home tech

Houston home builder stays ahead of the competition by incorporating new technologies

Within the next five years, Frankel believes that the technology they are using will evolve even more, perhaps to include holographic 3D models of homes they hope to build for their clients. Getty Images

For Frankel Building Group, the evolution of technology in the real estate and construction world was the next logical step in creating a sustainable and viable company. By incorporating technology into its client-based custom design and build firm through the use of a personal app and 3D renderings, co-president and principal Scott Frankel said Frankel Building Group is years ahead of the rest of the competition.

Frankel, who runs the company alongside his brother Kevin, described it as "a responsibility to do better and to show more."

"Our company, when I got here, was politely a little bit in the stone ages," Scott Frankel tells InnovationMap. "In order to be a customer facing business, and in order to compete in the market, we have learned to be a very technology-forward business. I would say out of every custom builder in the country, we are probably the most technology-reliant builder out there. That's a good thing."

The building group, which was started by 30 years ago by Scott and Kevin's father Jim, uses technology in every aspect of its projects.

Five to 10 years ago, builders would have to import designs into AutoCAD, a software that allows builders, engineers and architects to see their drawings in 3D form. Those AutoCAD drawings would then be printed and given to the homebuyer.

At Frankel Building Group, clients are able to login to an online portal that allows them to see every communication between them and the Frankel team, as well as building plans, updates, and digital 3D renderings of their homes. Everything from estimates to the latest updates from their assigned project manager are available to homebuyers from their phone.

"Our clients want that access," Frankel said. "If they don't get that access, they are going to be left with more questions than answers."

Frankel believes that they are only doing what the clients expect from a custom homebuilder: increasing communication through every means possible to make sure the client is satisfied with what the builder is doing.

"My brother and I are not huge technology guys," Frankel said. "We didn't come from this as framers who became custom builders. We came from a family that built custom homes and (using technology) only makes logical sense because it's something that makes it better. It's kind of like when you're banking with Chase and they came out with online banking — it just makes it better."

Within the next five years, Frankel believes that the technology they are using will evolve even more, perhaps to include holographic 3D models of homes they hope to build for their clients.

But, for now, Frankel Building Group is focused on growing their business one day at a time.

"Our focus is people in Houston who want to design and build that home for them on their property," Frankel said. "We just want to make sure we're putting the best product out there."

Florida startup Fit:Match chose Houston for its first location of its AI-enabled retail store. Photo via shopfitmatch.com

In November, on the first floor of Friendswood's Baybrook Mall, wedged between the Abercrombie & Fitch and the Apple Store, a small studio popped up. At the window, a bubblegum assortment of balloons replaced the usual spruced-up manakin, and the shop is sparse for racks of clothing.

That's because the Fit:Match studio isn't really trying to sell clothes — it's trying to help you buy them online. By fusing artificial intelligence with retail shopping, Fit:Match makes ordering clothes online more trustworthy. The writing on the walls promised to revolutionize the way that people could: "Shop what fits. Not what doesn't," reads a neon sign. The tech might not only reduce long waits for the dressing room — it could abolish it altogether.

"You never have to try on clothes again," says Haniff Brown, founder of the Florida-native startup.

The store does have a fitting room, but Brown says it's not really for trying on clothes — it's for preparing to "get fitched," the process through which the imaging tech measures a customer's body.

It's fitting that the pop-up sits next to the iPhone giant. Fit:Match uses the same 3D imaging tech as Apple's FaceID, Brown says, which blasts infrared light at thousands of dots at a user's face. Where the light bounces off, the AI technology images the person's face. The sensors at the Fit:Match studio in Baybrook Mall expand this to the rest of the body. In 10 seconds, the AI sensor lets people sketches a customer's shape through 150 measurements.

Those measurements become indicators of how well a piece of clothing will fit the wearer. In the initial phase of the project, Brown's team fitched thousands of women — wanting to keep things neat, the company hasn't ventured into men's fashion yet — and compared the scores of the AI's algorithm with how the women scored their own clothes.

Now, once a customer has been fitched at the Baybrook studio, she can log online through an app or the company site and sift through thousands of clothes that will likely fit her. Each clothing item — mostly smaller brands that range from eclectic pieces and dresses to athleisure right now, Brown says, although he's already working to partner with better-known labels — is rated with a percentage of how well it's likely to fit the individual customer, based on her measurements and on how snug or loose she likes her wear. From the array of brands, she'll get specific matches — clothes that have a 90 percent chance or higher of fitting — that might look completely different from a friend's. Over time, the app will also update her on the latest matches.

"You're going to have this personalized wallet," Brown says, adding that this will also decrease a store's rate of return. "You will see a completely truncated assortment of clothes that are meant to fit you."

The Baybrook Mall hosts Fit:Match's first location. Brown says he chose the Houston area for its size and demographics, calling it a "hotbed to test new ideas, to get traction, to get customer feedback," and is even considering expanding to the Woodlands Mall and other places around Texas, too. It's also not far from the Austin-based Capital Factory, which brought Fit:Match under its wing late last year to help the startup raise $5 million.

In the meantime, the five-member management team at Fit:Match is focused on getting more Houstonians fitched. In the first month of operations, the studio measured more than 1,200 mallgoers, and Brown says the company could fitch a quarter million in the next two or three years.

"We think that the opportunity here is immense," Brown says.