Tuesday, September 30, 2014

SWOT Analysis for Your Modular Home Business

SWOT analysis – Part One

A SWOT analysis is a simple tool to help you work out the internal and external factors affecting your modular home business. It is one of the most commonly used business analysis and decision-making tools. A SWOT analysis helps you:
  • build on strengths (S)
  • minimize weakness (W)
  • seize opportunities (O)
  • counteract threats (T).
To get the most out of a SWOT analysis, you need to conduct it with a particular business objective in mind. For example, a SWOT analysis can help you decide if you should introduce standard material lists or a new service for your home buyers or change one of your processes.

A SWOT analysis is often part of strategic planning. It can help you better understand your business and work out what areas need improving. It can also help you understand your market, including your competitors, and predict changes that you will need to address to make sure your business is successful. It is also a particularly useful step in developing your marketing plan.

Uses of SWOT analysis

A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis looks at internal and external factors that can affect your business. Internal factors are your strengths and weaknesses. External factors are the threats and opportunities. If an issue or situation would exist even if your business didn't (such as changes in technology or a major flood), it is an external issue.

Strategic planning, brainstorming and decision making

A SWOT analysis is a useful tool for brainstorming and strategic planning. You'll get more value from a SWOT analysis if you conduct it with a specific objective or question in mind. For example, you can use a SWOT analysis to help you decide if and how you should:
  • take advantage of a new business opportunity
  • respond to new trends
  • implement new technology
  • deal with changes to your competitors' operations.
Building on strengths

A SWOT analysis will help you identify areas of your business that are performing well. These areas are your critical success factors and they give your business its competitive advantage.

Identifying these strengths can help you make sure you maintain them so you don't lose your competitive advantage. Growing your business involves finding ways of using and building on these strengths.

Minimizing weaknesses

Weaknesses are the characteristics that put your business at a disadvantage to others. Conducting a SWOT analysis can help you identify these characteristics and minimize or improve them before they become a problem. When conducting a SWOT analysis, it is important to be realistic about the weaknesses in your business so you can deal with them adequately.

Seizing opportunities

A SWOT analysis can help you identify opportunities that your business could take advantage of to make greater profits. Opportunities are created by external factors, such as new consumer trends and changes in the market.

Conducting a SWOT analysis will help you understand the internal factors (your business's strengths and weaknesses) that will influence your ability to take advantage of a new opportunity. If your business doesn't have the capability to seize an opportunity but decides to anyway, it could be damaging. Similarly, if you do have the capability to seize an opportunity and don't, it could also be damaging.

Counteracting threats

Threats are external factors that could cause problems for your business, such as changes to the market, a competitor's new advertising campaign, or new government policy. A SWOT analysis can help you identify threats and ways to counteract them, depending on your strengths and weaknesses.

Addressing individual issues

You can conduct a SWOT analysis to address individual issues, such as:
  • staffing issues
  • business culture and image
  • new product development
  • organisational structure
  • advertising
  • financial resources
  • operational efficiency.
When you're conducting an individual SWOT analysis, keep in mind that a strength for one issue might be a weakness for another. You might also identify a weakness, such as a gap in the market that you're not covering, that could be an opportunity for your business.

Benefits and limitations of SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis can help you identify and understand key issues affecting your business, but it does not necessarily offer solutions. You should be aware of the limitations as well as the benefits of a SWOT analysis before you decide to conduct one.

Knowing what you can reasonably expect to achieve will make the SWOT analysis more useful for your business, and will save you time. Ultimately, you must be prepared to spend the time to review your SWOT analysis and use it to determine the best way forward in your business.

Benefits of SWOT analysis

The main advantages of conducting a SWOT analysis is that it has little or no cost - anyone who understands your business can perform a SWOT analysis. You can also use a SWOT analysis when you don't have much time to address a complex situation. This means that you can take steps towards improving your business without the expense of an external consultant or business adviser.

Another advantage of a SWOT analysis is that it concentrates on the most important factors affecting your business. Using a SWOT, you can:
  • understand your business better
  • address weaknesses
  • deter threats
  • capitalise on opportunities
  • take advantage of your strengths
  • develop business goals and strategies for achieving them.
Limitations of SWOT analysis

When you are conducting a SWOT analysis, you should keep in mind that it is only one stage of the business planning process. For complex issues, you will usually need to conduct more in-depth research and analysis to make decisions.

Keep in mind that a SWOT analysis only covers issues that can definitely be considered a strength, weakness, opportunity or threat. Because of this, it's difficult to address uncertain or two-sided factors, such as factors that could either be a strength or a weakness or both, with a SWOT analysis (e.g. you might have a prominent location, but the lease may be expensive).

A SWOT analysis may be limited because it:
  • doesn't prioritise issues
  • doesn't provide solutions or offer alternative decisions
  • can generate too many ideas but not help you choose which one is best
  • can produce a lot of information, but not all of it is useful.

End of Part One. Look for the Part Two very soon.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The 'Passive House' Path to Extreme Energy Efficiency

by Sheri Koones Sep 27th 2014 10:18AM

Updated Sep 28th 2014 2:53PM

The G•O Logic Home was the first Passive House to be built in Maine and was among the first constructed in the United States.

With the growing cost of fuel, increasingly stringent home construction codes, and scientific evidence that we must reduce CO2 emissions, many architects, builders and homeowners are turning to "Passive House" or "Passivhaus" specifications to design and build their new homes. Buildings consume approximately 48 percent of the energy used in this country. Passive Houses use 80 to 90 percent less energy to heat and cool.

Demand has increased, in the United States and various countries around the world, to build not only new homes using these Passive House, or PH, specifications but also for commercial structures, schools and for remodeled homes. The Passivhaus standard was developed in Germany in the early

1990s by Professors Bo Adamson of Sweden and Wolfgang Feist of Germany, and the first dwellings to be completed to the Passivhaus Standard were constructed in Darmstadt in 1991.

There are currently 30,000 Passive House structures built around the world, including in the United States. The first PH in the U.S. was built in Urbana, Illinois, in 2003 by Katrin Klingenberg, the founder of the PH Institute in the United States. According to the PH website, "The Passivhaus standards' strengths lie in the simplicity of its approach; build a house that has an excellent thermal performance, exceptional airtightness with mechanical ventilation!

Ritz-Craft Homes Earns More STARS Awards

Ritz-Craft was recognized at the 21st Century Building Expo and Conference with awards for Best Interior Merchandising/Design and Best Brochure/Marketing Piece for a Builder. This marks the third STARS award for Ritz-Craft – last year the company was recognized with the award for Best Internet Marketing, Advertising or Branding Project for their on-going social media campaigns.

Ritz-Craft's model home, The Shelton Creek, received the award for Best Interior Merchandising/Design in a home under $250,000. Judges noted the home’s “beautiful use of muted color” as a reason for the accolade. The Ritz-Craft Coastal Lifestyle Collection was recognized with an award for best brochure/marketing piece for a builder. For this award, judges noted the easy-to-read layout and presentation as the main reason for their decision.

Mike Zangardi, Ritz-Craft’s Director of Business Development and developer of the new Coastal Collection counts the brochure’s variety of plans as a reason for its popularity: "The designs in this collection encompass a wide variety of sizes and styles. Plans include cute, modest bungalows as well as large, family homes – all with special attention to maximizing view opportunities while embracing a casual, beach lifestyle. The collection includes a number of ‘upside-down’ two story plans with a second floor master suite and open living/entertaining space. The plans adapt well to elevated foundations to accommodate parking and entry from below and also keep to a minimal footprint to make the most of smaller beach area building lots."

The STARS Awards are a centerpiece of the 21st Century Building Expo and Conference – the premier building expo and conference in the Southeast. Each year, the gala salutes the outstanding professional performance of HBA members throughout the state of North Carolina with the presentation of the prestigious STARS Awards.

Friday, September 26, 2014

MHBA Conference Had Something for Every Modular Factory and Builder

For modular home builders and factory people, if you weren’t at the MHBA in Dulles yesterday you missed a good conference. Tom Hardiman, Dave Sikora, Sharon and their staff put on a great meeting.

Three speakers were featured. Professor Joe Wheeler, AIA from Virginia Tech University led off the conference by introducing everyone to a concept that he and his students in the School of Architecture + Design’s Center for Design Research have been busy working on for modular construction called ‘Cartridges.’ These are prebuilt integrated kitchen units, closet units, baths and entertainment units built offsite from the modular factory, shipped in and then put into place right on the production as complete units.
The kitchen Cartridge by VT
Though more adapted to multi-family modular construction, I predict that these or some hybrid of these cartridges will find their way onto the production line within the next decade.

Ted Leopsky, the Technical Lead for Energy Star’s Residential Branch talked about how the Energy Star label gives buyers a feeling of comfort when they purchase items. He said that the use of them by the modular housing is very low even though most modular homes do meet or exceed the Energy Star requirements. He feels that builders and even the factories are reluctant to mention Energy Star labeling to their customers because of the added cost and perceived low returns by the home owner.

There might be some validity in that statement but when a modular home builder doesn’t even bring up Energy Star labeling with the home buyer because the builder is afraid that they will lose the sale, then something is wrong and we as an industry need to figure out how to show the cost to benefit ratio in a positive light.

The final speaker was Andy Gianino, President of The HomeStore and author of the best selling book for the new modular home buyer, TheModular Home.

Andy pulled no punches when it came to pointing fingers at both the modular factory and the modular home builder when it comes to building better homes that will help dispel the negative image of modular housing.

He knows that we can build fantastic homes compared to site built but a combination of less than effective production methods, factory – builder animosity, poorly fitting house sets and service after the sale continue to perpetuate the notion that modular is not as good as a site built home.

Striving to present the homeowner with a perfect house from conception to completion should be our industry’s goal and our continuing to refuse to work together toward that goal is the major reason we are stuck at 3% of the total new single family homes built in the US.

He strongly urged all factories and every modular home builder in the US to join the MHBA as it is becoming the leading advocate for our industry. Sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing results in absolutely no improvement in modular housing’s image.

The MHBA Home of the Year was awarded to Anthony Zarrilli of Zarrilli homes.

2014 MHBA Home of the Year
A fantastic breakfast sponsored by yours truly and a networking lunch completed the day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

B2 May Turn Out to the World's Largest Uncompleted Modular Project

That partially completed building at the corner of Dean St. and Flatbush Ave. may turn out to be a mausoleum of Bruce Ratner’s grandest dream.

On Tuesday, Swedish giant Skanska bailed out of its contract with the visionary real estate titan to construct the world’s tallest pre-fabricated tower — ensuring that the building will remain in limbo for the foreseeable future, if it gets built at all.

B2 Stalled and Sitting at 10 Stories

At present, the building — which Ratner boasted would “crack the code” for affordable construction in the city — stands at just 10 of its proposed 32 stories.

The termination of the contract is the latest in a flurry of legal jabs in the bout between Skanska and Ratner’s development firm over delays and cost overruns at the Atlantic Yards building.

A Skanska spokeswoman said Forest City Ratner Companies had refused to address a number of issues, including an allegedly flawed design for the tower.

“We could not continue to incur millions of dollars in extra costs with little hope that Forest City would take responsibility for fixing the significant commercial and design issues on the project,” Skanska USA COO Richard Kennedy said in a statement.

Earlier this summer, Skanska halted work at the site, idling more than 150 union workers. Skanska and Forest City Ratner then traded lawsuits, blaming each other for the snafus at the project.

The Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, which represents the union contractors, declined to comment.

Skanska is just trying to gain financial leverage and get a better deal from the company by halting construction at the site, Ratner’s officials contend.

“These are deplorable and disappointing tactics that show remarkable indifference to the wellbeing of these workers and the project,” said MaryAnne Gilmartin, president and CEO of Forest City Ratner. “We will continue to rigorously pursue our options through the courts to get (the B2 tower) built.”

But what will happen to the unfinished building is unclear.

Ratner cannot go ahead with construction using another contractor, since Skanska still owns a stake in project, including the plant where the pre-fabricated modules are built. Skanska has rejected Ratner’s bid to take over the project.

The property was slated to be the first residential building at Ratner’s Atlantic Yards development, which once called for 16 skyscrapers around the Barclays Center, comprising 6,000 units of housing.

The project is now known as Pacific Park.

MA Fire Chief Blames Everything on Modular Construction

Kevin Gallagher, the small town fire chief that blames modular construction for all the world's problems, is at it again. Only this time he is more subtle than ever. He writes a column for FireEngineering and guess how he begins EVERY headline: Modular Concerns:

I just finished reading and rereading his latest column about the fire dangers of solar glazed reflective windows and even though the headline contained the words Modular Concerns, I only found a vague reference to modular and that was the erroneous statements he made about modular construction causing a house to burn rather than the home owner actually setting his own house on fire.

Here is his article:


By Kevin A. Gallagher, 09/19/2014, FireEngineering

Back in October 2013, I wrote an article for this column on the very real phenomenon of sunlight reflecting off energy efficient windows and causing damage to vinyl siding. As that article noted, the nationwide push for greater energy efficiency has resulted in the adoption of stricter energy codes. Reducing our carbon footprint is the goal, but sometimes this can result in unexpected consequences.

The October 2013 article discussed several examples of vinyl siding becoming distorted in some cases and melted in others. The amount of heat reflected off these windows is—in some cases—great enough to cause damage from considerable distance.

Fortunately, this is not one of those pesky issues from which the various industries are running away. The National Association of Home Builders recognizes the problem, and the Vinyl Siding Institute has issued an advisory on solar reflection and heat distortion. The problem, it appears, is getting to a solution.

There does not appear to be a real concern about this concentrated heat energy at these levels igniting vinyl siding. The authors of the University of California report state, “The auto-ignition temperature of vinyl siding varies with the specific vinyl compound formulation and test conditions, but it is typically reported around 730 degrees F.

For comparison, the auto-ignition temperature of wood, another common siding material, is typically reported in the temperature range of 400 to 500 degrees F.” Well, this seems like good news. 

However, the authors of the report strike this concern, stating, “Vinyl siding will shrink, char, and expose its backing material well before it reaches its auto-ignition temperature. Therefore, if any fire hazards from highly concentrated radiation need to be considered, the focus should be on materials surrounding and backing the vinyl siding, not the siding itself.”

The concerns, however, are other materials igniting because of reflected heat from vinyl windows. I mentioned the old cigarette in a dried-out flower box origin and cause with which we are all familiar. The damage from that scenario can be excessive.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Atlantic Yards Modular Dispute Could Have Citywide Echo

Atlantic Yards Modular Dispute Could Have Citywide Echo
Posted by Jarrett Murph, City Limits online | Sep 22, 2014

The dust-up between Forest City Ratner Company and Skanska is, at its essence, a business dispute involving conflicting claims about a single building. But could the episode have broader implications for affordable housing in the city?

The beef boils down to this: Skanksa and Forest City got together to build B2, a residential tower at the Atlantic Yards site that was to be the tallest structure in the word built with modular construction. But now the two companies are trading barbs over who is to blame for delays at the site, with Forest City pegging it on incompetence by Skanska and Skanska attributing it to flaws in Forest City's designs.

As Atlantic Yards Report's Norman Oder reported today, Skanska claimed in a lengthy early August letter to Forest City that, "It is impossible to predict that the building when completed will perform as designed; and in particular, it is impossible to predict that the curtain wall joints will be and, over time, will remain effective barriers to the passage of air and water." While Forest City has not responded formally to that charge, it has previously issued assurances that the building is sound.

For those of us without any skin in the Atlantic Yards game, the question isn't just whether Skanksa is telling the truth, but whether any of it has larger implications for the affordable housing potential of modular construction.

Some see modular construction as a potential solution to the always difficult task of building housing that can be supported by low rents and government subsidies. The affordable housing problem in New York isn't just about landlords charging higher rents because the market lets them; the fact is, high rents to some degree reflect the high cost of building in New York City. Building densely, as Mayor de Blasio wants to do, is a way of squeezing more value out of the city's scarce land. But high-rise construction is complex and expensive. Modular offers a chance to build high more cheaply.

According to an early August article in Commercial Property Executive, the Department of Buildings was reviewing more than three dozen applications for permits to build modular structures. Not everyone is enthusiastic about the possibility of a larger shift toward modular building, with some critics concerned about building quality.

It's possible, of course, that there's nothing wrong with the building. It's also possible that even if there is a flaw, it is unique to B2, perhaps reflecting the particular challenges associated with building an extraordinarily tall modular structure. Or the saga there could reveal a systemic problem in the modular approach.

In any case, the outcome will affect more than just one structure on the corner of Flatbush and Dean.