Show & Sell: The evolution of the marketing suite

By PrimeResi Journal

How schemes from London to Sydney are attracting buyers with experience-led spaces, a world away from the portacabins of the past...

From humble beginnings, the marketing suite has become of the most important routes to selling a new-build property. Presentation is everything in these Instagram-filtered times, and today’s buyers are looking for much more than a portacabin and hastily-printed pamphlets; vast spaces now house show apartments, interactive models, screening rooms and deal rooms – and some highly creative methods are being deployed in the battle for buyers’ attention.

Take Make Architects’ “groundbreaking” effort at a forthcoming scheme in Sydney; faced with doing justice to some superb views across a park, local sculpture artist Garth Knight – acclaimed for his “bondage series” – was commissioned to create a huge multidimensional tree to evoke the feelings of sitting under a canopy within the park itself.

The piece, which sits in the middle of the clover-shaped One Sydney Park marketing suite, is about “connection, trust and communication”, explained the artist, with rocks hanging from a network of ropes to symbolise the “strength and power of the earth”.

Marketing suite at One Sydney Park with installation by Garth Knight  (Photo credit: Make Architects)

Make partner Tracey Wiles explained: “The location, overlooking one of the most beautiful, experiential parks in Sydney, is superb. Who wouldn’t want a home with a park for your backyard? Our interiors scheme is solely inspired by its setting, using timbers, marble and stone to express the natural materiality of the park, with its grey gums and classic Australian dappled light.

Marketing suite at One Sydney Park (Photo credit: Make Architects)

“Likewise Garth’s installations are perfect for the project – sculptural, evocative and playful. We wanted the display suite to translate the uniqueness of these homes and to have a piece of interpretive art as the centrepiece. This one, which is so in tune with its surroundings, is faultless.”

Visitors are taken on a carefully curated “journey” through the marketing suite, with each of the clover petals acting like a self-contained “pod”. Some demonstrate the standard of materials and fixtures, while others, like the tree pod, provide a more “sensory” experience. The suite also contains a crafted timber and rope swing and a lounge and kitchen area where visitors can choose their unit, and select their finishes and fittings.

MD of One Sydney Park developer HPG Australia, Dr Adrian Liu: “The collective input of the designers has achieved our goal of creating an environment where the buyer will feel they have a strong sense of the project and importantly, how deeply ingrained a relationship One Sydney Park will have with the park.

“The standard of design on the entire project really set the benchmark for the display suite and the market now has a certain level of expectation. We were mindful that that buyers of One Sydney Park homes will be incredibly discerning, design-conscious, and nature-loving individuals. When completed, it will be considered one of the most premium and carefully considered display suites and residential projects on the market, with every aspect intrinsically linked to the park.”

Marketing suite at One Sydney Park (Photo credit: Make Architects)

Not all developers and architects are bold – or imaginative – enough to attempt something like that, but suites are definitely becoming more immersive, says Abigail Heyworth, Development Consultancy Partner at Knight Frank: “Providing a marketing suite or show apartment is increasingly important as purchasers become more and more discerning and want to see a physical product prior to committing to a purchase. This is even more important for new entrants into the development market who do not have a track record of existing developments to demonstrate the quality they can deliver.

“Marketing suites have evolved into huge spaces housing show apartments (often more than one), interactive models, screening rooms, closing rooms and much more. They are immersive spaces and represent the standard of product which is to be delivered and often double up as event spaces for launches and general profile raising events.”

Plimsoll Building, King’s Cross (Photo credit: Philip Durrant)

Challenged with encapsulating the vision for an entire area, experience-led suites have proved vital to the success of arguably London’s most impressive regeneration story. Various spaces designed at King’s Cross have needed to sell much more than an individual property, says Rachele Caltagirone, Senior Project Marketing Director at developer Argent: “At King’s Cross we create marketing suites that showcase the quality of the apartment finishes and building architecture within the context of the wider Estate. We like the space to feel open and welcoming, with an area at the front to just browse – although the sales customer journey is obviously well thought out for viewings.

“The offering being showcased within our marketing suites goes beyond the products themselves – we are selling a lifestyle – by buying in King’s Cross you are joining a vibrant community with all the best London has to offer on your doorstep. Once all the information has been processed, we are looking to engage with the emotional side of the potential purchasers.

“Like with other types of retail, creating a memorable experience that brings the brand to life and portrays the lifestyle the purchaser is buying into is key. I expect we’ll continue to see more experience-led marketing suites, encompassing all types of new technologies, but without forgetting the importance of the personal approach.”

So what are buyers expecting from a suite these days, and how can developers create something that directly – and effectively – results in sales? The aim should be to make buyers feel special, says Chris Dale of Vesta Interior Design: “The most successful modern marketing suites are those that really take the client on a journey. In a tough market all buyers will do the rounds and visit all potential new homes to gauge both the look and price of each development. The best developers create marketing suites which incorporate elements of a scheme which you cannot place a value on. For example, focusing on what the scheme will bring to the local community, developer reputation, proven track record and after sales services, are highly important key messages which need to be demostrated the moment a potential purchaser walks into a marketing suite.

“Buyers want to feel special, unique and top of the list when it comes to buying a home and as such we recommend that developers don’t say how large a company they are or put display boards announcing how much has been sold already as the best developers convince purchasers that they are the only ones they are interested in.”

Canary Wharf Group’s One Park Drive

A great suite is ultimately somewhere buyers will enjoy spending time, concurs Brian De’ath, Head of Residential Sales at Canary Wharf Group: “One thing many developers overlook and is perhaps the most important thing to consider, is making sure the purchaser feels at ease. The marketing suite needs to be a comfortable and relaxed space. If it isn’t, they won’t want to spend any length of time there and consequently won’t be in a position to make a buying decision.

“It is also important to create a journey for the buyer. Giving the sales team a set routine enables them to smoothly move around the suite and remove any kind of uncertainty and pressure on the buyer.

“The process of buying off plan has cultivated a new breed of suite, and the need to communicate all the messages surrounding the development in new and exciting ways.”

These days, stacks of leaflets and brochures are a no-no, he adds: “At One Park Drive (the firm’s new Herzog & de Meuron-designed scheme in East London), there aren’t any forms of marketing materials when you first walk in; no brochures, models, or photos. This allows us to have that initial conversation with the buyer and truly understand their needs without any distractions. We can then tailor their experience according to their needs and interests.

“It is so easy to fall back on technology for this, but you will find that the best marketing suites, where buyers really feel at ease, are where the team focus on one-to-one service. There are no substitutes for a marketing suite where you are met by attentive sales professionals who make it their priority to be as personable and informative as possible…A lot of effort goes into making a suite look effortless.”

Suite at One Park Drive

The extra effort is ultimately worth it, says CWG’s Sales Manager Clare Phillips: “All of our sales have been generated through our marketing suite. We are also lucky enough to have a smaller marketing suite in the Jubilee Place Mall. This acts as a feeder to the main suite and enables us to properly qualify buyers before sending them up. We recently sold our most expensive apartment directly as a result of this. We also hold regular pop-ups with our exhibition models in the other malls to increase exposure, with a recent two-week pop-up securing us three reservations.”

So which other firms have been getting it right?

How they present there marketing suites has a direct impact on the fact they are able to charge a premium for their properties

One major housebuilder has been leading the way for years, says Chris Dale: “Marketing suites have not evolved considerably over the last ten years. Many developers still believe that adding updated technology such as bespoke light up scale development models and light boxes is enough to achieve sales. Many times even the brochures contain the same content and same recycled material and design they have been using for years. The Berkeley Group is an example of a developer who is constantly changing and evolving how they present a development and marketing suite. I believe that how they present there marketing suites has a direct impact on the fact they are able to charge a premium for their properties.”

Rory Cramer, Head of Consultancy at Marsh & Parsons new homes offers a couple more: “A fantastic example was the Fulham Riverside development by Barratt – the marketing suite was in the middle of Thames on a pontoon. Ballymore also had a floating cube on a dock in Canary Wharf. Done well, these types of experiences give purchasers an extra special flavour.”

Helen Fewster, Director at Suna Interior Design: “We created a bespoke two-storey statement marketing suite at London Square’s The Star and Garter development on Richmond Hill, which was designed to reflect the luxury brand and lifestyle being offered to purchasers. Once completed the developer even used some areas of the marketing suite to hold events such as art gallery exhibitions, which encouraged potential purchasers to revisit the development. We even incorporated a champagne bar into the design which provided an impressive focal point and came in handy during these events!”

The Star & Garter

In 2016, Galliard and Argent Design claimed they had created the “coolest”, “most expensive” and “most entertaining” marketing suite in London, involving the repurposing of a Victorian viaduct in Shoreditch.

The all-singing, all-dancing suite at The Stage, the £750m development of the 2.3 acre site of Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre, effectively turned the arches of William Baker’s 1865 viaduct into a microcosm of the entire project, housing a fully-dressed one-bed apartment, a night-club style “data-presentation space” with an “Air Force One-inspired” interactive system, a reception lobby, and a VIP “club room” with a drinks bar and lounge area. A media table and cinema screen offered to take buyers on an interactive tour of the scheme and provide all kinds of CGIs and maps.

The Stage’s marketing suite in Shoreditch

Meanwhile, over in Mayfair, super-prime developer Clivedale London has gone for all-out prestige, centralised the marketing suites for three forthcoming luxury schemes – The Mansion, Mayfair Park Residences and Hanover Bond – at a highly impressive building on Brook Street.

Simultaneously serving as the firm’s HQ and a record-breaking office scheme, the 22,000 square foot building has been designed by PLP with interiors by Studio Indigo, and features a bespoke installation by lighting specialists Habadashery and a Chagall masterpiece in the lobby. “We are striving to set a new benchmark for development in London, and there is no doubt that 73 Brook Street has achieved that,” said CEO of Clivedale London, Tarun Tyagi, at the launch last year.

Clivedale’s 73 Brook Street

Canny developers are increasingly bringing their projects to where HNW buyers like to spend their time.

Chelsea Barracks was lead partner at this year’s Masterpiece Fair

Just last month, Qatari Diar showcased its landmark Chelsea Barracks scheme at a sumptuous botanically-themed sales “lounge” at the 2018 Masterpiece Fair, in a bid to appeal to art collectors from around the world, and the last two years have seen Burj Khalifa developer Emaar Properties take over a chunk of Harrods to tout its Middle Eastern wares to London-based buyers.

The windows and second floor of the world-famous Knightsbridge department store were transformed into a Dubai property showcase for the events, with the developer claiming “multi-million pound sales” from the 200,000-plus shoppers/tourists who walk through that part of the store each month, as well as brand visibility benefits.

Emaar occupied five of Harrods’ windows bays along Brompton Road, with a seven-foot tall scale model of The Tower at Dubai Creek Harbour (designed by Santiago Calatrava) taking centre stage. On the second floor, a 1,200 square foot sales suite was designed around scale models and a living area (with Versace carpet).

Tim Macpherson, Head of London Residential at Carter Jonas, has some more advice from the agency side: “The sales process has become increasingly experiential over the past five years, which has had a direct impact on developers’ approach to the design and delivery of show apartments. Once an afterthought that might have emerged in line with the delivery of the finished units, developers now recognise that buyers must have access to a show apartment from the outset.

“And it’s of little surprise, when a HNW buyer is potentially parting with upwards of £10m. Many demand reassurance that the developer can deliver on specification, design and attention to detail. But it’s not just the appearance of a development that carries weight – it’s the lifestyle they offer with the atmosphere, and overall feeling of the proposition, which invariably seals the deal.

“To that end, we have recently seen world class developers invest £1m in furnishings and finishings alone in their show apartments. Once an unprecedented sum, buyers, who will often spend equivalent figures on furnishing their home, need to see that the space is fit to house their prized possessions.

“Furthermore, when discretion and privacy are at the top of any HNW’s criteria for a property acquisition, potential buyers now frequently have to sign an NDA before being afforded sight of a show apartment at the most exclusive developments. Developers simply cannot allow their prized schemes into the echelons of London gossip.

“Collaboration has also risen in importance, with many buyers now wanting to work in partnership with developers to install the most personalised specification. This is nowhere more pronounced outside of London than at Crescent Gardens in Harrogate, where the Adam Thorpe Property Group has appointed an on-site atelier, enabling clients to select from the finest marble, paints and fabrics.”

Atelier at Crescent Gardens in Harrogate (Image: Adam Thorpe Property Group)

Rory Cramer: “When it comes to high end marketing suites buyers want to ‘kick the tyres’ if purchasing off plan. That means being able to touch and interact with the finished product. The developer should include example finishes, ideally in a full show flat format. Creating an immersive experience is paramount; Architecture, lighting, visual and sounds all bring about a cohesive package.

Any developers thinking about launching a scheme without a suite would do well to think again, advises Brian De’ath: “It is also incredibly important to create a show apartment; there are hands-down no tools that come close to this in terms of marketing. We have created apartments that exactly mirror the final product, down to the ceiling heights, the finishes, size of the balcony etc. From a sales perspective, this allows our sales team to say ‘yes’ as much as possible. By removing the negative “nos” from the conversation, we are removing the barriers from the buying decision process.

“When a buyer can see you are making an effort with the initial stages of the development, it reassures them that the final product will live up to their expectations. The tighter the market, the more things like this go to really make a difference to the level of sales achieved.”

Dale sums it all up rather neatly: “To sell a premium product there is only one opportunity to achieve the best first impression.”

Launched in 2016, The Stage in Shoreditch claimed to have the “coolest”, “most expensive” and “most entertaining” marketing suite in London