How Builder Garbett Successfully Markets Its Green Homes

| by David Serchuk
How Builder Garbett Successfully Markets Its Green Homes

“It’s all about cost,” says Rene Oehlerking, marketing director at Garbett Homes, in Salt Lake City, Utah. “That’s why our most effective advertising campaign the tag line is, my power is $5 a month, what’s yours?”

This deceptively simple campaign, in various forms, has been used by Garbett Homes since the firm made the decision to concentrate on green residential construction in 2009. They invest a substantial amount of cash into marketing, typically 1 percent of gross sales, averaging $500,000 to $1 million per year. So far the biggest ad buys have taken the form of billboards (10 to 15), radio (10 spots per day on three radio stations), and newspapers (one full-page ad every Saturday in their areas top two papers).

The marketing, he says, is mainly to educate potential buyers about the advantages green homes can offer. And there is some response to it. The ads have certainly gained attention in Salt Lake City (link to local news story), gaining traction in the local media.

Partly due to the attention from this campaign Garbett’s sales have shot up. In the wake of the Great Recession—a time of widespread pain in the construction industry—Garbett only grew. In 2008, their last year before “going green” they had total revenues of $26 million. By 2012, however, sales totaled $40 million, up 54 percent.

Oehlerking said Garbett was drawn to green/high performance construction by a desire to stand out from peers during tough times. “The decision was whether to downsize and ride it out, or take as an opportunity to get ahead of the competition, and innovate, because the competition would not innovate during the recession,” he said. Instead of layoffs Garbett invested in itself, and it has paid off. The firm had 35 employees in 2008, and today has 50.

Rene Oehlerking of Garbett Homes

The marketing is a way of getting the conversation started with the client, but Oehlerking says home prices remain king. However, the fact that Garbett’s homes are green, and energy efficient, can tip a sale their way, if the home is priced about the same as its comparable, standard peers.

“We’re taking that difference away,” he said. “We’re building homes that are 80-90 percent more efficient than code-built homes, with utility bills that are 80-90 percent less than code-built homes, but about the same price as code-built homes.”

Garbett uses efficient building techniques, heavy insulation, and tight building tolerances to bring their new home’s Home Energy Rating Systems, or HERS [link to HERS], number to 50. Then the homes use solar energy to drop that number further, to 30. Oehlerking says these HERS ratings are independently certified.

In addition to single-family homes Garbett also builds apartments, townhomes, twin homes, and condominiums.    

But is that $5 figure realistic? Quoted in a Dec. 16, 2011 article by, Oehlerking admitted an average family’s bills might run a bit higher. "For couples or families of four, bills average $30 or $40, sometimes $50," he said. "The average utility cost for electricity and natural gas is $180, so our homes are, on average, 110 percent more energy efficient than new homes built to code today."

Still pretty thrifty.

Topics: Building Green, Going Green, GREAT GREEN HOMES, Home Design & Plans

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