Epcon Communities Franchising Inc. (ECFI) is one of the leading nationwide developers and franchise operators of condominium developments. By combining a ground breaking building and development system with unmatched franchise support, Epcon Communities has become one of the most unique and exciting franchise concepts on the market.
Epcon was formally created in 1986 by Ed Bacome and Phil Fankhauser who introduced a unique “pinwheel” design that met the housing needs of the mature homebuyer in Columbus, Ohio, where they built their first residential community. Others recognized the universal market appeal of the homes, thus leading to a licensed design first built in Youngstown, Ohio in 1989.
“They recognized there was a segment of the aging population in Columbus whose housing needs were not being met. All the builders were focusing on a younger, family-oriented demographic,” says Vice-President of Marketing and Sales Nanette Overly.
Epcon’s designs incorporate smart floor plans, high quality building materials and the right amenities in an association-maintained environment. Strong market response indicated that these were features that homeowners wanted, and led to the 1996 creation of a franchise business featuring Epcon’s home designs and development system.
“The decision was made that we would be able to better serve our builder partners by creating a franchise and growing that way,” Overly says. “From there, the business grew incrementally year after year.”
Since that time, ECFI has built over 26,000 homes in more than 30 states.
One of the most critical keys to ECFI’s success is their product design. Prior to designing their current product, they invested over $1.5 million in research and development, which is unusual in the building industry, Overly says. Due to their extraordinary investment, they were able to effectively research the wants and needs of homebuyers and design their product accordingly.
Epcon also stands apart in the marketplace by catering specifically to active adults, or the “maintenance free market.” The company sticks to that sector exclusively, and do not dilute the quality of their product offering by trying to appeal to other demographics. “We’re specifically maintenance-free,” Overly says.
Even more, Epcon stands above the crowd due to the quality of their support team. With years of experience in every aspect of the homebuilding business, the team at Epcon is able to provide their franchise building partners with knowledgeable advice and skilled assistance.
In general, Overly says, the corporate culture within ECFI is made up of of healthy working relationships based on mutual respect. They are always prepared to support each other when needed. There is willingness and openness from the franchise building partners to provide the company with suggestions and ideas. “Some of our implementations over the last several years really were initiated from feedback from the front lines,” Overly says. “We find that very healthy.”
If a builder partner has a question, they can pick up the phone and call the corporate staff, who regularly answer questions about all the different aspects of the business – everything from construction, to sales and marketing to business operations and management.
QualityMark, quality product
The central appeal for Epcon franchise partners is the company’s product. Partners are buying into a proven system, with homes that are extensively researched and analyzed beforehand. Also, quality is controlled with a specialized Epcon process called QualityMark, where every home is inspected by a third-party prior to offering the building to the buyer.
Epcon also offers their franchise building partners detailed marketing programs that contain extensive estimating and bidding information. They have consultants that assist with technical support as it pertains to business operations. “The point of an Epcon franchise is for someone to get into this lucrative business with all the systems and marketing available to them to experience a greater number of sales,” says Tim Rini, Vice President at Epcon Communities Franchising.
In addition, franchise partners are drawn to Epcon due to the demographic they have successfully targeted. According to the Baby Boomer Headquarters, nearly 11,000 people are turning 50 years old each day. Epcon Communities’ franchisees provide the homes and lifestyles those buyers are seeking.
When it comes to those franchisees – or franchise building partners – Epcon looks for three different types of people. The first type is an existing homebuilder who wants to add to or improve their current offering to the active adult market segment. The second are land developers who need a viable product that will absorb quickly.
The third type is simply entrepreneurs that recognize the value in addressing the growing market niche that Epcon targets. “The real estate is turning and now is a time to jump in,” says Business Development Manager Jason Coffee.
Epcon Communities offers an orientation program for new franchise building partners, construction personnel, and sales professionals. Their in-house Training and Development Manager organizes and facilities all of the training.
Epcon also holds national conferences and regional meetings that provide nationally-recognized sales trainers, workshops on construction and sales topics, business updates and building trends. “We keep everyone informed of the latest market trends and building trends,” Overly says.
While ECFI offers formalized training and communication to their franchise building partners, there is also the opportunity for builder partners to call or write the support center for advice or recommendations on any business operations topic.
Building partners are offered additional training through webinars and conference calls on requested training topics. “When a franchise building partner has a specific question about sales, marketing or construction, we will have conference calls where they can log in and chat,” Rini says.
The cornerstone of Epcon’s communications system is their internal website, which offers a library of information on current sales trends, conference and training announcements, and forums where builder partners may raise questions or post announcements. “We want them to take advantage of the vast experience we have here,” Rini says.
Epcon currently has 117 franchises across the country. Looking to the future, they will continue to capitalise on the growing reputation of their products and their service. Growth wise, they are looking to expand across all 50 states, while branching outwards into Canada and other international territories in the near future. On the product development front, they will have a new home product ready for a fall 2013 release that will fit in any location because it is custom-tailored for the consumer.
“We’re looking to expand our boundaries and have better systems in place to help our franchise building partners,” Rini says.
Also being readied for completionis a new retail website to attract home buyers, enhance SEO, and encourage on-site registrations. The site, which will be ready by the end of 2012, will give Epcon’s franchise builder partners a market presence they couldn’t afford by themselves. “We will have a new website that no builder could ever produce at this level on their own,” Rini says.
As for the long-term future of Epcon, their goal is to offer varied product lines that continue to serve the baby boomer and active adult market, offering “different products for different prices” for their target demographic, Rini says. “We will be expanding our product types into the future, and expanding our opportunities to bring in other franchise building partners,” he says.