Local Hero: Estridge HOMExperience

Carmel, Indiana

I'm shopping at Clay Terrace, an upscale open-air mall in suburban Indianapolis. I find a courtyard with red bistro tables. Ah, a cafe. A lovely place to enjoy the evening, I think--and then I notice that the chairs have price tags. Is this a Pottery Barn spin-off?

I have stumbled into HOMExperience, a novel concept that opened in February, intended to make the task of buying a home as enjoyable as the best retail shopping. In addition to the full array of home products, I find computer kiosks where I can take virtual-home tours. Unable to help myself, I'm soon altering floor plans. At one point, an attractive sales associate tells me that a batch of chocolate-chip cookies is fresh out of the oven--an old gimmick, but a good one. "We want the place to smell like home," says president Paul Estridge Jr. All of a sudden, I'm house-hunting.

HOMExperience lets buyers get a taste of custom building without the sticker shock--and lets everyone else dream. Buyers, seduced by the choice of dream kitchens and the design help they get, have responded by spending an average of $10,000 more on upgrades than they did at Estridge's previous 500-square-foot facility. "We're almost giddy about it," he says. And based on my experience, customers are too.

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