launch events to build a relationship with potential buyers. Its aim is to maintain the relationship right throughout the sales and build process and beyond, reinforcing its brand at every opportunity.
“We really do believe that the Strata brand, which is based on design and customer delivery, resonates with people. I know that if we look ahead, past the mortgage, past the build, and focus on the experience we can capture the excitement and emotion of our customers, which in turn gains its own momentum,” explained Andrew.
Once a customer makes a reservation they receive their own web page in the VIP section of Strata’s website which can include video footage of the build, links to design influences and social media sites like Pinterest. “We are trying to make it as personal and as highly immersive as possible,” noted Andrew.
We visited the Elegance development in Ackworth, West Yorkshire. Although situated in a small town near Pontefract, the development of three-bedroom town houses and four-bed detached homes has the feel of something more urban. The layouts of the homes and the designs elements within also felt contemporary and modern. It is a very deliberate approach, Andrew explained: “It is quasi city living – we may be sub-urban or slightly more rural but we are trying to catch the spirit that people associate with city living.”
Reinforcing this approach is the decision Strata has taken on naming its developments. It has moved away from more traditional names, opting instead for single, emotive words for its sites. We visited Elegance. Other developments are: Temptation, Destiny, Essence and Ambition. “Naming the sites slightly differently is all about trying to create a resonance and capture the spirit of what we are trying to do.” Andrew explained.
Despite its focus on the latest design influences and new ways of interacting with its customers, Strata has a long history. Created out of a rebranding exercise in 2001, the company was previously known as Weaver Homes and is a 4th generation builder. Originally founded in 1919 as a contractor it took over 80 years for it to move into housebuilding. The contracting part of the business was sold in 2009 – allowing Strata to focus solely on building new homes.
The name change in 2001 was a key moment in the company’s history. It had noticed that young professionals were looking for design led urban homes and a lifestyle experience. “Pre-recession ‘city-living’ was in its moment. We aimed to borrow the look and feeling of city living, but without the encumbrance of city living,” said Andrew.
He believed the company could tap into this trend by offering design-led homes focussed on the customer experience. He recalled it was a, “step change into something completely new. It set off a whole new train of thought. We wanted to build a culture around design.”
The company found success in this approach with sites in Yorkshire and the Midlands selling well. “That simple notion of a first time buyer who wanted to be excited by design and excited by the idea of the brand and how that then creates a shared vision between us and them – between 2002 and 2007 our feet didn’t touch the floor in terms of growth.”
But it wasn’t all plain sailing. When the market downturn occurred the company, like many others, had to take a strong look at its approach. Andrew recalled, “the recession taught us a lot.” He continued: “in the recession we knuckled down and worked hard on mortgages; worked hard with the supply chain to create a young vibrant business.”
Before the recession the company was building up to 600 homes per year, before dropping to around 300 in 2012. Today it is back to around 700 per year. Andrew noted: “I am really proud of the way we bounced back.”
One of the drivers for the recent growth was the decision to acquire and build on quality sites across a wider geography throughout Yorkshire and the East Midlands. The company now also has a site in Staffordshire and is looking to expand further.
Andrew Weaver, said: “Despite wider political and economic uncertainty, we are exceptionally pleased by the resilience of the housing market in Yorkshire and East Midlands. We have used the favourable conditions to widen our geographical reach, diversified our house type range and fortified our position as a fore runner in design and customer service. Our focus on customer experience has seen us named as one of only 15 housebuilders nationally to secure 5-star status from the HBF.”
Despite its recent growth the housebuilder is not resting on its laurels. A head office refurbishment is underway, designed to bring with it more technology, further emphasis on design and enhanced customer interaction.
By focussing closely on its core market, placing design at the heart of its culture, and putting infrastructure in place so it can continually interact with its customers, Strata has not only created modern, vibrant homes, but also a business set to be at the forefront of new home construction in the coming years.