Sunday, May 19, 2019

Does Anyone Know What is Happening with Virginia Homes

For the past 2 weeks I've been hearing conflicting reports about the health of Virginia Homes Building Systems in Boydton, VA.

The rumors include the factory is closed or closing, another factory bought all their customer contracts and yet another said they are being purchased by a PA modular home factory.

I've tried leaving messages with top management but no response to my requests.

If any of you know whether Virginia Homes is still up and running or if it has or is about to close, please comment below as I don't want these rumors flying around about a company if it is in fact doing quite well. 

Apex Homes Hires ex-Wood-Mode Employees

Apex Homes of Pennsylvania President Lynn Kuhns is keenly aware of the shock and fear being felt among Wood-Mode officials and former employees in the wake of the Kreamer, PA company's abrupt closure on Monday.

"We went through this several years ago," he said of the financially troubled time endured by the Middleburg company known in 2012 as Apex Homes Inc. "It was on a smaller scale than Wood-Mode, which is a much bigger company."

It was 2012 and Apex, a modular home manufacturer located along Route 522 not far from the Wood-Mode plant, had fallen into bankruptcy just 22 years after it was founded.

A group of Apex managers, including Kuhns, worked with an outside investor and purchased the company in 2014. With the aid of the state Department of Community and Economic Development, the company now operates under the name of Apex Homes of PA and continues to make modular homes and some cabinetry while employing about 130.

In the years leading up to the purchase, Kuhns said, "I never gave the employees false hope. I always gave them the facts; good, bad and indifferent. I did the same thing with builders and vendors."

Keeping an open communication helped weather the storm, he said.

Only one vendor and one builder left for good and on Aug. 1, the company will celebrate five years under the new name.

By maintaining an open dialogue about the difficulties the company was facing, Kuhns said, many of the employees felt they were a part of the process even as the company cut employee pay, eliminated fringe benefits, company picnics and monthly luncheons.

It paid off for the employees who stayed and today Kuhns said he has already hired seven displaced Wood-Mode workers this week and is looking to hire up to a total of 30.

"We've been trying our best to meet with each (of the 100 or so) applicants. We are trying to hire enough to increase our production. We have a backlog right now," he said.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Vallejo California's “Factory_OS” Plans Expansion

A year after a Factory_OS opened its hulking modular housing factory on Vallejo’s Mare Island, the company has turned out hundreds of units and has orders for 1,000 more.

The startup was recognized at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., last month for Ivory Homes’ first Ivory Prize for Housing Affordability.

Factory_OS was one of four winners this year, out of about 30 modular builders and 125 applicants. The company stood out in the Construction and Design category, which garnered 46% of the nominations, and around 90% considered for the category were factory builders, according to Ivory Homes.

“Factory_OS is transforming the construction industry by vertically integrating 21st century off-site building technologies, software operating systems, lean manufacturing, and workforce development. They are striving to deliver multifamily housing more than 40% faster and at 20% lower cost,” the announcement said

The company has produced about 300 units in the past 12 months and has $200 million in orders on the books, equivalent to around 1,000 apartments, according to Rick Holliday, CEO. That includes employee housing to be delivered to Google on the San Francisco Peninsula in September, four projects for San Francisco public-private ventures and an affordable-housing project in Truckee for a Sacramento-area builder.

“We’ve been hearing from people who want us to build more factories and work 24/7 with more shifts,” he said.

The company now employs 175, half of whom weren’t working in the trades a year ago, Holliday said. Many moved from minimum-wage jobs to wages totaling $50,000-$60,000 a year, he said. Factory_OS worked out a deal with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Jointers of America to train and manage workers for the plant.

About 50,000 units’ worth of projects along the West Coast have been pitched to Factory_OS, Holliday said. Proposals include master-planned communities and a piece of the $1.2 billion eyed for supportive housing for homelessness in the Los Angeles area.

In the works now and set to close soon is additional funding to take the company to the next level, Holliday said. That would allow for an additional shift of roughly 100 more employees, better technology such as programmers for software that will increase factory efficiency, and more financial industry backing.

“Because we’re getting bigger customers, we need certain financial bonds to get projects,” Holliday said.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Funny But Also Very Sad

This cartoon could just as easily be describing the modular factory/modular home builder/customer relationship.

Kevin Clayton Discusses the Future Strategy of Clayton Homes

I watched this video a couple of times and there's a lot to learn not only about Clayton Homes itself but also what Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway is planning for the its future in the affordable housing market.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Wood Mode Kitchens Surprisingly Closes Its Doors

Employees shocked by suddenness of Wood-Mode closure.

Tim and Penny Benner somberly walked out of the Wood-Mode Inc cabinet factory in Kreamer, PA Monday afternoon after being abruptly notified along with nearly 1,000 other employees that the 77-year-old business was closing immediately.

“I’m not surprised because we’ve known for months that something was happening, but I’m shocked that it happened this fast and we didn’t at least get a 60-day notice,” said Tim Benner, a 61-year-old final inspector who has worked at the plant for 41 1/2 years.

Wood-Mode spokesman David Scarr said in a statement that after a deal to sell the company to another firm fell through early last week, officials were notified on Friday that its prime lender was “unwilling to provide normal funding” that would have allowed the custom wood cabinet manufacturing business to continue operating, leaving “no choice but to make the difficult decision to wind down its operations.”

In one instant, Benner and his wife, a 10-year employee, lost both incomes.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said as they stood outside the plant consoling other employees who received word at about 2:45 p.m. that they were being permanently laid off.

“I expected to retire here,” said Tammy Heeter, 59, who was employed at Wood-Mode for nearly 20 years. “Now I’m thinking about paying bills and the lack of insurance.”

Six state police troopers, three Snyder County sheriff deputies and Middleburg Borough police were stationed at the plant as employees walked to their cars, many carrying boxes of personal items.

CLICK HERE to read the entire The Daily Item article

Monday, May 13, 2019

Skyline Champion Homes Treats Drug-Free Students to Barbecue

The 200-some members of the New Philadelphia, OH chapter of Drug Free Clubs of America are already ahead of their peers at Buckeye Career Center, literally.

“They get some preferred parking. They get to dismiss five minutes ahead of everyone else so they beat traffic. That’s one that they really like,” said Superintendent Bob Alsept.

Bernard Sweeney, a senior computer technology student from Carrollton, said he appreciated the benefits the school offered to those who joined the club, including early dismissal.

“Seeing as I don’t do drugs, it was a great thing to do,” he said. “It also helps with employment opportunities. We can show them our card. We’ve stayed drug-free.”

He staffed a cornhole game at a barbecue held Friday to recognize the commitment made by members of the drug-free club.

Modular home manufacturer Skyline Champion Homes of Sugarcreek sponsored the cookout.

Dave Moreland, who has human resources, environmental and safety responsibilities at Skyline Champion Homes in Sugarcreek, served the hamburgers at midday Friday. He said that sponsoring the barbecue fit with Skyline’s core beliefs.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Moreland said. “We try to give to the community. Really, this benefits us all, not just Skyline, but everyone in the community because these kids have taken a pledge to remain drug-free.

“We just want to see these kids have the opportunity to be the best they can be. And it starts with being drug-free. Unfortunately, nobody will tell these kids that they’re not going to be able to get a job if they’re not going to be able to pass a drug test.

“These kids already have a step up because they’re going to be able to prove to future employers that they were a member of the drug-free club.

“This is a tremendous thing that Buckeye has started. We had no doubt that we wanted to support that.”

James Johnson, division manager of Skyline, was instrumental in setting up the company’s support of the club.

“These kids need to be congratulated,” Moreland said. “This is a tremendous commitment on their part. We’re extremely proud of them.”

“We knew we wanted to do something to reward and acknowledge good behavior instead of always being on the punishment side of bad behavior,” Alsept said. “We were hoping at the time that we started that we would have 100 students because it was new and they didn’t know what it was going to be. We ended up with 200 members.”

Members need to pass a drug test to join and agree to submit to another random drug test during the school year to remain in the club. They pay $20 to join. The program is seeking more sponsors to cover costs, which include roughly $70 per person per test.

Modular Factories May Weather the Next Housing Recession Quite Well

A number of market analysts have pointed to signs of weakness in the U.S. housing market as an indicator of a possible economic recession ahead.

Many factors are contributing to their predictions including a slowdown in new home permits, increasing material costs and a shortage of skilled construction labor.

There is nothing the modular housing industry can do about people getting building permits or the rising cost of materials but we can start planning right now to exploit the other main factor, skilled labor.

After the 2008 housing recession many modular home factories began adding more commercial projects to keep production lines running to provide at least minimal profits and keeping the doors open.

This time those factories are already doing commercial and have strong builder networks in place. They also have a skilled labor force that is ready, willing and able to complete both homes and projects without much additional manpower.

When, and that is still a big question the next recession hits, our site built siblings will take it on the chin one more time. When their source of new home buyers begins to dry up they will have few options to choose from to stay in business.

Modular factories and their builders should be able to leverage that into maintaining their current levels of production simply because we exist. And we exist with a huge infrastructure of builders and developers as well as a labor force to complete the work.

The same can’t be said for site builders.

The modular housing industry needs to realize just how advantageous this next recession could actually be to securing our future and expanding our percentage of new home starts.

Wouldn’t it be great if suddenly we were the only constant in new home building.

Gary Fleisher (the Modcoach) is a housing veteran, editor/writer of Modular Home Builder blog and industry speaker.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

3 Correctable Problems Facing the Residential Modular Housing Industry

Since 2014 the modular housing industry has shined under the spotlight of innovation and improvement. Seminars and conferences on modular construction can now be found everywhere from California to Boston, from Chicago to Miami.

All of these events share one common theme. They talk about the future of modular construction and all the innovations coming onto the market. New products, new procedures, new software, automated modular factories and total online sales.

These are great things to talk about and should be explored to their fullest. But there are underlying problems that have not been adequately addressed and in some cases simply ignored hoping that someone, somewhere will hand our industry solutions to them without our industry having to lift a finger.

Well, that ain’t gonna happen Folks!

Our industry, especially in the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions, has problems that not only aren’t being addressed, most of them are not even talked about except by a few factory owners, management, builders and suppliers huddled in dark corners.

Problem #1 Lack of New Modular Home Builders

This is a problem I have been telling everyone about for over 10 years. When the housing recession of 2008 hit most of the very small modular home builders couldn’t survive. They turned to remodeling, changed careers, retired or died. Only a very small percentage ever returned.

Here we are eleven years later and I’m not aware of even one factory has an active ‘New to Modular” marketing and training program installed to replace those builders. Instead we still see new factory sales reps going after other factory’s existing builder base or talking to site builders telling them the same old batch of puke about modular homes being 90% complete from the factory, how it will save them 10-15% over site building and that they can finish homes in less than 30 days.

After 2014 many factories began the march into more and more commercial work in the form of hotels, dormitories, apartments and affordable housing. This was about the only revenue stream available to factories as the builder pool dried up.

Possible Solution:

It is time for modular home factories to join together and start several programs to solve this multifaceted problem.

The ‘marketing to new site builder’ part should be a collaborative effort by EVERY factory, not just a couple doing all the heavy lifting while others sit on the sidelines waiting to reap the rewards of the other’s effort.

Training new builders is actually a two part process. First, every salesperson both new and experienced should go back to school on what benefits the actual modular building process can give to builders. Those far-fetched statements concerning saving lots of money and lots of time need to be revisited and real information provided to them. An informed sales rep explaining in detail the benefits of modular to ‘new to modular’ builders is the gateway for both the factory’s and builder’s success. This training should happen at the factory level but it is both time and money intensive and hardly any factory can do it on their own.

Which brings us to those builders that the modular factory seems to think instinctively know everything modular from the day they buy their first modular. Builders are at a disadvantage when it comes to our industry. They don’t really have the time to meet and talk with each other and most factories actually discourage it.

But that has to change. Builders need to learn about our industry and share their best practices in order to continue to improve. Builder meetings should be open to every factory’s builder base. Ideas should be shared. New products introduced to them and real training should be available to them.

All of these efforts take time, money and resources. These are within reach of our industry. Someone has to take the first step in accomplishing it.

Problem #2 Service After the Sale

There are factories that own their mistakes, there are factories that drag their feet getting around to fixing service problems and shamefully, there are even factories across the US that either believe all service issues are caused by builder or are only willing to pay a pittance of the costs their builder incurred.

Every factory has or should have a service manager. Unfortunately even some that do put so much pressure on them to stay within the budgeted guidelines established back in the 1970’s when building a modular home was not as well engineered or having to meet the strict building codes as we must today.

Complicated custom homes, options unheard of being done in the factory 40 years ago and what at some factories is a lack of skilled inspectors has allowed some problems to only become evident after the home is set on the foundation.

That is when the “Blame Game” begins. As emails, texts, pictures, videos and phone calls about the problem fly back and forth, many builders blame the factory first and demand they send out a service crew immediately. Factory service managers can look at those same pictures and know it was caused after the modular left the gate.

And so for many builders and service managers the battle begins. Since hardly any modular factory is vertically integrated the battle can quickly escalate. Sales Managers and owners stand behind their service managers while builders often recruit the set crew and subcontractors on their side. If the battle drags out more than a few days with work stopped on the house, this can lead to the new homeowner getting involved bringing in their attorney, the local building inspector and the bank.

There have been stories of homes being unfinished for years because nobody wanted to compromise to get the house finished. This is not entirely a modular home problem, it happens every day in site building as well.

Possible Solution:

If every factory, builder and homeowner would enter into an arbitration contract limited to the time until the customer is handed the keys at the certificate of occupancy we might be have a tool to quickly end the stalemate.

It would require a third party arbiter. That could mean a group if engineers, attornies, fellow builders or others across the US that have agreed to be the final decision maker and everyone MUST abide by their decision.

After the certificate of occupancy there are many other remedies available to the homeowner if service or workmanship problems arise. Warranties can be the best thing a builder could ever buy for their customer and is required in almost all states.

The grey area has been and will continue to be the timeframe from the time the house leaves the factory gate until the certificate of occupancy.

Will this ever happen? Not in my lifetime unless a Federal regulation is passed and we all know how quickly logical things get passed in Congress.

Problem #3: Weather and Delays

Everyone’s heard the only two things that are certain in life are death and taxes. If you are a modular home builder there are two more certainties, “Weather and Delays”

While modular home factories brag that their modules are built inside where it never rains or snows, the same can’t be said for builders.

For the past two years rain has been our industry’s nemesis. It wouldn’t be so bad if it only rained a day or two a week. No, rain falls for a week and brings along its best friend “Wind” before, during and after. Sunshine has been reserved for days when there are no homes to set.

Both modular and site builders are having a tough time getting foundations in the ground. Both are having product delivered to muddy job sites and both are scrambling to give subcontractors dates to start.

However the modular home builder has two challenges their site built siblings don’t have, module carriers that can’t get to the jobsite because of mud, snow and rain and set crews that may or may not be able to fit your delayed home into their schedule after you cancelled them for a certain date.

There are 3 main parts to every set, 4 if you count making sure there is a job johnny on site!

They are getting the carriers on site in a position they can lifted by the crane, the crane itself which must also wade through the mud along with the truck carrying the crane’s counterweights and last but not least, the set crew.

Set crews come in all sizes and shapes but they have one thing in common. They need to stay busy. When the builder sees lots of rain or snow in the forecast for ‘set day’ they will cancel and reschedule the set.

Since the modules are already setting at or near the job, waiting another day or two will find the builder with ‘overnight’ charges from the factory who thought they were getting there driver(s) and carriers back to ship out another home.

The crane, if called and rescheduled early enough may not charge you for the extra day but also may not be available on your rescheduled day. And finally there is the set crew who may live up to 200 miles away from the job and now must quickly find another builder’s home to set or risk losing money while their crew sits in their pickups or in the motel.

There is a very limited number of modular set crews and if your set crew is already scheduled somewhere else on your revised date you will be left scrambling to find another crew.

Possible Solution:

The modular housing industry is actually just a small part of the nation’s housing industry even though it continues to grow. Just about everyone is aware of the others involved in it within each region.

With all the advances in cell phone technology, software and Cloud storage and sharing, wouldn’t it be great if there were a central clearing board for scheduling modular home deliveries, set crews and cranes.

One builder’s delay could mean another builder would be able to set their customers home. Set crews would have fewer days without work and factories will have advanced knowledge of weather problems that could be happening in certain areas.

The answer to this problem is not easy but I’m sure with what is available in custom programming today one of those brilliant high tech people we hear so much of just might want to take a crack at this and maybe create the only national modular scheduling system and become the next techie millionaire.

Watch for more problems that impact mostly the modular housing industry. Send over your problems and let’s see if we can’t help find a solution.

Gary Fleisher (the Modcoach) is a housing veteran, editor/writer of Modular Home Builder blog and industry speaker.

More Job Listings for the Modular Housing Industry

If you have experience in any part of the housing industry and are ready for a new career, you need to check out these great opportunities from LGARecruiters.

The Active Candidates section below represents candidates looking for new career opportunities.

The Open Positions section represents companies, who are looking for candidates to fill their open positions.

Contact Lynn Gromann at 888-831-0327 or if you would like further information on an available candidate or on an open position.

Active Candidates

EXECUTIVE / FINANCIAL Supply Chain / Ops Manager - 23+ years manufacturing, 1+ yr MOD, will relo CFO - 7 years in industry + 20 years construction, CMA General Manager HUD - General or Sales Manager - MOD, 30 years, will relo Director Pre-Construction - 35+ years construction, Commercial MOD Operations Executive - extensive MOD / HUD experience

SALES Sales Rep - Commercial MOD - Southwest Sales Manager - 22 years MOD, wants Mid-Atlantic Sales Rep - 30 + years HUD / MOD, wants TX to the Southeast Senior Sales Manager - 8+ years HUD / MOD + 11 years similar industry Sales - 22 years MOD / Commercial MOD, possible relo Sales Rep - MOD experience, wants CO market

PRODUCTION / OPERATIONS Operations / Plant Manager - 30+ years industry and construction, wants TX Assistant Production Manager - 11 years HUD / MOD prior experience Production Manager - 34+ years MOD, wants East coast, Mid-Atlantic, CO Assistant Production Manager - 20+ years HUD / MOD, wants East coast

ENGINEERING / QUALITY Engineering Manager- 34 years MOD / HUD, TN only

MATERIALS / PURCHASING Materials Manager - 17 years total HUD / MOD, 4 years purchasing Assistant Materials Manager - 6 years HUD / MOD, wants TX
Open Positions

EXECUTIVE / FINANCIAL Plant Controller - MOD - Midwest

MATERIALS / PURCHASING Materials Manager - MOD - Midwest Estimator - Multi-Family - West Estimator - Hospitality / Multi-Family - South Materials Manager - MOD - Rocky Mountain Region Inside Sales / Estimator - Commercial MOD - Midwest Materials Manager - MOD - Pacific NW

PRODUCTION / OPERATIONS Plant Manager - MOD - Midwest Project Manager - Multi-Family - West Assistant Production Manager - MOD - Rocky Mountain Region Production Supervisors - HUD / MOD - South Production Supervisors - HUD / MOD - Midwest Plant Manager - Residential MOD - Upper Midwest

ENGINEERING / QUALITY Designer - MOD - Northeast Revit Drafter - Commercial MOD - Midwest Lead Revit Designer - Commercial MOD - South Engineering Manager - Commercial MOD - Pacific NW Designer - MOD / Midwest Engineering Manager- HUD / MOD - Midwest Engineering Manager - MOD - Pacific NW Quality Assurance Manager - HUD / MOD - West Quality Assurance Manager - MOD - Midwest Quality Assurance Manager - Multi-Family MOD Start-up - Southeast Quality Assurance Manager - HUD / MOD - South

SALES Sales Manager / Rep - HUD / MOD - Midwest Sales Rep - HUD / MOD - Southeast Sales Rep - MOD - Pacific NW Sales Rep - Multi-family - Rocky Mountain Region