Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Enjoy this Weekend at Tiny House Fest in Vermont

Make a weekend of it in Vermont! Explore the perfect weekend VISIT of Brattleboro at brattleboro.com and brattleborochamber.org. Stay at the historic Art Deco Latchis Hotel only steps away from the fest grounds on Flat Street.

Friday evening, enjoy the downtown streets during Gallery Walk. There will be Tiny House Fest Vermont exhibitions to VISIT in the mix of art openings and events. Dine throughout town and shop at tons of unique stores and shops. Saturday, June 23rd, the day of the Fest, VISIT the street fest, parklets (mini public parks in the space of one parking stall) designed by youth, and lots of vendors on Flat Street. If you'd like to tour the tiny houses in the Pop-Up Tiny Village and participate in our Pop-up MakerSpace, then check out what the EXPERIENCE Ticket includes. Co-sponsored by my friends at Yestermorrow School in Vermont, this is one event I wish I could attend. If you can make it to the Fest, send me pictures! CLICK HERE for more info.


“Go Build” Sites Should Be Popping Up Everywhere

Tried to hire a plumber lately? An electrician? A roofer?

Chances are getting one was a challenge, especially if you are a modular home builder or factory HR person looking for ‘middle skilled’ people for the production line or at the jobsite. The labor crunch is unlikely to ease any time soon.


The average age of ‘middle skilled’ labor is 47 years old. Think about that for a minute. That’s only 3 years shy of joining AARP. 

The unemployment rate has dropped so low that every person that wants a job can find one. The key word is ‘wants’ a job. Our youth is a gold mine for ‘middle skilled’ labor but as we are learning, they really have had little exposure to working with their hands in a 40+ hour job.

It’s clear the offsite construction industry has very little recruiting and training programs available to entice young people to join the ranks. I don’t know any modular factory or builder that is doing anything other than posting ‘help wanted’ ads and signs. OJT is waning because the skilled labor that used to mentor the new people is too busy actually trying to stay ahead of the work at the jobsite.

The labor shortage is simply a supply and demand problem. A good economy brings demand for more goods and services. New home sales are up but most modular factories are booked way into late Summer or early Fall. Offsite builders are struggling to find subcontractors that can do the work needed at the jobsite.

All this adds to the cost of a new home driving retail prices higher and making lead times longer.

Enter “Go Build.” This program developed by some states is targeting young people in high school, the recently disillusioned Millennial that has realized that can’t pay their bills or buy a new car simply by playing games and writing on social media and middle age people that are finding their current job can’t sustain even a minimal lifestyle for their families. 

Go Build offers hope to the construction industry in the states that use it. I couldn’t find a “Go Build” website for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York or any other Mid Atlantic or New England state. 

The two sites below are examples of what can happen when the construction industry in Alabama and Tennessee take a very active marketing approach to recruiting and training “Middle Skilled” for the future of our industry.  




Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Searching for Modular Housing Gold

Recently Peg and I have been searching the Internet for information on a big purchase we hope to make soon. 

Complete Honesty: This is not Peg and I

Wow!, have things changed since the last time we searched it for information about a purchase this big. 

So far we have visited more than 20 sites and to be completely honest we were excited to spend time on some while others including the top brands were so bad we stopped looking at them as a possible purchase.

As you read what I discovered in my search, take a look a really hard look at your company’s website. Modular factories and modular builders could be doing so much better.

Many of the websites failed to showcase their brand by not using creative, quality and relevant visuals. Many small builders have websites that do little to showcase their brand. 

Several of the brands we liked before visiting their website proved to be disappointing when it came to telling their “story”. We were there to learn more about the brand but found little information about it. Hard to believe that a big company would put up a website and not tell their “story”.

A couple of the websites had us playing ‘hide and seek’ looking for the specific information we needed. One had us visit drop down menu after drop down menu until Peg said “forget it.” Please make your site easy to navigate or your new home buyers may also say ‘forget it’.

I learned quickly that not all requests for more information on the different websites provide adequate space for you to give specific information about why you are looking, when you are making a decision and other pertinent information. A couple of the larger company’s websites only had an email address to contact for more information which was quickly ignored by us.

And the websites that seemed to have a decent information  request form fell into two distinct categories; those that responded quickly and those that didn’t respond at all. Wake up, the reason you have a website is to get people to knock on your door and if you don’t answer it they will never darken it again.

Since it didn’t appear that many of the websites we visited have been updated for a while I began to wonder if it was because the job of updating was considered unimportant or maybe it is too hard to update. I know from personal experience with my website that sometimes what seems to be an easy update actually took me several hours of trial and error. Make updates no matter how tough it may seem.

Another thing I found quite interesting was after visiting a site their ad started showing up on my Facebook page, in my searches and even on their competitors websites as a pop-up. I swear Google could clone you just based on the websites you visit, the products you search for and the purchases you make online.

BTW, if you still have a heartbeat you probably have a smartphone. If your website isn’t mobile friendly...well damn! Almost 50% of searches start on a cell phone and if your website shows up looking clunky and outdated on a smartphone you may have lost their interest within the first 3 seconds which seems like 10 minutes in “Millennial Time.”

Stop looking amateurish! Most small business owners aren’t web designers, graphic artists or copywriters and your website can suffer when you upload images with poor pixelation, add too many graphics or buttons on a page making navigation difficult, make too many typos and provide poor content. 

Your website should not only reflect your company, but it also needs to resonate with your target audience. Here’s a hard but probably very necessary thing to do to improve your site. Ask your past customers AND your employees (anonymously) to rate your website and be prepared for some harsh criticism. If you are a modular home factory, you may need to invest in a lot of changes. If you are a modular builder, it just may reveal the need to invest in making your website better.

If you still have a banner on your website that says “Holiday Blowout Sale!” or a blog that hasn’t been added to since November 2014, it’s time to start giving your website some love. 

Your business is always growing and changing and your website should reflect the new products and homes you’ve recently built, great client reviews that prove your credibility or events, like Open Houses, that your customers should put on their calendars. 

Give your visitors reasons to visit your site often and establish loyalty. There is no telling when the email or phone call will arrive asking you for appointment to build their new home. And isn’t that what you wanted when you became a modular home builder?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Blokable Does a Smart 180

Doing a 180 just before ramping up production for the first time usually means that something went wrong but in Blokable’s case, something is going right.

When costs for their steel framed modular units, built in their Vancouver factory, broke the $200 and kept climbing co-founder Aaron Holm said, “All the costs were getting padded and we were like ‘You know what? Forget it. We’re going to deliver the entire thing,”



Blokable had planned to sell bloks to private housing developers, who would then configure and install them.

The new plan targets nonprofits and market-rate developers as customers. These customers won’t need to hire a general contractor to prepare the site and assemble the bloks.

One of the first projects is a partnership with the King County-based nonprofit Compass Housing Alliance to build up to 80 units on a church property in Edmonds.

If the city permits the project, Blokable could contract with a firm to install infrastructure. Then it will truck its modular units from Vancouver to the suburban Seattle site for installation. Janet Pope, CEO for Compass Housing Alliance, said the speed and cost savings are significant improvements over past projects.



Bloks will come with built-in sensors that could quickly alert landlords to fires and even mold. Hi-tech built-in software could help social services caseworkers better communicate with tenants who need regular care.

Blokable’s homes could provide stability to underserved populations.

Doing a 180 is not always a good thing but I think the folks at Blokable have not only taken a good 180, it looks like they are getting ready to put the “pedal to the metal” by helping nonprofits and market-rate developers put more people into houses faster than has ever been done before.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Ralph Lester, Founder of Nationwide Homes, Obituary

Ralph C. Lester, 99, of Martinsville, Va., passed away Wednesday, June 13, 2018. He was born December 1, 1918 in Figsboro, Va. to the late Loury Lawson Lester and Mamie Draper Lester. In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his brothers, Victor Arlington Lester and Lawson Jackson Lester; sisters, Virginia Joy Lester Saunders Phillips and Golden Lester Slawson; and by his first wife, Alice Saunders Lester.


He is survived by his wife, June D. Wilson Lester of the home; daughter, Elizabeth Lester Winn of Greensboro, N.C.; son, Ralph C. Lester Jr. of Lincolnville, Maine; stepson, D.E. "Skip" Wilson of Martinsville, Va.; sisters, Inez Lester Montel and Lottie Lester Estes both of Martinsville, Va. and Vaulene Lester Harris of Wrightsville Beach, N.C. Also surviving are three grandchildren; one great-grandchild; and several nieces and nephews.

Before graduating from Martinsville High School, he worked with his father in the lumber business. After graduating in June 1936, he worked for V.M. Draper Mfg as a booking trainee. Before joining the United State Army Air Corp. in July 1941, he worked for Lester Lumber Co. as an outside salesman. He came home a 1st Lieutenant after serving 50 months. His overseas service was in the Pacific, namely the 5th Air Force as a military glider pilot and as a co-pilot on the C-47 troop carrier. He flew 62 combat missions, hauling ammunitions, food, and other supplies to the other services in the combat zone. Most of his combat service was on the island of New Guinea.

After returning home in September 1945, he and his brother Lawson started a partnership building houses. This partnership was organized into a corporation with others in 1946 named Lester Bros. Inc. He ran several divisions. After resigning his position at Lester Bros, he founded Continental Homes in 1955, a competitor of Lesco Homes. With the help of many friends as shareholders, he organized another company in 1959, founding Nationwide Homes, Inc. At the time, this was unique in that its devoted purpose was to the contracting and building of shell homes. This industry, the Home Manufacturing Association, honored him in several ways. He was given the Eugene Kurtz Memorial Award in 1969 for his outstanding contributions to the industry. In 1987, he received the James R. Price Award for innovation and leadership in the industry.

Ralph was the pioneer in the manufacturing and marketing of the modular house with his unique structure design first offered by Continental Homes in the mid 1960's.

Don O. Carlson, editor and publisher of Automation in Housing Manufactured Home Dealer said, "He is the father of the modern modular housing industry, an innovative individual who is committed to hard work and willingness to risk capital to pioneer new ideas."

As a community worker, Ralph was a Kiwanian, a Phythian, and served in many civic and charitable organizations. He was chairman of the Salvation Army board for 5 terms and was a recipient of its highest honor, The Others Award. He was a charter member of the Patrick Henry Community College Scholarship Foundation where a scholarship was established in his honor. He served the Martinsville-Henry County Memorial Hospital as its chairman and was president of the board when the Ravenel Cancer Center was established and organized.

As a result of his civic activities, he received the Heck Ford Award, sponsored by the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce. Ralph also served on several business boards including Piedmont Trust Bank and Virginia Mirror Company.

In the early 1950's, he helped to organize the Forest Hills Presbyterian Church where he served as a Deacon, an Elder, and was a Trustee until his death.

Ralph said: "First of all, my Lord God is responsible for any worthwhile legacy." He also gave credit to his friends, his bankers, his shareholders, and his employees.

In 2008, Ralph authored a book, Magnet, to identify and perpetuate the entrepreneurial spirit that has dominated Martinsville and Henry County.

A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. on Monday, June 18, 2018 at Forest Hills Presbyterian Church with Chaplain Paul Johnson officiating. Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, June 17, 2018 at Norris Funeral Services, Martinsville Chapel. Burial will be at George Washington Lester Family Cemetery.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Things That Keep Modular Home Builders Awake at Night

We’ve all had those nights when after being asleep for an hour we suddenly wake up thinking of all the things that have changed around us and how we’re going to cope with them. 


It’s very tough keeping up with the tremendous changes facing our industry.  The builder’s customers are changing. Today your customer Googles just about every statement you make checking to make sure you are correct. They watch YouTube videos of every part of home building and check on social media to learn if you are a good builder.

As the pace of the off-site business continues to speed up everything is being turned upside down. Everything we thought would last forever from sales and marketing all the way through the construction process is being attacked and improved on an almost daily basis.

Because the economy is good, business is good. But good business brings about changes for the modular home builder they haven’t faced before. Lead times are expanding every day for most modular home factories. This is happening because many of the factories are jumping head first into commercial, large multi-family and hotel production to keep their lines working continuously and leaving the modular home builder waiting longer to get a home for their customer.

New people are entering the modular and off-site marketplace. ‘High Tech’ is invading us from one direction, large commercial developers from another and the media keeps pumping out story after story about off-site being the future of not only single family housing but affordable and homeless housing as well.

Modular home builders are being asked to respond faster to every question asked of them. Get an email at 7:00 AM from a customer and if you haven’t answered it by 8:00 AM another email shows up asking if you got their first email. Someone fills out an information request form on your site and if they don’t get a response from you within 24 hours they are moving on to another builder.

I wrote an article about modular home factories needing to throw out the trash that is causing problems for them. Now it’s time for every modular home builder turn to think about throwing out the trash that is slowing down your business. It could be the way you interact with your customers and prospects, the procedures you use to build a home or it could be somebody on your team that just does what is expected but nothing more. Your trash can could overflow within one hour if you honestly sat down and looked at it with objective eyes.

Related Article: Time to Take Out the Modular Factory Trash

If you, the modular home builder, haven’t been waking up at night asking yourself what you can do differently, do better and how to embrace all the new things attacking the modular industry’s status quo, it may be time to retire or change professions as you haven’t been watching news and reading this blog.
Disruptive change is coming. This doesn’t mean bad change, it simply means that the modular industry as we have known it for the past 3 decades is about to get a rude awakening to the great possibilities headed our way.

The Modular Home Builders Association Announces the June “Home of the Month”

This five-bedroom, four-and-a-half bath luxury home built by PPG Homes and manufactured by Signature Building Systems in Moosic, PA is perched upon the prime University area street.


Though this home sports a classic exterior design, it is anything but ordinary with its smart home features.


From technology to stone work to architectural detail this modular home characterizes exquisite finishing and craftsmanship. Stone steps, custom columns, arched openings, grand spaces are but a few features that set this home apart.


Extensive landscaping, an irrigation system, outdoor lighting, wiring for generator, a three-car garage with additional work space and smart home technology help define the term turn key.


CLICK HERE to learn more about this home and the MHBA

Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost on the Obligation of Business

When the modular housing industry looks into the future we say we want to automate our processes but there is a lot more happening than just adding some new machinery.

David Kirkpatrick's conversation with Andrew Anagnost of Autodesk at Techonomy 2017 gives us some insight into what he sees as the future.

A video from the Techonomy 17 Conference

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Kanye West Debuts Prefab Social Housing Project

Less than a month after rapper Kanye West announced he was starting his own architecture firm Yeezy Home, images have surfaced of what could be his first social housing project.


The provocateur and sometimes-musician Kanye West wants to design your next home.

Designed and constructed in collaboration with Petra Kustrin, Jalil Peraza, Nejc Å kufca, and Vadik Marmeladov, the low-income housing scheme is made using prefabricated concrete and looks to be perfectly on trend with its mixture of brutalist and minimalist design cues.

Very little is known about his plans but one source told me he wants to build cities. Yeezy Homes currently doesn’t have a website.

Stacking Oakland's Largest Modular Housing Project

Crowds gathered in Oakland on Thursday to witness the module crane installation of the Coliseum Connections apartment building. In less than three weeks, the site will have transformed from an empty foundation to a fully erected, five-story apartment building.

The modules were built at the Guerdon Modular Buildings factory in Boise, Idaho and shipped to the job site. Crews will then turn their focus to installing 44 townhomes, also built using modular construction.


“The modules go in incredibly fast,” said Deanne Tipton of Cahill Contractors. “We will save multiple months compared with a typical project.”

With construction costs soaring in the Bay Area, modular methods are a sought after solution to speed up timelines and lower the costs of building.

“The goal here is to bring in affordable housing for working class families where they need it most,” said Michael Johnson of UrbanCore Development. “The effort then expands into creating jobs and trying to raise up East Oakland as a whole.”


The one- and two-bedroom units will be split; half set aside for low-income residents and the other half rented at market rates.

The project is centered where demand is high and real estate is a premium; adjacent to the Coliseum BART Station and a short walk across a foot bridge to the Oakland Coliseum and Oracle Arena where the Athletics and Warriors play respectively.

After crane installation is complete, contractors will continue exterior and interior corridor connections and final finishes. The 110 unit project, which broke ground on October 6, 2017, is expected to begin housing tenants early next year.