KEY LEARNING POINTS
- On medium to larger private homebuilding developments a dedicated marketing suite (or Plot Shop) is worth considering. But they are costly to set up and run, and are only generally viable for schemes that will deliver 50 or more plots a year
- Go and see the Plot Shops in the Netherlands – it will save you reinventing the wheel. It might also be useful to do some ‘mystery shopping’ at some of the big developer marketing suites in your area too, so you know the standard you need to match up to
- Plot Shops need to be open when the customers want to visit – so staffing at weekends and in the evenings may be required
In simple terms a Plot Shop is a marketing suite from where the sale of building plots is administered and promoted to the public. It is like a ‘municipal estate agent’ or the on-site marketing facility a traditional big developer would provide for a large housing project.
They are effective because they function as a one-stop-shop for potential customers. It is important to recognise that people who are thinking about buying a plot will have many questions, so they need to have somewhere where they can meet with your team and get the answers and reassurances they will need; they also like to see models, plans and artists impressions of how the development will look; and they need to be confident that the initiative will be delivered – remember, they are making a huge investment when they commission a new home. For larger projects they generally form part of the professional marketing mix.
There are currently no large-scale private homebuilding developments on site in the UK, so this Briefing Note is based on the experience of large projects in the Netherlands, where a number of Plot Shops have been successfully trialed.
This is one of many Briefing Notes that explain resourcing, planning, land, finance, demand, marketing, consumer support and various technical issues. To see the full range of guidance click here.
For the purposes of this Toolkit we have made the following definitions:
- ‘self and custom built homes’ are properties commissioned by people from a builder, contractor or package company (this is known as ‘custom build’ housing). When people physically build themselves, sometimes with help from sub-contractors, this is known as ‘self build’ housing. We call all these people ‘private homebuilders’.
- ‘serviced building plots’ are shovel-ready parcels of land with planning permission, laid out and ready for construction with access and utilities/services provided to the plot boundary. Some private homebuilders just purchase a plot; others opt for a ‘shell’ home (that they then finish off), or they select from an extensive menu of options offered by developers/builders.
- ‘group projects’ mean homes built by private homebuilders who work as a collective.
Statutory definitions are provided in section 9 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 section 9 which amends the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015.
This Briefing Note will be revised when the Regulations to support the commencement of the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 and the Government’s Right to Build policy are finalised.
WHEN IS IT WORTH ESTABLISHING A PLOT SHOP?
The cost of setting up and staffing a Plot Shop can is significant. Based on current experience from the Netherlands we estimate that the minimum cost is about £150,000.
This would cover the rent on a suitable property (or hiring a portable facility) and the cost of fitting it out professionally with good display material. It would be difficult to justify these significant up-front costs if the Plot Shop was only going to operate for a short period of time; in our view the minimum operational timeframe is two years. So the figure above also includes the staffing costs of someone to operate it for two years.
From our research across Europe and in the UK we believe a total budget of between £3,000 and £5,000 per plot is required to effectively market a private homebuilding development – see Briefing Note .
Therefore, with a development that aims to deliver 50 plots a year, there should be an annual marketing budget of £150,000 to £250,000. This ought to be enough to fund a modest Plot Shop and all the other associated marketing costs – website, brochures, site signage and PR. A larger development that aims to deliver 100 plots a year should have an annual marketing budget of £300,000 to £500,000, and could therefore afford something more substantial, with additional staff.
A Plot Shop is therefore only likely to be viable for larger initiatives involving the sale of 50 plots per year – these could either be on a single site, or arranged on a number of sites across a wider area.
LOCATION AND OPENING HOURS
There are three main options for the location of a Plot Shop: –
- In a highly visible location in the centre of the nearest conurbation to the proposed plots (for example in an empty shop unit in the main retail street)
- On the site of the proposed development itself
- In an accessible and well-known council-owned location (for example in the civic centre, or central library)
What location is best for you?
Weigh up the pros and cons of a central location (with its higher footfall), versus the possible lower costs of a council-owned facility
Centrally located council-owned premises can be very effective, and might be available at much lower costs.
An on-site Plot Shop may appear attractive (especially if the site of the plots is on the outskirts of the town). These locations tend to attract fewer visitors, except at weekends.
It is vital the Plot Shop is open at the times people will want to visit – so ideally over the weekend, and at least one evening a week (perhaps to coincide with late night shopping).
The Plot Shop in The Hague is open from 9 to 5, and from Monday to Friday. The central Plot Shop in Almere is open from 9 to 5 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 to 1pm on Tuesday, 1pm to 8pm on Thursday and 10 to 3pm on Saturday.
Don’t expect hundreds of people to visit every day. In Almere they get about 20-30 people a week – most of whom spend at least an hour there speaking to one of the Plot Shop staff. They tend to be busiest at weekends and on the evening when it is open until 8pm.
WHAT SHOULD IT LOOK LIKE AND WHAT SERVICES SHOULD IT PROVIDE?
We have produced a short video that showcases the main current Plot Shop in Almere:
The key ingredients for a successful Plot Shop are: –
- It must appear polished and professional and should be of a similar standard to a developer’s marketing suite
- A reception desk, small meeting areas and, if possible, a coffee lounge, are useful to help facilitate discussions with potential purchasers
- A clear map of the site or area where the plots are located is helpful, along with detailed plans that show the plots that are currently available, and those that will be released shortly
- Supporting literature is essential. In the Netherlands councils typically produce two key items – an overall brochure that explains the theme of each
- area, and a ‘Plot Passport’ that gives information about what can be built on the specific plots that are being sold. See our Plot Passports Briefing Note Design Codes and Plot Passports
- A team of customer-friendly ‘buyer coaches’ is also important. Because Plot Shops are open at weekends and late evenings shift working may be required. Some of the coaches in the Dutch Plot Shops previously staffed the marketing suites operated by developers or estate agents
- ‘Buyer coaches’ need to be well trained and capable of answering almost any question that might be thrown at them. The culture of the team is really important – they must have a positive, ‘can do’ attitude and the same service ethic that you would expect from a High Street shop or an estate agent. When they are not dealing with people face to face they will often be on the phone chasing up those who have enquired earlier, or reminding people who have reserved a plot that they now need to pay a deposit]
- The coaches should also be able to provide general guidance on finance, mortgages and any special help a council may be able to provide. For further guidance on coaches see Briefing Note Support and training for individuals
The two main Plot Shops in Almere and The Hague each have a staff of four, and they both provide generous display space. In Almere the shop extends over about 500 sq m; in The Hague the Shop is roughly 200 sq m. The smaller ‘on site’ Shop in the heart of the Homeruskwartier development at Almere has one part time ‘sales’ person and is around 100 sq m.
Fit out your Plot Shop so that it matches the quality and professionalism of the marketing suites used by large housebuilders or local property developers
WHAT DOES IT COST?
With a permanent staff of four ‘buyer coaches’ the annual running cost of a large Plot Shop is around £200,000 to £300,000 a year. The initial set up cost, fitting out the space, getting all the brochures written, art-worked and printed, and the various displays and signage could cost an additional £200,000.
Learn from abroad
Visit the Plot Shops in the Netherlands to help you evaluate if it makes sense to establish one for your project. It might also be useful to do some ‘mystery shopping’ at some of the big developer marketing suites in your area, so you know the standard you need to match up to
The following Case Studies offer useful insight into the issues discussed in this Briefing Note:
Isabellaland, The Hague
The NaCSBA Research & Development Programme is funded by the Nationwide Foundation and aims to promote the self-build and custom build sector as an affordable route into housing for a greater number of people in the UK.
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