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30 Years as Consultant : He Taught Builders to Market

November 30, 1986|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

Lester Goodman remembers when home builders didn't know the meaning of "marketing."

One builder wanted to hire Goodman as a sales manager. "I'd rather be your marketing director," Goodman recalls saying. The builder asked, "What's the difference?"

That was early in Goodman's career.

This month, he celebrated his 30th anniversary as a marketing consultant. Now, he says, builders know that a sales plan is only part of an overall marketing strategy that should include research, advertising, press releases, newsletters, gimmicks or promotions, and on- or off-site merchandising.

Launched First Classes

They know what marketing is, partially because of the efforts of such groups as the Sales and Marketing Council of the National Assn. of Home Builders. Goodman was part of the national council when it was formed in 1959, and he was a founding member of the Southern California council, established in 1962.

Builders are also familiar with marketing because of the MIRM designation (Member of the Institute of Residential Marketing).

Goodman was on the task force of the National Assn. of Home Builders that formed the Institute in 1972, and he launched the first classes in the nation toward the designation, he said, at Cal State Fullerton in 1975.

This was a job he continued nearly every Tuesday night for 11 years, most recently at UC Irvine, which is near his Goodman/Hixson & Co. offices.

Besides being a teacher, Goodman has been a speaker on marketing for much of his career. "I traveled for 20 years doing seminars for the magazine House and Home," he reminisced. "I also spoke at national conventions and dinner programs."

When he spoke, he sometimes told these stories:

--"Years ago, I'd go to a builder and see a critical path chart." Such a chart outlined "things to do" to complete construction.

Knew Things Could Change

"I'd look at their chart and say it was great, but then I'd ask, 'Where's the marketing chart?' That question would always be greeted with a big zero. Builders were concerned about construction and financing, but I never found one with a critical path to marketing."

--"Once I met a San Diego builder who bought 100 acres, where he planned to build 300 houses. I asked how he knew that he could sell 300 houses, and he answered, 'Because I always sell 300 houses.' "

Those were the good old days, in the '50s, when a builder could sell houses with hardly a "For Sale" sign. Even then, though, Goodman knew things could change.

Goodman had moved to California from Chicago after graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in business administration and a major in marketing. His first job was as marketing director for architect L. C. Major.

Carpet in Garage

It could be that Goodman was the first person in the United States to hold the title "marketing director," he said. He got the position through Carole Eichen, a well-known interior designer now, a housewife and neighbor then.

One day Goodman visited a building site for Major. "I'd been working for Major for about a month when I went to a project where houses were selling for $12,900 each, and the sales office was an old desk in a garage. There were no carpets or drapes, and the renderings Major had done were hanging on the studs.

"Major asked what I thought, and I said it was a strange way to sell a big-ticket item--no lawn, no (For-Sale) signs. I suggested carpet in the garage, and Major yelled at some worker, 'Did you hear that? He wants carpet in the garage."' The idea was outlandish.

Things sure have changed, he agreed. Just look at Eichen's and other designer's fancy and fanciful sales offices and models. Just visit some developments' openings.

Costumed Sales Personnel

Through the years, Goodman has planned wine and cheese receptions featuring the famous vintner Robert Mondavi. He has stationed "live directional signs"--cheerleaders or Boy Scouts, waving at traffic. He has costumed sales personnel in nautical outfits to tie in with a project's theme.

This year, he had high school students give out treats at Halloween to children who went with their parents through models of a client's housing tract in Northern California. He planned a charity party with a Mexican theme for another client's project in Florida.

Yes, he's still at it and has no plans to retire though he admits to being "well past 50." He plans to step down from teaching every Tuesday night, though, and he wants to do some personal traveling.

"I'm less committed to being as intense," he conceded, "but I want my business (with Mike Hixson) to stay healthy."

Their sales/marketing/research firm helped kick off Rancho California, and they have eight clients and recorded more than $50 million in sales this past year.

Goodman figures that's "a good volume for a firm that is just over 3 years old." It's also an indication that at least eight builders know now what marketing is all about.

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