Visualization Tools Become More Popular for Selling

Tablet technology expected to accelerate usage
John G. Swanson
August 15, 2012
FEATURE ARTICLE | Sales & Marketing

Door and window makers and their dealer customers are increasingly embracing the philosophy that showing is better than telling. Visualization tools, including online systems that show various options on standard homes and more sophisticated software that enables product photos to be shown on photos of individual customer homes, are gaining momentum.

Entry door makers, with their many style, finish and glass options, appear to be leading the charge to adoption within the fenestration industry. They also predict the adoption will accelerate with the growing use of tablets.

 Ply Gem launched its online visualization tool at IBS this year.

Online Visualizers
The capabilities of visualization systems vary. One approach is an online tool, which allows the homeowner to select a house type similar to their own and then change windows, doors, siding, roofing and many other components to create new look. One example is The Designed Exterior Studio by Ply Gem launched earlier this year on the manufacturer’s website. The visualizer gives users a choice of 20 prevalent American home styles built between 1955 and 1985 so professionals can work with their customers to select the style that most closely matches their home exterior and then show how that home can be completely transformed and updated, states John Stephenson, Ply Gem’s senior vice president, marketing.

“In April and May, we’ve had nearly 40,000 visualizer visits, with over 20,000 of those users spending four minutes or more creating a home design in the tool. We anticipate that number to continue to grow as we move into the peak home improvement season,” he reports. The visualization tool combines all the products Ply Gem manufactures, including windows, siding, stone veneer, shutters, and trim, as well as products such as roofing and garage doors, which it doesn’t offer, to allow visitors “to get a complete picture of what their home can look like,” he notes.

Launching a similar program recently is ProVia, which sees the online visualizer as an important lead generation tool. It allows customers to see the manufacturer’s door, siding and stone options on a number of sample houses. People can change out products generically, and view all the various glass options, colors and styles, but to see products on their own homes they have to submit photo image of the home and contact information. That information is then provided to a nearby dealer as a qualified lead, explains Jamie Galbraith, customer support specialist for ProVia Studio software.

 After taking a photo of a prospect's home, above, Indianapolis-based Complete Window & Door used ProVia software to show how a new door could look.

Dealer Tools
That system—downloaded onto a laptop or showroom computer—enables one of the company’s dealers to show all its entry door options, including different panel designs, finishes, and glass designs to help customers visualize their improved home exteriors. Offering a similar system is Therma-Tru Corp.

“We recognized a long time ago that if a homeowner could see what an improvement a new entry door would make to the curb appeal of their home, it would increase their motivation to take action,” says Brad Johnson, Therma-Tru vice president of marketing. “We started with basic tools that were available on our website to show doors on homes of different architectural styles. In the end, we knew we could accomplish even more if they could see the door on their own home. This led to the development of Picture Perfect.”

Because there is some technique required to prepare the image of the home to accept the door, the Picture Perfect software is more typically used in a dealer showroom or during the in-home sales process, he explains. The company just released a second generation version of the product, which enables dealers to show not only entry doors, but generic versions of many adjacent building products as well, including windows.

In 2007, ProVia developed its basic visualizer, which enabled its dealers to show computer images of all its different combination of doors and various components, along with pricing information. Working with Renoworks, a supplier of visualization software, it launched in 2008 its Provia Suite, which enables product images to be combined with customer home photos. Dealer response to both has been positive, Galbraith reports, with about a third of its dealers now using the full package and a much higher percentage using the basic offering. The percentage of customers using the full package continues to grow steadily as well, she adds.

“There are some customers who are a little skeptical, but there are many others who say ‘I wouldn’t go in the home without it,’” she states. Dealers like the added level of professionalism the system brings to the sale, she continues. It also makes customers much more confident in their purchase decisions. “With visualization, they can see the beauty of the new door on their home.”

“Homeowners are very interested in the process and typically don’t expect the results to be so realistic,” says Therma-Tru’s Johnson. “It really gets them engaged in the selling process when they start making suggested changes to the door–in a way it allows them to be in charge of the decision process. And that can make them more comfortable in the overall selection and door purchase decision.”

These tools also make upselling easier, Galbraith states. “Dealers use different strategies, but one approach is to start by showing the homeowner an ultimate door package with the system. The homeowner may then be shown lower price alternatives, but at that point, he or she has already decided on the more deluxe version with the unique glass,” she explains. Another example with Provia is storm doors. A customer may initially be interested only in a new entry door, but once that is selected, the dealer has the opportunity to show a matching storm door.

“This visualization tool allows the homeowner to become emotionally attached to a door before they see a price, and that is very important when trying to upsell into decorative glass,” adds Johnson.

Ply-Gem’s Designed Exterior Studio is different than these door maker’s programs—in that it doesn’t use customer home photos, but it has a number of benefits, including ease of use and it provides the ability to show real architectural changes to a home, Stephenson notes. As for marketing, he sees it as a tool that dealers, contractors and builders can use to help homeowner customers realize the possibilities in exterior home design and boost conversations. “This can ultimately help lead to bigger remodeling jobs– as well as more effective discussions between a builder and their homebuyer.”

In terms of the tool changing how dealers advise and assist homeowners, Ply Gem sees these tools having a positive impact by enabling dealers to show customers how architecturally-appropriate windows—in the right color—can change the overall appearance of their home. “We also believe that customers are more likely to do a significant window replacement,” Stephenson states, “when they can truly visualize how the products will affect the look of their home.”

Future Demand
All these manufacturers agree that the use of visualization software will grow, with tablets likely to accelerate the trend. “As homeowners become aware that these visualization tools exist, they start to demand them, so I think dealers will have to engage at some point,” says Therma-Tru’s Johnson. “For those selling in the home, it will become a ‘must have’ competitive product, because their competitors are using these tools and they will look like they are falling behind if they don’t have them.”

“There will come a time when everyone expects it,” adds Galbraith. “Flip charts and, binders will be a turn-off.”  ProVia is working on a tablet version of its software, and she predicts tablets will only make them better and easier to use, she notes.

The ease-of-use of tablets and apps, such as a new one launched by Tru Tech Doors, is expected to accelerate demand for visualization tools. 

“As the world in general becomes more ‘digital,’ we can anticipate that the building and remodeling industries will follow suit,” says Stephensen. "Already, we’ve seen some of our sales force and customers use tablets as an easier way of conducting business, so we’ve made The Designed Exterior Studio by Ply Gem online visualizer easily accessible by tablets and smart phones with that in mind.”

“Tablets are changing the way people sell in the home,” says Johnson. “The visualization platforms that have been popular in the past will have to run on them or they will fall out of favor. There is no question that tablets are becoming an indispensable tool for the in-home seller.”

One company that recently introduced a tablet app with a visualization tool for entry doors is Tru Tech Doors. Its Try-It-On Tool, currently available on the manufacturer’s iPad app, allows users to use the iPad camera to take a picture of a home front or entryway in real time and then insert any door option provided by the application. “This app is going to change the way customers and representatives buy and sell doors,” predicts Carlo Ianni, Tru Tech director of sales. “They’ll be able to leave the heavy, expensive collateral material behind and focus on building the customer relationship and interacting with the customer and the products.”