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Cover Story: A woman's domain
Step aside, gentlemen. Mira Vranic’s Impression Homes are built with a woman in mind
As Published by Business London Magazine Nov./06
By Jeffrey Reed
SHE'S YOUNG AND SHE'S BEAUTIFUL. But spend some time with 30-year-old homebuilder Mira Vranic and you’ll quickly realize she can also be unrelenting, unforgiving and as tough as nails. These are, of course, traits that come with the territory. Yet, as the president of Impression Homes, a company aspiring to turn the local homebuilding industry on its ear, Vranic also has the brawn and brains to let her softer side bubble through. After all, after spending almost a decade competing in the male-dominated residential construction industry, she’s absorbed more than her fair share of bruises. There isn’t much she hasn’t seen or heard, and she knows there isn’t a hoop she hasn’t been forced to jump through...twice. So, every so often, when the whole process seems a little emotionally overwhelming, she’ll shed a tear. And then get back to work.
But there’s irony at work here, too, because it’s that softer feminine side that is leading Vranic and her company down a new path—a trailblazing of sorts that will most certainly be watched closely by the local homebuilding industry at large. Simply put, Impression Homes is about to unveil a package of home properties designed, built and marketed exclusively with the female purchaser in mind. Appearing on seven lots acquired from Sifton Properties within its RiverBend Golf Community in northwest London, the detached homes— scheduled for a January 2007 grand opening—boast unique designs for women, by a woman, starting at $350,000. It’s a massive step for a company that has built just five homes since its incorporation in 1997. Then again, there just aren’t a lot of 21-year-old females who launch homebuilding companies. And there are even fewer developers willing to hand over lots to inexperienced young builders—male, female or Martian.
“I would get the lot that nobody else wanted—a lot on the corner that backs onto a major street,” explains Vranic. “I don’t want to speculate or speak for anyone else, I just know it was very, very difficult for me to get lots. And let’s be honest. At 21, who is willing to give you a mortgage? I would go to the bank and they would look at me like, ‘You’re a cute little girl, but…’ So my mother helped me get started.” In many ways, the family aid was just another brick in a career foundation that Vranic says is “truly in her blood.” Raised in St. Thomas and Tillsonburg by hard-working Croatian immigrant parents Marko and Kata Filipovic, Vranic grew up on the job site. Marko painted homes for more than 50 years, while Kata cleaned new homes in preparation of move-in dates.
“My mom would bring me in a bassinet to the job site,” says Vranic. “And without money for daycare my mom would bring me along on the days my dad needed extra help.” When she was old enough,Vranic joined in the work, cleaning, sanding, staining and painting newly-constructed homes. And though she went on to study for a sociology degree at UWO, she moonlighted by reading the Ontario Building Code, cover to cover. “It’s not typical reading material,” laughs Vranic, “but this building passion was always in the back of mind.”
It’s a passion that spilled over to her adult personal life as well. Vranic’s husband, John Vranic, shared her love for the homebuilding industry, and with her encouragement, left his job as a maintenance electrician at Ford Talbotville to form Vranic Homes in 2003. Today, Mira handles the design and sales (she is also a licensed realtor) end of the Vranic Homes business, while John, 34, spends his time on-site.
In fact, the success of Vranic Homes helped boost Vranic’s confidence and further her desire to create a unique mark with Impression Homes. It also wasn’t lost on the building community.
Phil Masschelein, Sifton’s senior land manager, says it was the strength of the Vranic husband-and-wife team that sold him on Impression Homes. “I saw something in them,” he says. “He is very acquainted with construction, and she has a real passion for design, promoting and marketing, so the two of them together show some real potential.”
Talking about the new Impression Homes models, Vranic says “they’re personalized, not custom.
“People hear custom and they right away think $500,000- plus. That’s not the case. I believe everyone deserves a home that is personalized to their needs. This is the biggest investment of their life. They deserve personalization and more time during the design phase.”
In the design of her homes, Vranic says she focuses on the fact women are embracing their roles as household decision makers who want builders to connect with their lifestyles. Models will feature space options for regrouping and destressing, a big emphasis on storage, rooms for multiple uses and even larger garages to accommodate the suburban mom’s vehicle of choice—the minivan.
Of course, customizing homes is not a new concept, but Vranic says Impression Homes will leave no stone unturned when catering to the female buyer. A typical model will feature an open concept design, with a living room/great room open to a functional kitchen area. “A place where moms preparing meals can still watch over the kids, interact with them while they are doing their homework or just be able to chat and bond with her family,” she says. “It’s also fabulous for entertaining since everyone congregates around the kitchen. The hostess can still interact with her guests.”
Impression Homes will also look to maximize space usage. “There is never enough storage in a home, period,” states Vranic, noting that walk-in closets will provide a tidier, more functional home, and dead space like room corners will feature bookshelves or storage cabinets. In addition, the en suite adjacent to the master bedroom will be large—a spa within a home—and living rooms and family rooms will be expanded to accommodate families who today spend more time at home than ever before. Special attention will also be paid to wiring, enabling the home to be outfitted with the latest in security, entertainment, appliance and home office technologies.
Female-centric design, however, is just part of the Impression Homes business model. Vranic has also enlisted a marketing team to brand the product in a distinct fashion. Advertising will target female buyers and promote the fact Impression Homes is owned and operated by a female builder. Marketing images will depict women as the family decision makers, and artwork will target women through use of liberal, coordinated colours.
Sifton’s Masschelein says despite the fact he “took a risk” offering lots to an unproven, virtually unknown homebuilder with a new method of designing and marketing homes, he does comprehend Vranic’s marketing methods.
“(Sifton) has done a lot of market research, including focus groups,” says Masschelein. “Purchasing a new home is a complicated process. Amenities and location are important. The initial homebuying decisions are made by women, so I do see the merit in what Mira is trying to do.”
Vranic already has a big fan in Joanne Thomas Yaccato, author of The 80% Minority: Reaching the Real World of Women Consumers. As president of a Toronto-based consulting firm specializing in helping companies apply gender intelligence to better their business, she says Vranic is on the right track.
“Homes are primarily a woman’s domain,” says Thomas Yaccato. “It’s jaw dropping to me that (building homes for women and marketing to women) is just now catching on.” She adds that she is not surprised Vranic has faced roadblocks along the way. “Women not being taken seriously is a major complaint.”
Interestingly, Thomas Yaccato inspired Calgary homebuilder Shane Wenzel of Shane Homes to develop two model homes incorporating gender design strategies.Using many of the same designs Impression Homes will embody, his models include gourmet kitchens, an abundance of counter and cupboard space, a walk-in pantry with motion-triggered lighting and even equal-sized children’s bedrooms so kids won’t argue with mom over who has the largest room.
“Almost all of the decisions about whether to purchase a particular home are made by women,” says Thomas Yaccato, whose research also shows that women do most of the househunting and that single women buy more homes than single men.
Locally, seeing a woman in charge of a homebuilding company is rare, but not entirely new. For example, Lina Pittao is president of Pittao Homes, and Nancy Strik is president of Double N Homes. There has also been one female president of the London Home Builders’ Association—Rennie Pieterman of Practical Plumbing in 2003.
In her vision for Impression Homes, Vranic believes a quality home playing to needs of women will be marketing hit at RiverBend—a niche that will lead to expansion of the business and its concept to other communities across southwestern Ontario.
“Mira is extremely ambitious and a true go-getter,” says her husband, John. “No matter what roadblocks she may encounter, she never gives up and always stays positive. She has accomplished so much as a young businesswoman and leader.”
“This has been a work in progress for 30 years,” she says simply. “I know what women want in a home.”