Steamboat design, build professionals use online community to attract clients
June 27, 2014
Steamboat Springs — In the not so distant past, one of the only ways to gather inspiration for home renovations and projects was to lug around stacks of design and architectural magazines — their pages dog-eared, left in tatters from overzealous scissors or torn out entirely.
"People used to do the magazine clippings," said Sara Tiedeken, a project designer with Vertical Arts Architecture in Steamboat Springs, explaining how clients would bring in items they'd cut out. "You don't even know where they came from."
The magazine system, which still is very much in use, isn't perfect either for the firms trying to inspire and attract clients.
Magazines tend to be specific to certain regions, Tiedeken said, and only allow for one or two photos in the layout design to draw people in.
To address this specific issue when they were doing their own home renovations, Adi Tatarko and Alon Cohen launched Houzz in 2009 to serve as an online community focused on architecture, interior design and other related topics.
Since then, it has seen considerable growth (it boasts 20 million users on its website). Houzz is looking to raise $150 million in its latest round of funding, putting it at a $2.3 billion valuation and in the realm of companies such as Airbnb and Uber.
That size and reach has helped Steamboat Springs-based businesses that use the service to market to more people and generate clients in ways they previously were not able.
"People from all over the country see us," Tiedeken said. "People looking for mountain aesthetics."
The features on Houzz, such as photo albums for specific projects and personally-curated collections of images called ideabooks, allow for more images and chances to draw in potential clients.
"If one image attracts someone, they can access your entire page," Tiedeken said.
"We just got a client in Denver from a call on Houzz," she said, adding that the firm has pinpointed some of its marketing in that area. "It's definitely generating some interest."
Vertical Arts has a "Best of Houzz 2014" badge on its profile, which Tiedeken said is based on the popularity of some of its images, and the local company isn't alone among Steamboat businesses to find success on the site.
Lynne Barton Bier has been using Houzz for her interior design business, Home on the Range Interiors, for long enough that she can't remember when exactly she started. But, now, she's been Best of Houzz for two years running (and in two categories this year), and many of her photos have been saved to thousands of users' personal ideabooks that they use for inspiration.
"We do get clients from that," Bier said. But it's sometimes a catch-22, she said, as she's already so busy she often can't accept jobs in some of the far-flung locations she gets calls from.
Tim Stone, of Kelly & Stone Architects (another Best of Houzz profile), said he thinks the site has potential.
"We have had a few legit leads that have transformed into clients," Stone said.
But along with the worthwhile leads come plenty of people reaching out just to ask for the type of tile featured in a photo or to see blueprints for a project, he said.
Stone said he is using some of the marketing offerings from Houzz (as is Vertical Arts) and appreciates how it tracks the number of people who are viewing the firm's images.
Stone's images circulate organically through people sharing them or saving them to their personal ideabook, and the marketing offerings allow him to target users in certain areas, showing them his images more often.
"I haven't seen a huge surge in inquiries," Stone said. "But our imagery is making wildly more impressions."
But more than attracting new business for professionals, Houzz was intended to bring the collection of inspiration and magazine clippings into the digital age.
Stone, Bier and Tiedeken each said they have clients build ideabooks as part of the process.
"Often when we start a project, I have them build an ideabook that’s compelling to them and note what they like and dislike about each image," Stone said.
"They're fantastic for long distance communication," Bier said. "People can save their ideabooks, can look, share, sort through different suggestions."
"You can find an image of anything,” Tiedeken said.
If you see a image you like, she said, you can inquire from the professional about what the materials or products are.
"It's all about a kind of community, sharing, helping people with products," Tiedeken said.
Houzz has launched a number of new products and ventures lately: offering a website builder for professionals, adding badges to show trade or professional affiliations and starting a partnership with the American Institute of Architects.
"It's going to continue to grow," Stone said. "We're trying to maintain a presence there in hopes that we get some additional leads."