LOCATION: Can you describe how you connected with Philippe Starck, who’s designing the new Gramercy condo on East 23rd Street?
SHVO: We go through a strategy-research process that normally takes, I would say, anywhere from two to three months. And during those two to three months, all the critical decisions of the product are made.
Such as, what’s the concept behind the building? Who is the team to work on that building? In other words, in order to create that concept, who is the right architect, who is the right interior designer—who are all the right people that you want in this mix in order for it to be a winning project?
In the Starck project, we had a very specific buyer in mind. We came to the developer; we said, “This is our idea—this is the kind of buyer we want to target.” And the buyer is not necessarily a demographic. We don’t believe that demographics are what people are separated into today; someone who’s 20 can feel like they’re 60, and someone who’s 60 can act like they’re 20. It’s more about the psycho-graphic; it’s more about how they shop, where they eat, what they do when they travel.
We have an entire team in-house today, and this is what they do: They do what we call “strategic research.” We first put together a profile of whom we want to market to, and then we create the product. We don’t first create the product and then go out and try to look for people to come and buy.
Do buyers understand this marketing?
I think the whole magic of what Shvo does is not about “Does the buyer get it?” The buyer gets it if he buys; if the buyer has to dissect to pieces what we do, then I’ve failed. The buyer needs to walk in here and feel that it’s a flawless experience. [The Observer interviewed Mr. Shvo in the sales office of his new project at 650 Sixth Avenue.] He needs to feel he wants to be here, that he’s falling in love.
If I can compare it to a man and a woman, if I’m a man and I’m looking at a woman, I don’t want to look at her and say, “You know what? I’m falling in love with her because her hair is red, and because she has green eyes and she talks about this.” I want to walk in and fall in love—and I don’t want to think why we’re falling in love.
And what we create, I think, are projects that people fall in love with.
It’s very definable, because you see results. You see how Shvo buildings sell for much more money, they sell much faster …. You talk about Philippe Starck—we had an opening there [on May 1], and I had a thousand people come there. And they came there because they wanted to see the new thing that Shvo is doing.
You’ve had a big influence on marketing homes in Manhattan in the last few years. Do you feel that you’re being mimicked by marketers?
I think people have tried to take ideas that we’ve done and copied them—
We’ll talk about that later. But if you think about it, then I don’t have to name it—you can look at it. Listen, from the first idea we ever had—put a refrigerator in every lobby for Fresh Direct—that’s something that became a disease.
I definitely think we’re the leaders in the industry today, and people do follow us. I don’t see that as a threat, because it’s a compliment that people copy us. What developers and marketers need to understand is the essence of what we do: We don’t do the same thing twice.
But don’t you worry about running out of ideas?
I have a business-development team, and all they do all day is really go through opportunities that are offered to us. We get, I would say, a dozen calls a day from developers all over the world. Do I feel I’m going to run out of ideas? No. Did Picasso run out of ideas? He painted thousands and thousands of pictures. Look at Andy Warhol—did he ever run out of ideas? No. And his pieces are selling for millions of dollars today.
Anything we touch, from every aspect, has to be a one-of-a-kind, unique product. So if we’re doing a building in New York, or in D.C. or in Houston or in Mexico or in Asia, each of these buildings has to be a unique product—for that location, for that place.
When did you start branching out so much internationally?
I think in the past year—really because there’s opportunities internationally that, in New York, you can’t really do. If you think about what we do, my goal is not to do every project in New York—it’s not even remotely close to that. In the past few months, I think we maybe took on three new projects in New York; we took probably three times that amount outside New York.
Mostly that’s because our goal is to do a unique product. There’s not that many opportunities here to do a unique product.
What were the new projects in Manhattan?
We’re doing the W Hotel for Joe Moinian [at 123 Washington Street in lower Manhattan]. We’re doing a really, really exciting building in midtown, on Lexington—a phenomenal, very unique building over there.
Anything in the outer boroughs?
We’re doing over 3,000 units in Long Island City in the next five to six years. I’m doing one project in Williamsburg, but it will …. Can’t talk about it yet, but it will blow your mind away.
What’s the cross street of the Lexington Avenue project?
Can’t say. Just midtown. Trust me …. And there’s a third one I really can’t speak about now.
We’re also launching, in the last part of this year, a project in D.C. We’re launching a project in Mexico. We’re launching a project in Houston during the start of next year …. We’re literally the only company in the world that does what we do. And that’s not something I’m saying—that’s something that our clients, and developers that come to us, have told us.