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The Educated Consumer
By George Porter
This entire industry is powered by the wants of the consumers,
not necessarily their needs. The consumers may want something
and therefore feel they need it. On the other hand, if the consumer's
don't want something then they probably feel they don't need it.
If this seem a little confusing then bear with me for a few minutes
and I will explain.
When consumers want central air conditioning they know what
it will do for them, the same applies to self-cleaning ovens and
extra insulation in the roof and walls. They understand these
things and are willing to pay for them. They can easily see they
are getting value for their money, and are willing to spend something
extra for these benefits. Many times, after the sale, consumers
wished they purchased more or upgraded an item, but it is too
late. Their options are to purchase the items separately on their
own or simply to do the upgrade when the original wears out, as
in the case of a washing machine or carpet. There is really no
harm done, just the inconvenience of doing without the better
items for a while.
If the salesperson treats a feature like an option then most
consumers are not likely to want to purchase the item and unless
it's hidden value is explained to them. An example of this type
of option might be a frost free foundation or proper site preparation.
These items can add significantly to the cost of the home. When
the consumer can't understand the reasons for spending money,
then he will not do so. By the time he realizes the just how much
this is really worth to him, it is too late. The home may be badly
damaged and will probably never be as good as it should be. The
consumer is mad and the industry has another black eye.
How can we keep this from happening? It would be great if anchoring,
frost free foundations, and site preparation were standard in
all homes, but they are not. These items are not standard in the
vast majority of this nation because the average consumer knows
almost nothing about this industry. Where would they learn? The
media teaches them that "trailers" are not safe; our
political leaders and entertainment industry use our product as
a joke or the sign of a seedy second class population. How many
times have you seen manufactured housing used in film or television
as a normal home with average middle class citizens living there?
How many times when watching local news about a crime do they
show the criminal living in a "trailer"? Nobody cares
when he lives in a stick-built house. During the Paula Jones hearings
James Carvill's famous quote about "trailer park trash"
was meant to discredit Ms. Jones, picturing her as an obviously
sleazy person because she lived in a manufactured home. She apparently
had more morals than other people involved, and they all lived
in some really large homes. (Does this mean that stick-built mansions
breed corruption?) The US Weather Bureau advises all occupants
of our homes to "seek safer shelter" whenever a storm
is in the area. Shouldn't they issue the same warning for other
With all of this "information" in print and on the
screen no wonder the public it might feel foolish to spend money
on one of our products if they didn't think they had to. So what
do we do?
Here are a few observations and suggestions.
- 1. Has anyone out there ever seen a course on manufactured
housing repair at any local college or Vo-Tech school? If not,
why not? These schools give every course under the sun from auto
repair for housewives to quilting, gardening, and welding, and
even palm reading so why not something for our homes? There has
to be someone in the local area within the industry who could
teach such a course. Thirty-three percent of all new homes are
HUD Code so there has to be a market.
- 2. Every weekend there are at least thirty TV shows on cooking,
ten programs on bass fishing, and another ten half hour to hour
segments on home repair. Nothing on us. I have tried for 3 years
to get the interest of TNN and HGTV but all their replies are
single sentence answers, "not interested at this time."
WE NEED GOOD EXPOSURE! We are not in the mainstream of the public
even though we are doing fairly well. Can you imagine what would
happen if we were considered "conventional" housing?
The effort would be worth it for the zoning alone.
- 3. We may be one of the last large industries to consider
the retailer the customer. This is slowly starting to change,
but for the most part factories sell to dealers, not to consumers
through dealers. When you walk into a Chevy dealership you know
a whole lot more about cars than you know about a manufactured
home when walking into one of our dealerships. Generally the
Chevy salesman will also know a lot more about his product than
most of our representatives. The car salesman has training from
the factory on all aspects of the product, not just pricing and
- The point is, our sales forces are just not informed enough
to overcome objections to proper installation that the customer
raises. First of all, the sales person may not know what it takes
to install a home correctly, and secondly, it is always easier
to just agree with an uninformed customer than bring him around
to another point of view.
- If the customer knew just a little about what was proper,
then a salesman who also knew about proper installation might
have a chance to do the right thing without jeopardizing the
sale. Nowadays when the sales person gives the consumer the bad
news that it is going to cost extra to properly grade the lot,
then he may very well lose the deal. There's always a sales person
down the street that doesn't know about the importance of the
extra work, and will be glad to sell them a home without any
grading or other site preparation. The consumer doesn't know
the impact of skipping these steps, and is eager to hear that
extra expense is not necessary, and acts on the cheaper but wrong
advice The first sales person learns his lesson quickly and never
brings it up again when talking to a customer. The topic seems
to cost him money so as far as he is concerned, it is a dead
issue; besides, he's probably is not breaking any law so what's
the problem? Well of course the problem is that if water runs
under the home for a few years the floor rots and a long, long
list of other problems develop.
- 4. Educating the consumer will take more than a visit to
the sales lot. We need to change the whole attitude toward manufactured
housing and bring it into the everyday life of the nation. The
media is the key here. We must be better represented in the public
eye. When TNN and HGTV don't think there is an audience for manufactured
housing programs, then we have not done our homework. This is
the single greatest public relations program we could possibly
have and it needs to happen as soon as possible. It would give
us a chance to show how well our homes are built. Grand communities
and the people who live in them could be showcased. Fine people
from all walks of life live in our homes and the world need to
know this fact.
When consumers start to have some idea what it takes to make
a HUD Code home what it should be, then sales people will not
have to explain why you need anchors. It would be like explaining
to a car buyer why he needs brakes. When sales people present
the features of the home and are educated about proper installation,
then the customer will appreciate the problems that can be avoided
down the road by following sound advice, not to mention building
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, when some politician
decides to pass a law that affects our industry, maybe then he
and his staff will know enough about our homes so that the new
laws do more good than harm.