Manufactured Housing Resources George Porter


"The very best recommendation I can give as further training is needed or additional assistance in developing training programs is required, my decision will be easy - Let George do it!"

Robert J. Henry
Home Installation Manager Fleetwood Enterprises, Inc.

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The Business is Changing

By George Porter

The manufactured housing industry is always undergoing some sort of change. Over the years we have gone to bigger homes, hinged roofs, very fancy interiors and lots of other modifications to our homes. When I started in this business the first home I sold was a 12 x 60, a big one for 1970. It had a metal roof with corrugated aluminum siding and the maximum loan was five years. The company that made the home is not around any more but the home is still there.

In all these years the manufacturers and dealers have seemed to trade staff back and forth, but basically the same people have always been around somewhere. Dealers and manufacturers have trained their competitors by hiring new people, some of who opened their own factories and sales lots. The industry kind of "breeds" its own participants and has developed a type of culture. If you have been going to trade shows for many years you know that you can expect to see lots of old friends. They probably are not working where they were last year but they are still somewhere in the industry. Someone told me long ago that once you get in this industry you never seem to escape. Like a fraternity, your initiation is working for someone else, then you may branch out on your own or grow within a company, but seldom do you leave the industry.

After 30 plus years of this you sort of know who is going to be at meetings and other gatherings, someone new stands out like a red light. There usually aren't any fresh faces in the crowd and seeing one draws your attention. Now I don't mean to imply that people in the manufactured housing business don't have fresh faces but a fellow in Kentucky shared something with me that I didn't realize. He said, "mobile home years are like dog years, each one counts for three or four instead of one". He may have a point, especially lately.

The fresh faces are coming from the "stick building" industry, and they are coming in droves. This is very new! They have no real background or history with Manufactured Housing and they all seem to feel that they have "discovered" something new. In the last 10 installation seminars I have given around the country there have been at least two new groups of developers from the home building industry in attendance. Why? Because it is easier to be in the manufactured housing business than it is to be in the site building business. The money is quicker and there are fewer subcontractors to deal with. Weather is a much smaller factor in the completion process and the homes are just as nice. My favorite quote from a site builder viewing our homes for the first time is, "he walked into a trailer and he walked out of a manufactured home," he was impressed and wants to be part of the industry.

So we are getting new people; but, they are much more than just a bunch of folks who want to sell our homes. These former site builders are going to bring some of their culture with them. These new people are not the travel trailer industry of the 1930's evolving into the manufactured housing business of today, they are builders coming from a very large and fairly uniformly regulated housing industry and they are planning to use our homes as Aconventional Ahouses.

Here is an example, when the topics of OSHA, site prep, and frost line come up in the installation seminar they generally know all about that subject and have no problem with simply compiling with whatever is required. They certainly had perimeter footings below the frost line in all the homes they built before, so why would a manufactured home be any different? They have contracts and insurance certificates from all their subcontractors before so why not now? Of course they grade the lots before they install the home. They understand the serious problems that result from improperly graded homes. They can't imagine who wouldn't grade the site.

Most of these ex-site builders are doing the same thing with Manufactured Housing that they did with their other homes. It seems most are doing some sort of land home package, whether it is a whole development or just single lots. They also seem to be bringing their old sources of financing with them. They know all about FHA, VA, etc and know how to get customers approved and settled.

Of all the ex-site builders I have met, not one is opening a retail sales lot without tying it to a development he is building. This new breed of dealers wants to deliver a complete package to the customer and they want control all the way. When a customer comes to them they don't want to send him anywhere else for what he needs and wants. They have everything from lending to landscaping, just like they did for their site built homes.

Will these new people generate some numbers? We'll see over time, but it would be my guess that they will do so. The numbers will probably not be in shipments but in dollar volume. These folks seem to favor the upscale homes. Their clients are used to somewhat higher pricing and our homes present themselves as real bargains.

This could be a new era for the industry, at least an additional dimension for certain. At any rate the business is changing and it looks like it is going in the right direction.