Elements for Manufactured Home Industry Breakthrough
I was speaking with a very successful manufactured home community owner and MH Retailer. We spent about an hour discussing a plan to advance home sales and profits. Near the end of the conversation, the owner said, “Tony, this means a change in the way that we do business.” I agreed, but asked, do you see how this would increase sales and profits? Without hesitation came the answer, “Absolutely.”
On to the next step.
The way the Louisville Manufactured Home Show has always been promoted changed two years ago. By keeping what they had done in the past, but feathering in some new concepts and internet marketing efforts, the show is not only back, but growing in attendance and in the number of exhibitors. Changing the way business was always done was necessary, and hats off to those at MMHF and Show Ways who had the wisdom and courage to try something new. It has paid off for all involved with the Louisville Show.
Change can be forced upon us – as in the case of government regulations forcing changes – or change can simply be embraced when an opportunity to do things in new and better ways presents itself. It is a simple decision to accept, reject or consider change. The battle (if there is one) starts in the mind, and the attitude towards change.
We could boil down the following realities about change.
Change always has and always will happen. How it comes may vary, but change is a constant.
How we deal with change can determine if we are surviving, thriving or sinking.
We have an amazing product in manufactured homes! I know, I know, some people love MODs, others love pre-fab (panelized, etc.) homes. I see the need and use for all of factory home building. But manufactured housing outsells modulars for a reason. The reasons that panelized homes outsell manufactured homes has more to do with the perception and regulatory issues than the home products themselves.
Factors such as a
less skilled labor to do conventional home construction
and more are reasons why manufactured homes COULD be the next big wave in housing. This is not to marginalize other forms of factory building, certainly they can and should benefit from the above factors too.
What are the elements keeping us from advancing farther and faster?
Perception issues from the public, the media and public officials (each tends to feed the others);
Regulatory issues, such as zoning, and issues revolving around financing (SAFE, Dodd-Frank, etc.);
Communications issues – too many never consider us, and they are often the 'better credit customers.'
These and other factors slow individual businesses in our Industry. Industries are made up of companies, so when companies within an industry get slowed – or advanced – then the same happens in that Industry.
What are the Solutions?
A clearer vision on the part of business owners, executives and industry leaders as to what is possible, and a willingness to embrace positive change.
A willingness to invest in positive changes, which includes training of employees, managers and owners.
What would happen if we were swamped with dozens of more customers every day at many locations?
As nice as this 'what if' may sound, I'd say that many or most locations would not be prepared today. I'm positive minded, but also realistic, so let me explain.
A story was told to me by more than one savvy state executive director. The tale – a true one – goes like this. Art Linkletter was hired to do an image and marketing campaign for the retailers of a given state. The program turned out large numbers of customers, thousands whom never came to see manufactured homes before! Some of these customers drove up in their Lincolns or Cadillacs. They walked up to a 'double wide,' they walked up a rickety set of worn out wooden steps. They entered a home that the marriage line was not trimmed out. The carpeting was pulled back at the marriage line; it was not seamed. Since 90% of the public can't visualize what the home would look like finished, these 'ideal' prospects were lost. They prospect who could buy what they wanted to buy left as fast as they could. Many never returned to a manufactured home retail center again.
What that tale should teach us is the following. We could talk about a three step process:
1) Prepare the Select Professionals.
We need to prepare a core group of businesses for the potential new wave of manufactured home prospects and clientele.
Locations need to have curb appeal and homes need to be ready to show.
That new wave needs to be met by professionals who have appropriate training. The sales pros need to know how to successfully engage good customers.
All this and more is a matter of preparation, training and motivation.
2) True Alignment with our Customer Base.
We also need to reach out and engage the current manufactured home owner. We need to be aligned with their interests. In the RV business world, successful retailers know that you don't over promise, you don't under deliver, that you want a satisfied customer. They know that the happy customer will tell others, and they also know that the unhappy ones tell even more people. It pays to be honest, it pays to set the right expectations, it pays to get and keep our home buyers happy.
While surveys show that perhaps 76% of manufactured home owners are happy and satisfied, etc. that means that 24% could be happier and more satisfied. We need satisfaction in the 90 percent plus levels to be successful. There are some people you can never satisfy, but most can be. We need to make that the new reality.
So we have work to do.
For these and other reasons, we've launched an online publication focused on the MH Home Owner, called MHLivingNews.com. Please check it out and pass the word, especially to your MH owners and residents. The site will remind owners why they have a good value proposition. Over time, using this home owner focused website will pay off for all involved.
3) By getting more Professionals and Home Owners on the same page, we can prepare the way for that brighter future for manufactured housing.
The way to achieve that next step is with a proper image, marketing and sales campaign. These three steps can take place sequentially but also they could be done concurrently. This doesn't require generations, it requires the will and the effort.
Individual businesses could do this 3 step process internally I short order. I know first hand, because I've worked on projects that prove it. But if you think about it, you know yourself that this is true and works because you can see how companies like Car Max have changed for their business the negative perceptions that went into the automotive car buying experience. Car Max has been amazingly successful, but doing internally what they need to do to to align their interests with those of their customers.
So you don't have to have every business, every state, or every professional to buy into a new business model. You can start with one at a time.
Positive Industry Change will come. Will you be leading, following, retreating or someone that was on the center line as the traffic went speeding by each way? ##
Whether you think you can or whether you think you can't, you're right. – Henry Ford