A new theme park has opened its doors in Houston.
This happiest-place-on-earth boasts plenty of eye candy, but it doesn't have wild thrill rides, carnival games or darling merry-go-rounds. Rather, it plays off one of the city's economic strengths: Real estate.
While the better part of the United States was crumbling under the goo of a burst real estate bubble, Houstonians were relatively content with the state of affairs in their hometown. Not unaffected, but much better off than California, Nevada and, of course, Florida. Builders and financial services companies rose and fell, though a select few, including Design Tech Homes, navigated the shaky landscape while laying a strong foundation that would ensure it arrived on the other side — with flying colors.
Step right up to MainStreet America, located on the access road of Interstate 45 just north of Beltway 8, where adult admission is $10 any day of the week.
Think of MainStreet America as a theme park for anyone with a penchant for home design.
It's a $20 million private, quaint neighborhood cul-de-sac, a bit like a hodgepodge version of Wisteria Lane without the deranged wives and hunky husbands, where 12 uninhabited homes rouse the imagination for anything related to houses, building and decor. Charming abodes from 1,800 square foot to 6,000 in varying styles, including Old World Mediterranean, French Hill Country, Spanish Courtyard, Craftsman Style, Coastal Plain, Greek Revival, Texas Hill Country and Contemporary Townhome — anything you would find from coast to coast, in newer master planned communities, charming historic quarters, beachfront resort properties and hip gentrified zones — are all staged beautifully.
"We are hoping to become an economic catalyst. MainStreet America wants to become a one-stop-shop for anyone hoping to take on any sort of project involving their home."
The 14-acre facility is not what you would expect from its welcome center, a stucco, tile-roofed Tuscan sales headquarters where the brains behind Design Tech put in long hours, where a gourmet restaurant, children's play area, conference rooms and an all-inclusive, 10,000 square-foot design studio can turn a leisure afternoon into a shopping spree — as cheap or as expensive as your wallet can handle.
Beyond the lobby is an overwhelming number of options.
Building a foundation for future success
For the residential construction industry, MainStreet America is a game changer. Design Tech has set the bar high, and not many competitors will be able to infiltrate their stronghold on their strategic market position.
"We are hoping to become an economic catalyst," James Babineaux, VP of marketing, says. "MainStreet America wants to become a one-stop-shop for anyone hoping to take on any sort of project involving their home."
The vision didn't emerge overnight. Company owners Michael and Barbara Feigin have been developing the concept for 10 years.
Projects like Newland Communities' Seven Meadows in Katy and Telfair in Sugar Land had previously experimented with allocating all showcase models in one central area to facilitate casual passersby to amble from home to home. But whereas this type of arrangement was limited to new home sales exclusively, MainStreet America is able to offer those who aren't just looking for a new home something they can buy — right here, right now.
Consider this: Do you like the paint color, the metallic faux technique on the ceiling or the graphic wallpaper accent in the bedroom? The details are available and so are the prices. In fact, you can make the purchase on site. If that couch, occasional table or rug is what you are looking for, swipe that credit card and have them delivered. Floral arrangements? Yes, those are for sale as well. Mirrors? Check. Artwork? In stock. Window treatments? You bet.
Compare St. Augustine sod against Palisades Zoysia and Bermuda. No longer do you have to visualize how different blends of brick and stones look with different mortar colors. They are installed in a display panel. That's in addition to composition shingles, clay roof tile, slate, stone, floor tile, countertops, appliances, plumbing and lighting fixtures, carpet, hardwoods, cabinetry, backsplash and whole-house technology wiring and plumbing solutions, viewable from behind a plexiglass panel that reveals the infrastructure of the frame.
MainStreet America trademarked the phrase, "Just like this."
In essence, consumers can purchase anything between a completely furnished, newly built residence — even get a loan and title insurance — to a simple home accessory. Or they can get ideas for redecorating a single room or undertake a renovation project.
"Homes won't be static in design," Babineaux adds. "On a rotational basis, we will update everything from decor, cabinets, appliances, flooring, countertops and fixtures to stay on top of consumer trends."
Among the hundreds of brands represented are Kent Moore Cabinets, Kohler, General Electric, Electrolux, Bosch, Moen, Price Pfister, PPG Paint, Daltile, Rheem, Kwikset, Schlage, Cultured Stone, Owens Corning, Black & Decker, California Closets and Toto.
While it's true that consumers often demand design that's unique, one-of-a-kind and custom-tailored to their discerning tastes, one of the biggest objections to home shoppers pulling the trigger on such buying decisions is that they can't see, feel or touch how this tile comes together with these countertops and with those antique cabinets. The issue isn't about creating something that's never been done before, it's about feeling secure that their choices align with their personal values.
When shoppers encounter it, they want it just like they see it. MainStreet America tuned into this cognitive trait and trademarked the phrase, "Just like this."
What makes the flow of information possible is TED, an acronym for Technology Education Device, a specialized app that stores details about every item in the theme park. Much like creating a wedding registry of must haves, a visitor simply scans tags to an online add-to-my-project wish list. The system populates an email with credentials so the client can access their virtual shopping cart securely.
Digitally, TED also captures essential information that can serve as a vehicle for market research.
Yet for MainStreet America's guests, it's all fun and games with a scanning gadget.
There are plans to launch an in-house radio station, a cooking school, themed events and days where proceeds from admission fees are donated to local charities. Grand opening festivities are set for the first week on February.
MainStreet America is located at 18750 Interstate 45 N. It's open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 5-17 and free for children 4 years old and younger. Prices will increase in February. Visit mainstreetmaerica.com or call 281-825-4429 for more information.