Monday, May 31, 2010

PROFESSIONAL SALES SKILL SETS

With all the comments on both this blog and on the bulletin board about the lack of professionalism from modular factory sales reps, I sat down and tried to figure out just what goes into making a professional sales person. Each of the following items is important and if a sales rep strives to improve in each area the results will be quickly noticeable. In the end however, none of these matter if they are not developed and encouraged by the factory’s Sales Manager. They are the key component in improving sales and that means they must work to improve the Sales Rep.


Here are some of the traits that will set you apart from your competitors.


Commitment:

You are selling a high priced product, perhaps the largest purchase the builder’s customers will ever make. Your builder expects you to be committed to delivering the highest value possible, as defined by their requirements. Commitment to your company is also essential to your success, as your builder and potential builders will ask you, "Why should I choose your factory over one of your competitors?" You must focus on providing a succinct but persuasive answer that question. Finally, you have to be committed to your own success--committed enough to be highly disciplined in your investment of time, energy, training, and other resources to your own ongoing development.

Professionalism:

Your builders expect and deserve to work with someone who is professional in knowledge of both the builders’ needs and what the factory has to offer. Professionalism also assumes well-honed organizational skills that make all contacts with the builder a satisfying experience rather than an annoyance.

Work Ethic:

Developing and maintaining a good work ethic means that you develop efficient and effective work habits and then stick to them day in and day out. This includes a regular schedule, standard operating procedures for the repetitive tasks you must perform, a simple but effective record-keeping system, and the self-discipline to keep going no matter what. It’s not how many hours you work, it’s how much of that time you focus on your objectives.

Charisma:

Charisma is not a gift you were born with, it is a skill that is learned and honed. It is a competence that all sales professionals need, and most are able to learn. It is that seamless combination of vision, empathy, self-confidence, enthusiasm, optimism, and focus that often makes the different between closing a sale and closing a door--right in your own face. It involves the consistent ability to build rapport instantly and maintain it subconsciously so that you and your builder are never adversarial, but on the same side. Yet if your charisma comes across as contrived or artificial, it will do more harm than good.
Attitude:

As Zig Ziglar says, "It's your attitude, much more than your aptitude, that determines your altitude." Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Are you enthusiastic or lethargic? Do you look at the problems or for solutions? The right attitude is something we can develop, improve, and fine tune. Your mind will believe whatever you tell it about yourself.

Creativity:

Have you ever wondered what distinguishes your factory from other factories that sell houses that are similar to yours? consider this: to the client your two companies may be indistinguishable, you may both be selling a superior product or service, and each of you may be delivering your presentation and maintaining contact in a truly professional manner. Your creativity might well become the sole differentiator that makes you stand out from the dozen cookie-cutter sales representatives your client has encountered. It may be a remarkable turn of phrase, a humorous leave behind, or an unforgettable story. What ever it is, creativity can easily become a factor between gaining an order and losing one. Creativity can be learned, developed, and enhanced.

Resilience:

Anyone who has been in sales for very long has felt the pain of losing a close one. You may have invested many hours, days, or even weeks developing a relationship with a builder, gaining an opportunity to quote a home, and earning your builder’s loyalty. Then the floor drops out, and you find the order has gone to a another factory or has been postponed indefinitely. Your ability on such occasions to bounce back not only to where you were before, but having gained from the experience, is one of the essential keys to sales success. If you are able to learn something from each loss and then put it behind you, your next opportunity has a higher likelihood for winning.

Flexibility:

Every sales professional knows that success in selling is not simply a matter of following a checklist of do's and don'ts. You have to learn how to be flexible. In other words, you must develop an outstanding ability to read the builder’s particular needs, preferences, and personal idiosyncrasies, and then tailor your interaction, presentation, and closing tactics to custom-fit that builder. Employing a "one-size-fits-all," learned-by-rote system is one of the quickest ways you can find to convince your builder that they don’t matter to you or your factory
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Thursday, May 27, 2010

SELLING, BUILDING, SELLING..THE CYLCE CONTINUES

It doesn't matter if you are a modular builder or a site builder, you know that selling and building homes is cyclical. Building season is here but so is the selling season.

If you custom build homes you are aware that from the time of the first contact to the day you start the house an entire year could have passed. The actual building time is a relatively small part of that process. But did you realize that two building seasons and two selling seasons also happened over the course of that same year.

BUILDING SEASONS:
Using the northern half of our country as the example, the first houses of the new year are built when the first robins are sighted and the second wave before the first penetrating frost. These houses were sold between 6 and 12 months prior and during construction a lot of your time is eaten up with visiting jobsites, ordering inspections, meeting with your customers, working with subcontractors and actual physical work at the jobsite.

Your Spring start homes have people that want to move in before little Johnny gets out of school and they take their vacations. Your Fall start homes are people that want to be in before Thanksgiving.

If you only did 2 houses a year, one in each season, this wouldn't be a big problem, but we both know you won't make very much money on two 2,100 sq ft homes unless your Michele Kauffman who sells homes for $250 -$350 a sq ft. Let's assume your building 8 homes this year, that means that ideally you should build 4 in the Spring and 4 in the Fall. Like that ever happens!

Building 8 houses puts a lot of pressure to meet both the customer's goals and yours.
I remember hearing of one builder that knew he couldn't get the family in before Christmas but bought a lighted tree (powered by a generator) and a present for each member of the family (5), bought some sandwiches and other goodies and put them in the unfinished living room of their new home. He took them to the house about a week before Christmas and gave them a holiday that they still talk about to their friends. I really hope this isn't an urban legend!
Pressure and how you deal with it can make the biggest difference.

Building modular homes gives you a huge advantage over site builders in the time needed to set and finish homes as well as controlling costs and usually making more profit.

SELLING SEASONS:
As with building seasons, there are two selling seasons. The first is February through June and the second is July through November.

The people in the first season of the year want to be in by Thanksgiving and the second season people want to be in before school is out. YIKES!

But here comes the rub. Did you notice that the building season and the selling seasons happen at the same time? It's like the guy that had a bad furnace and a teenage daughter, when he watched one, the other one went out!

And to make matters worse, the buyers hold the timeline when it comes to signing the contract and starting the house. If they drag their feet in the design stage and again in the financing stage, your starting date keeps getting pushed back. Who do you think they will blame for not getting into their house on time...you got it...YOU!

So what is a builder to do to keep projects on schedule, market and sell homes and finally to make sure everything is going smooth at the jobsites? That's easy, they just have to clone themselves into 3 or 4 new people.

Not! What has to happen is delegation! If you a sole proprietor, the job is difficult but not impossible. You need to hire one good supervisor or one good sales/office person. And when I say good, I mean someone that can think ahead and with your best interests at heart. They are out there, especially in today's job market. Experience is the key here. Hire the best you can afford for the position, give them your guidelines and let them go. You must monitor their activities but that's a lot easier than doing everything yourself.
If you have built your business by being good at helping people realize their dream of home ownership and getting them to sign a contract for their new home, then that's what you need to continue doing. If you being "hands on" in the field is what brings customers to your business, then stay there and hire the best sales/office person you can find.
New housing starts appears to have hit bottom and predictions are that late 2010 and early 2011 will see things going back up. If you want to be part of that, you've got to plan right now for it. And cloning is not the answer.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

PALM HARBOR'S LOSES CONTINUE

Palm Harbor's woes continue to mount. Their fiscal year ending March 26, 2010 had sales of $298.4 million compared to last fiscal year's $409.3 million. That's a drop of $111 million!

They are also seeing losses continuing to accumulate. Net loss for fiscal 2010 totaled $51.1 million compared with the net loss of $32.0 million last year. The two year total is over $83 million.

Nationwide Homes, part of the Palm Harbor empire just donated a modular home to Extreme Makeover Home Edition; a fact that was overlooked in the show; is also experiencing some tough times.


Let's hope that Palm Harbor, one of the biggest manufactured and modular companies in the US doesn't run aground. That could be a devastating injury to our industry.

Commenting on the results, Larry Keener, chairman and chief executive officer of Palm Harbor Homes, Inc., said, "In light of the ongoing challenges facing our economy and our industry, Palm Harbor has continued to take the necessary steps to revise our operating strategy to meet current and expected demand. Our results for the fourth quarter reflect the restructuring costs associated with the closure of 23 sales centers, one factory and other overhead reductions. With the completion of these actions during the quarter, we believe we are better positioned to effectively operate and achieve profitability in this business environment with a more efficient and sustainable footprint. We are realizing approximately $20.0 million in annual savings going forward and, as a result, we expect significantly better operational results in fiscal 2011."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

RITZ CRAFT BUILDS 500th HOME IN NC PLANT

Ritz Craft Homes, one of the best known names in our industry with headquarters in PA, is ready to build their 500th home in their new Rockingham, NC factory.

Paul D. John, President and CEO; Eric John, Vice President

In addition to this achievement is the move of Elite Designer Homes, formerly located on U.S. 1, to the campus of Ritz-Craft Corporation.

“I believe that Elite Designer Homes will become a great asset to our company and I believe that it will benefit those who are looking at modular construction to be able to see the quality in the homes,” said Dale Dixon, general manager of Ritz-Craft Corporation.

Malcom McLester, owner of Elite Designer Homes, is looking forward to the opportunity to better serve customers.

The company is a part of Ritz-Craft Corporation who will sell the modular homes to the individual consumers.


Ritz-Craft itself manufactures the homes, but does not sell them to individuals.

“I am really excited to be a part of the Ritz-Craft community,” said McLester. “It is a tremendous opportunity to reach new customers.”

McLester explained that in the past, Ritz-Craft has had a large volume of people stop in to ask questions about the homes, and prices which the corporation is not able to answer. The move will give McLester the opportunity to answer consumer questions as well as give them a tour of the homes and the facility. The public is also now able to stop in and tour the model homes.

“It is a great opportunity to consolidate our efforts and give better service to our customers,” said McLester. “Ritz-Craft works hard to have a good working relationship with a network of builders.”

Saturday, May 22, 2010

EXCEL HOMES LEAVES $100,000 CONTEST WINNER WITH NOTHING!

Jay Adamski, a builder for more than 30 years entered a contest run by Excel Homes last year and when he won he was taken to the Liverpool, PA plant for a tour, wined and dined by former CEO Steve Scharnhorst and told that everything was in place for Excel to provide a modular home worth $100,000.

EXCEL 180[2] Jay Adamski, on left, being congratulated by former CEO Steve Scharnhorst

The Adamskis, who’ve spent about $25,000 on the project, are ready to start their triplex in Cecil Township near Pittsburgh, PA. 

But last week, the couple received a letter from Jay Kedia, the company’s vice president of business development.

On May 3, Camp Hill-based Excel was acquired by H.I.G. Capital, a private investment firm, the letter said.  Obligations held by the former company, Excel Homes LLC, would not be honored by the new company, Excel Homes Group LLC.

“I don’t understand it,” Jay Adamski said. “How can they get out of [honoring an obligation] by adding the word ‘group’ to their name and have that be OK?”

Several calls to Kedia and Samuel Stahl, the Michigan lawyer handling obligations for the former company, were not returned Friday.

After the couple signed documentation and toured Excel’s Liverpool facility in February 2009, they spent the spring mulling project options and looking at blueprints, Kim Adamski said.

By fall, they’d decided on the triplex and moved forward with securing all the needed permits. They decided to wait through what turned out to be one of the worst winters in memory before beginning the project.

When spring arrived, they demolished a storage shed business they’d run at the edge of their property to make way for the town houses.

As recently as a few weeks ago, the couple said they were in contact with representatives from the company about finishing touches for the town houses.

Finally, on April 28, Kim Adamski said she cut a $10,000 check that was to guarantee delivery of all of the construction components.   “I had the date, May 10, circled on my calendar and wrote,  ‘”apartments arrive,’” she said.

At no time, the couple said, were they told they were in danger of losing the prize or violating any of the terms or conditions set out by Excel.

When they got the letter, they put a stop payment order on the check, she said.

On a related matter, don’t call any of Excel Homes, LLC vendors about being paid for overdue invoices.  You might not like what you hear.  Modular Home Builder has learned that all of them were stiffed and no information is available as of today if any of them will ever be paid.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

MODULAR HOUSING’S FATAL FLAWS

The comments over the past several weeks about poor sales and slow recovery by the modular home manufacturers has been both honest and in some cases downright nasty.  At first I looked at these comments at face value but two underlying themes started to become evident.

First theme, there doesn’t seem to be any place for factory management, sales reps or builders to freely express themselves about their hopes, fears and disillusionment about our industry.  That is becoming noticeable in many of the comments.  I will continue to post all comments relevant to our industry to allow these people to have a forum.

The second theme is the most dangerous to our industry.  From what I have been reading in the comments and from my years of personal experience in the industry, modular home manufacturers set themselves up for low sales or failure.

fail

I know, what a radical statement to make.  Most factory owners have big homes, go on great vacations, some have airplanes and I heard one is even buying a helicopter and many have lots of money in investments but the truth of it is that their factories are running out of steam.  How can our industry improve our market penetration when our advantages over site built homes are hidden under a self imposed blackout?

Let’s start with one of the biggest problems.  Site built home builders are at a huge advantage over modular builders.  Compare what they are capable of doing to the the British and American soldiers during the Revolutionary War.  The Red Coats (British soldiers) had to march in straight rows and columns, were brightly colored uniforms which made them easy targets and they had to fight thousands of miles from home.  Modular factories (Red Coats) are centralized and their soldiers (sales reps) have to sell many miles from home.

The American soldiers on the other hand were able to hide behind rocks and shoot at the Red Coats, live off friendly folks in the neighborhood and replenish their supplies quickly.  Once they fully understood this, the tide of war changed and as they say, the rest is history.

Keeping that in mind, let’s look at the independent home builders that the modular factories try to target.  They are usually prejudiced against modular homes for the same reason prospective home buyers are…they equate modular with double wide trailers.  They have a loyal group of local subcontractors and suppliers that will help them with discounts and better pricing if they threaten to leave them.  Site builders usually work off their kitchen tables to start and their offices are in their trucks.  How cool is that! That is how I started in the ‘80s.

Now enter the modular factory.  When a factory is built, it has a capacity of 10 to 40 floors a week.  If the average home is 3 modules, the factory, at maximum throughput, can produce 3 to 13 homes a week.  Remember that is the maximum number of homes.  The question now becomes, how does a factory keep running at capacity and what happens when they reach it?

To reach the big numbers, the factory must have a great sales team led by a Sales Manager who not only inspires greatness in his/her sales reps, they also have to be the head cheerleader and chief problem solver.   Their sales reps have to be attentive to their current builders and become indispensible partners in their business.  At the same time they must continually search and acquire new builders for the factory by introducing the advantages of modular construction.

If the Sales Manager is great and the Sales Staff is terrific and everyone does their job promptly and correctly, the factory will overrun weekly capacity and the backlog will be climb out to 13-40 weeks.  Then management will tell their reps to slow down until we can catch up or better yet, they hope a couple of them will quit and look somewhere else for a job.  It’s a cinch that the owners can’t put up another factory just in the hope that business will continue at this pace.  Fatal Flaw!

Sales Managers and Marketing Managers that have low budgets are doomed to mediocrity.  They try to do what they can with what is given them but it’s tough.  There is little or no money for properly training new salespeople or for the continuing education of the existing staff.  A weekly sales meeting or a conference call going over disappointing sales numbers is not training.  So how do factory owners think they can get sales from poorly trained sales people?  Fatal Flaw!

The factory owner looks at the sales report and says “We need more project sales!”  Then an all out push is made to compete against all the other factory owners that are fighting for the same projects.  This means lower margins and factories clogged with commercial work to the point of pushing that little 2 box ranch for the newest builder back another 8 weeks.  This problem happened to Excel Homes recently and their solution is to reopen a mothballed factory just to build these low profit projects.  Fatal Flaw!

The biggest problem facing our industry is the small home builder that is the backbone to the factory’s success. These small builders that have never used modular construction before are the life blood that needs to flow in order for modular housing to become a bigger part of the housing industry.  Sales reps are told, or should I say required, to ferret these “new to modular” builders, meet with them, convert them to an entire new way to build homes, teach them how to manage the difference in costing and make sure they remain loyal to the factory. If you find more than 3 of these types of people in the ENTIRE industry, it would be a miracle! Fatal Flaw!

Builders are usually contacted through telephone cold calls or through the factory website, sent a packet of information and maybe, just maybe, somebody from the factory will follow up with them.  Fatal Flaw!

I could go on and on about many other fatal flaws but until the industry starts thinking how they can reinvent themselves, we are doomed to repeat history.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

BUILDING PERMITS DROP AS TAX CREDITS END

We all knew it would happen but everyone hoped that it wouldn’t.   Guess what folks?  It happened!

Housing starts were way up in April but building permits are falling and analysts say that the second half of this year could be flat lining because there is no more help coming from the FED.

AP-HOUSING-STARTS-051810

Here are excerpts from yesterday’s AP story:

Construction of homes surged in April to the highest level in 18 months, fueled by buyers capitalizing on an expiring tax credit. Permits for new construction sank, signaling the rebound could fade.

Low mortgage rates and two tax credits — up to $8,000 for new buyers and $6,500 for current owners who buy and move into another home — have boosted home sales this year. To receive a tax credit, borrowers had to have a signed offer by April 30 and must close the deal by the end of June.

The rate of home building has now risen more than 40 percent from the bottom in April 2009, though it's still down 70 percent from the decade's peak in January 2006.

Without the tax credit, analysts say home sales will slow in the second half of this year. High unemployment and tight lending standards will likely help keep many buyers away.

The report Tuesday from the Commerce Department said the rate of construction of single-family homes and apartment buildings rose 5.8 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 672,000. That was up from an upwardly revised March level of 635,000. The rate, the highest since October 2008, was driven by a 10 percent increase in single-family home building.

Still, a survey Monday showed homebuilders are feeling more optimistic. The National Association of Home Builders said its housing market index, which tracks industry confidence, rose three points this month to 22, the highest reading since August 2007. Readings below 50 indicate negative sentiment.

A four-decade low stockpile of new single-family homes, combined with low interest rates and prices, has made home buying affordable, said Sal Guatieri, an economist with BMO Capital Markets. That means that even without the tax credits, housing starts should rise modestly.

"Until the foreclosure wave ebbs and the overhang of unsold existing homes abates, the recovery in homebuilding will be subdued, Guatieri said.

In related news, big tract builders are putting holes in the ground as fast as they can

In Las Vegas for example, their is a “gold rush” of new home buying happening.  Even though existing homes in Vegas have lost over 50% of their value the past several years, buyers are lining up to put deposits on lots for homes to be built this year.

The feeling there is that they can buy a brand new home quicker than they can purchase a foreclosed one and don’t have to shell out thousands of dollars to make repairs like would have to with vacant used homes, some having been unoccupied for several years with no utilities turned on and baking in the Vegas summer heat.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A GOOD SALES REP AND A BAD ONE

Without sales reps, modular home factories would be forced to close.  Now that’s a fact Jack.

But maybe one of the reasons for slow sales, besides the economy, is that your factory is full of “bad” sales reps.  So here is what I consider some of the main differences between a good and a bad sales rep.  See if any of them are on your staff.

Attitude

Good Rep: You have a Positive attitude about the factory and the builder

good rep

Bad Rep: You have a bad attitude and your prospects are turned off by you.

bad rep

Knowledge

Good Rep: You take the time to learn what your factory is capable of building and how to present that to your builders.

Bad Rep: You profess to have knowledge but when asked simple questions by your builders, you try to fake your way through it.

Sales

Good Rep:  You understand that selling is a long, hard road  to travel and work continuously to make sure your builders are happy with both you and the factory.

Bad Rep:  You do not understand that sales is a process and that it may take more than just one contact to reach your prospect and even more contacts to close a sale!

Preparation

Good Rep:  You know your builders and prepare for each call, email or visit as if it the most important thing you can do for them.

Bad Rep: You are not preparing for each sales visit or contact with your prospect.

Excitement

Good Rep:  You don’t want to waste your builders time with useless visits and calls so you prepare something that will excite them to want to talk with you.

Bad Rep:  You create little interest on your opening sales call and you sound too much like a robot.

There are many more differences but this should give you an idea of what makes one sales rep shine and the other one stink. 

These traits are not hereditary. 

These are acquired skills and anyone can learn them, it just takes time and effort.

PROBUILT HOMES READY FOR UPTURN

It’s always nice to talk about a modular manufacturer that’s prepared for the future housing recovery.  ProBuilt Homes is one of them.

I visited their website and talked with a member of management yesterday and was impressed with both.

First, their website is very clean and informative. It features a great looking home on the home page that would showcases what they and their builders can do.  It appears on every page after that which I found a little annoying but not distracting.

ProBuilt

ProBuilt also does something that I have been pushing for years.  They show a link to all their management, sales and production managers and reps with EMAIL addresses.  Now how cool is that!  None of their staff hides behind that dreaded “info@anyfactory” that almost every other factory uses. 

They have some really good info on the website but some areas need fleshed out a little.  Today’s home buyers want details without a lot of dialogue.

Next, they are busy!  I found out they are building at near capacity and have a nice backlog.  That’s more than can be said for most of their competitors.

If you are a builder looking for a good factory to align with or a prospective home buyer checking out modular factories, ProBuilt should be on your shortlist.

Monday, May 17, 2010

EXCEL TO REOPEN AVIS AMERICA PLANT

I’ve always been a fan of Avis America and today I learned that Excel Homes, now under new ownership, will reopen soon due to expanded sales and the need for more manufacturing capacity.

Here is just part of today’s press release:

“Excel Homes has already increased production at its Liverpool, PA, plant and will restart production at its Avis, PA, plant due to increased demand for the company’s commercial buildings and single-family homes. The Avis facility, known for its high-quality craftsmanship and service, is scheduled to reopen in June. The reopening of the Avis plant will bring in more than 100 jobs and will become Excel Home’s hub for commercial production; a growing sector in the modular industry. Over the next few months, Excel Homes will actively search for additional production and manufacturing capacity in the Northeast – an important region for Excel Homes and its builder partners.”

Avis America

I sincerely hope the new CEO has the vision and conviction to stay the course and keep it open.  According to the above statement, they are looking for additional manufacturing facilities so they can expand.  I learned that Excel’s manufacturing has pick up tremendously over the past several months and the backlog at the Liverpool plant is pushing the new owners, HIG, to make this move.

Maybe somebody in Excel’s management should tell the new CEO what the old CEO did when he first got to Excel…he started a campaign to expand the company and it fell flat on it’s face.  Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself.

Best of luck to the people of Avis America! 

TRAILERS DISGUISED AS MODULAR --- AGAIN!

A story on Kansas City.com (CLICK HERE) talks about a senior community adding new modular homes with really great energy features including Argon filled window sashes, R40 ceiling insulation, 2x6 exterior wall construction with house wrap and many other items.

After reading that these homes sell in the $70 – 90K range my curious mind went to work to see what a very low priced modular home looked like in this community.

Guess what I found?  You got it!  Single and double wide mobile homes.

They are not modular homes….heck, they’re not even Hudulars!  They are steel framed, roll off houses like you would find in any trailer park in the US. 

The real problem is that the readers of this site are now going to equate these homes with modular every time they hear a builder say they use modular housing.

West Wood Homes

When will it all stop?  Clayton’s i-house is probably the best example of a factory calling their homes modular when in fact it is just a “singlewide” trailer with some eco-friendly stuff stuck on it for show.

It’s time for the modular factory owners and management to take a stand against the wrong information and do some marketing of their own.  When was the last time you saw a modular factory advertising on TV? 

OK, I’m getting off my soapbox now…time for someone else to get on.

NATIONWIDE HOMES FEATURED ON ABC

I gave up an hour of my favorite show last night to watch ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition and I think that maybe I should have just recorded it instead.

To say that I was a little disappointed is an understatement.

UPDATE ALERT: CLICK HERE to watch the show on HULU

The family’s story was indeed one of the most tear jerking ones ever to air on the show but the main theme of the show has always been the way the house is built and furnished to help the featured family.  I’ve watched shows where the house is being built, Ty Pennington, the host, showing the family through it and pointing out feature after feature to both them and the audience.  There was a little of that last night but there was absolutely no excitement by the show about the home not only being modular but a very unique one.

Nationwide Extreme

It was a little confusing when they talked about Nationwide Homes’ efforts in helping the family and if you happened to turn your head for the 20 seconds they featured the factory or the less than a minute that showed the modules being installed, you would not have had a clue that it was a factory built home.

The wonderful scenes showing the football field house makeover, the singing by the fireplace and a couple of other ones was quite a tribute to a wonderful man and his family but it seemed to go on forever.  Enough with the hugs and speeches.

Our industry had a chance to really shine on this show but the way it was edited by ABC cut Nationwide Homes’ and for that matter, all modular factories, efforts to show the audience the true efficiency and skill sets that modular brings to the table.

Now it is on Nationwide’s shoulders alone to promote this house which featured things I had heard of but had never seen in a house before like the automatic interior door openers and the built-in track system for helping the father keep his independence.

This project took a long time from initial contact to fruition with tons of hours of design and construction by Nationwide but NONE of those efforts were mentioned in the show.

Too bad…it could have been a big boost to our industry.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

CHECKING IN ON FACTORY WEBSITES

It’s been about a year since I really looked at some of the Modular Home Factory websites.  I shouldn’t have waited so long. 

I used the “First Impression” criteria when assigning each site a color rating.  If the first page doesn’t grab the visitor, they probably won’t stay very long.

GREEN – VERY GOOD     BLUE – NICE     REDNeeds some attention

 

All American Homes:  What really captured my eye on this sight was their Green Options Catalog.  Very nicely done.

Apex Homes:  Same old, same old.

Avis America:  Gone and probably lost forever.

Beracah Homes:  Nice website but nothing new since last year

Cardinal Homes:  Same old, same old

Crest Homes: YUCK!

Design Homes LLC:  Nice website but nothing new since last year.

Epoch Homes: Nice website but nothing new since last year

Excel Homes:  Nothing new this year.  They’ve got to get their former CEO off the front page

Genesis Homes: Up to date and relevant to Energy and Green

Hand Crafted Homes:  Nice website but nothing new since last year

Huntington Homes:  Very colorful site.  Clean and very easy to navigate.

Icon Legacy:  Nice but rather humdrum!

Modular Structures:  YUCK!

Nationwide Homes: Very Nice!  Pictures seem to pop off the pages

New England Homes:  Nice site.  The $8K tax credit is over!

New Era Homes:  YUCK!

Palm Harbor: Nice site but rather humdrum! 

Penn Lyon:  YUCK!

Preferred Building Systems: YUCK!

Professional Building Systems:  Yuck!

Ritz Craft:  Very nice website with a lot of color

Signature:  I love that gal on the opening page and I think she likes me too!

Simplex:  WOW!  Super website.

Westchester Homes:  Great opening page.  Simple but VERY inviting.

NEW IDEAS IN ENERGY EFFICIENT HOME BUILDING

Predictions for 2020 are in and here are just a few Green and Energy Efficient ideas that builders can start to expect from their Modular Manufacturers over the next few years:

Programmable Thermostats

programmable_thermostat

Smaller homes with more upscale features

Genesis Go House

Solar Panels

SolarReady

Prepped for Electric vehicles

Electric Vehicle Connector

Low VOC (volatile organic compound) house paints

low voc paint

LED Lighting

LED lighting

Ductless Heating

ductless heating & cooling

Triple-glazed, low-emissive windows

triple glazed windows

7 SIMPLE WAYS TO PROMOTE YOUR BUSINESS

There are hundreds of books on the subject of how to promote your home building business and every year another couple hundred seminars are held all over the country offering instructional, inspirational and even boot camp methods to increase your business.

Seminar And if you’ve ever attended one of these or read a “how to”  book, chances are you were really excited while you attended the meeting or read the book.  Then reality starts setting in and you find yourself doing exactly what you were doing before the “message” and sales were still sluggish.

The only people that usually make money doing these self help things are the writers, speakers and consultants who host them. Some of these seminars go for thousands of dollars and don’t seem to help at all.

With that in mind, here are 7 things you can do to actually promote your business.  They’re easy, simple and economical, which means you might actually do some of them.

Look Professional

If you don't have a business card and business stationery, have them made up -- immediately. Your business card, letterhead and envelope tell prospective customers you are a professional who takes your business seriously.

Use a Press Release

Look for something unusual about what you do, and publicize it. Send out press releases to local newspapers, radio stations, cable TV stations, or magazines whose audiences are likely to be interested in buying one of your homes. To increase your chance of having the material published, send along a photo (but not to radio stations) with your press release. Editors of printed publications are often in need of "art" (drawings or photos) to fill space and break up the gray look of a page of text.

Update Your Website

Your website should updated a minimum of 4 times a year, usually at the change of each season is a good time.  If prospective buyers keep visiting your site and NOTHING has changed since they visited 2 years ago when the housing market was falling apart, they may begin to think you are in trouble and go to a competitor.

Free Professional Drawings

This couldn’t be more simple.  Almost all factories offer FREE preliminary floorplans and even elevations in some cases to their authorized builders.  Advertise that you will do professional floorplans of their sketches or drawings.  No Charge, No Obligation.  You must be very vigilant in making sure that you get a meeting scheduled with the prospects and also not to release the plans to them unless you can schedule a second meeting. 

Advertise “Free House Plan Review”

Just because a prospect went to another builder and got a price doesn’t mean the game is over.  Far from it as a matter of fact.  That can be the best thing for you.  Offering a free, no obligation review of the other builders floorplan (not the other builder’s price!) will open the floodgates of questions and concerns they were reluctant to ask the other builder.  You become their hero. 

Follow the Leads

Learn to ask existing customers, prospects and casual acquaintances for referrals. When you get them, follow up on the leads.

Spruce Up Your Offices

This is one of the simplest but most overlooked things you can do to promote your business.  A clean, tidy office speaks volumes about you and how you will treat them as buyers.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Updated - MORE PHOTOS FROM SUNDAY’S EXTREME MAKEOVER HOME EDITION SHOW

I just received a couple of new exclusive photos from Nationwide Homes showing ABC’s Extreme Makeover modular home being set and another one of the house in the morning mist prior to the reveal to the family. 

The show airs this Sunday and everyone in our industry should be watching it because I think there will be a lot of questions asked by “new to modular” prospects starting Monday!

Nationwide Extreme 3

Nationwide Extreme 4

Nationwide Extreme 5

Nationwide Extreme 6

Nationwide Extreme 2

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

McDONALDS – DIRT TO TURNKEY IN 24 HOURS

Here is proof that with the proper planning and execution, a McDonalds can be erected and open in 24 hoursBUT only if it’s MODULAR!

CLICK HERE to visit the Britspace UK website.

If they can do it with a McDonalds in England, why can’t a modular home builder do it in the United States and have a reputation for building not only a great home but also the fastest.  Can you imagine getting paid for your work within 48 hours of delivery of the modules!

Monday, May 10, 2010

NATIONWIDE HOMES READY TO SHINE ON EXTREME MAKEOVER THIS SUNDAY

This Sunday, May 16th, (my 40th wedding anniversary), Nationwide Homes is featured on ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition. 

Here is a video of the family getting the new home along with an exclusive picture of it.

Nationwide Extreme

Dan Goodin from Nationwide Homes wants everyone to know about May being ALS Awareness Month and sent me the following comments:

Couple update items:  As you might recall, the home was built for Jeremy Williams & his family.  Jeremy suffers from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).  May is ALS Awareness month, and Nationwide Homes has partnered with the national ALS Association for a year-long effort to help raise funds & awareness for them on Jeremy’s behalf.  We have worked with Nashville Country Music artist Mark McGuinn to produce a song called “Move that Bus” which tells the story of this build.  The music video of that song is available for free viewing now (www.extremephn.com) . 

Each time it is viewed, sponsors – including Nationwide & our parent Company Palm Harbor – donate a penny to the ALS Association.

DEVELOPER USES MODULAR FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING

In Charleston, WV you have to look high and low for flat ground and one developer, John Wellford, hit the mother lode on top of a mountain.  He is developing 152 lots and has asked the city planning commission for approvals.

These will be modular homes built by Skyline Homes in Sugar Creek, OH.  The goal of Wellford is affordable, modest homes that will fit nicely into the community.  Choosing Skyline gives him a line of homes that fit this criteria. 

Skyline home

These homes will be “Hudular”, meaning that they will be built by a double wide company to the minimum IRC housing standards.  For the new home buyer however, they will be just what the doctor ordered.

"I don't want anyone to confuse modular with a double-wide [trailer] -- no disrespect to people who own double-wides," K. O. Damron, the project manager said. “The roofs will be more steeply pitched than a typical trailer, and exterior walls will be built with 2-by-6 studs.”

If a manufactured housing company can build these for a price that attracts this type of developer, why aren’t the “real” modular factories dong it? Makes you wonder.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

PROFILE OF THE NEW EXCEL CEO

After the letter from Excel Homes on this blog last week introducing their employees, suppliers and builders to the company’s owner and CEO, there were quite a few negative comments on this blog about the sale.

So I decided to learn about Steve Scheinkman, Excel’s new CEO and President. 

Steve S

First up is a YouTube video apparently filmed by his family:

From there we move to his personal LinkedIn account:  CLICK HERE to see his full summary.  It is obvious from his own statements that he has had quite a bit of corporate experience with large companies.  Here are some of the things he has written about himself: 

Steve Scheinkman’s Summary

Private Equity Transactions
Negotiation and Execution of Private Equity transactions on both the buy and sell side. As CEO and co-investor, acquired turnaround company and executed investment strategy resulting in sale in three years realizing 40x original investment.


Business Planning & Organization Leadership
Developed strategic plans and built best-in-class infrastructures to meet organizational, operational and market challenges. Led executive management teams and worked closely with board of directors, investor groups, private equity groups and banking community.


Acquisitions & Divestitures
Spearheaded numerous successful acquisitions and divestitures, consistently successful in facilitating efficient transfer of personnel, technologies, capital assets and customers to achieve seamless integration. Solid experience in due diligence on "both sides of the table."


Turnarounds
Achieved dramatic improvements in operations and profitability thorough reorganization initiatives.


Corporate Financial Affairs
Delivered impressive operating cost reductions. Provided budgeting, financial planning and analysis, cash flow and treasury leadership. Developed and implemented disciplines to ensure accurate and timely financial reporting.

In 2006, H.I.G. ran this story about what I can find is the last company he actually ran. He might have held management positions between then and today but I couldn’t find any.   CLICK HERE for the full H.I.G. story from their website.

H.I.G. Capital Announces Sale of Transtar Metals to A.M. Castle & Co.

MIAMI – September 5, 2006 – H.I.G. Capital, a leading private equity firm based in Miami, Florida, announced today that it has completed the sale of Transtar Metals ("Transtar") to A.M. Castle & Co. (AMEX: CAS), a leading North American distributor of highly engineered metals and plastics for $180 million.

H.I.G. recapitalized Transtar in December 2002 in partnership with the company's Executive team led by CEO Steve Scheinkman. Since that time, H.I.G. and the Transtar management team have worked together to focus and strengthen the business by exiting non-core business units, rationalizing the facility base, converting customers to long term contracts and gaining market share by strategically aligning with high growth customers and market segments. Excluding the revenue from previously divested divisions, as well as from Transtar's 50% stake in All Metal Services which is being retained by H.I.G., the Company's revenue increased by over 90% to $275 million during the time of H.I.G.'s ownership. The Management team was also able to drive margins substantially higher in the same time period.


Steve Scheinkman, CEO of Transtar, commenting on the deal, said "H.I.G. has been a strong and loyal partner to the management team through thick and thin. They consistently provided insightful strategic advice, access to capital, and did lots of heavy lifting. Most importantly, they always kept their word."

And then from an article about Steve running for Malibu City Council comes this tidbit.  CLICK HERE to read the entire Malibu Times article.

On April 13, one well-rounded businessman will be on the ballot of the Malibu city council election. Steve Scheinkman, an ex CEO, horse lover, family man and marathon runner, knows his Malibu and what it needs to thrive.

Now all this begs a few  questions! 

  1. What is a man who ran a $275M dollar company in CA doing moving to Snyder County, PA to run a modular housing company that has by its own admission closed at least 3 plants in the last 4 years?
  2. Is he really giving up his Malibu lifestyle to devote his full time effort to a company based in a small town in rural PA?
  3. After looking at his background, I could not find a thing that would qualify him to lead one of the largest modular housing factories in the East any more than the last CEO, Steve Scharnhorst.  Is there going to be another 3 year learning curve by this CEO?
  4. And by his own words, he is an expert in Acquisitions & Divestitures of companies in the past.  So what do you think his overall goal is for Excel…    Acquisition or Divestiture?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

MODULAR HOUSE PLAN BOOKS NEED UPDATED

Over the past couple of years I’ve collected a lot of plan books and brochures from dozens of modular home factories.  There are some that look very professional with beautifully rendered elevations, many with pictures of real houses and some with just floorplans without any elevations.

Last night I sat with my wife at our kitchen table and read through every one of them including the ones from the log cabin factories.  What did we discover? 

We found that most of the plans were either very poorly designed or so out of date as to make them useless.  One factory had a good looking plan book featuring 8 different split level house plans.  When was the last time someone actually build a split level from this plan book?  1976!

1970's split level house A typical 1970’s split level

I was shocked what some factories send out to their prospective new home buyers.  One factory has a brochure with a rendering of a ranch style home on the front and 15 floor plans inside with no other front elevations.  There were floorplans of several T-ranches in the booklet.  What is a home buyer supposed to do, just imagine what it would look like on their lot?

Typical Ranch One front elevation and 15 floorplans like this one

Most factories have included some newer plans along with their assortment of old house plans and that helped keep our interest for a couple of minutes.  These additional plans were usually just a couple of single sheets of paper tucked inside the plan book.  And a lot of factories sent out house plans for their new McMansions, something that is not hot in today’s market.

In 1950 the average house was 1,000 sq ft but by the year 2004, the square footage was heading well above 2,200. Then came the housing downturn and the square footage has dropped slightly with some areas of the country falling back down to less than 2,000 sq ft.  The appeal of smaller, more energy efficient homes is what most most new buyers are looking for in their next house.

Formal spaces are quickly becoming a thing of the past — living rooms as we once knew them are practically nonexistent and formal dining rooms are being phased out by new home builders. In place of a living room, people are looking for studies and offices as an increasing number of people work from home. Due to lifestyle changes and increasing limitations on free time and budget, new homes need to be as maintenance-free as possible with a greater use of composite materials on siding, trim, decks and porches.

Genesis Go House An example of adapting to today’s buyer

Because most modular factories have not kept pace with today’s lifestyles, prospective buyers are increasing bringing their own house plans to the modular home builder to see if the modular factory can actually build it.

And don’t get me started on those “Home Design Books” you find at bookstores.  Most are without a doubt the biggest waste of money you can find.  Dimensions are inaccurate, roof lines are terrible and some of these books have the same problem as the factory plan books…they are simply out of date.

So what can a factory do to keep current in the market place?  Two things come to mind immediately. First, have a couple of people with design knowledge review the existing plans and recommend which plans should be trashed, which need to be altered and which are still relevant in today’s market.

Next, go through the plans that the factory CAD people have drawn for prospective home buyers over the past 3 years and use the same criteria with these plans.  The ones that look like winners (especially the ones that have actually been built) should be made available to their authorized builders.

Will factories do this? 

A couple are doing it now, some might wake up and start but the rest will wait another 5 years and simply rehash their old junk again.

Friday, May 7, 2010

WESTCHESTER HOMES LANDS BIG HOUSING PROJECT

Westchester Homes in Wingdale, NY, and their authorized builder, Realty Development Associates, have been chosen by a community developer to supply up to 25 new modular homes to a 50 lot subdivision in Plymouth, MA.

The subdivision, which abuts a roughly 100-acre nature preserve, has been permitted for construction for several years. But only five homes have been built there so far, Don Shulman, President of Realty Development Associates said. He said the build-out was slowed dramatically by the recent housing market downturn.

“It had just been languishing,” Shulman said. “They really need a new outlook, and some work done on the property. ... What we’re doing is giving it some of the cosmetics and uplift that it needs.”

“Everything we do is custom-designed and built to order.  We have hundreds of plans available, and out of those plans, every single one of them will be customized.”

The houses will start at around $365,000 for a 1,600-square-foot home, and range in price up to the “upper 400s,” Shulman said. The home sizes will range up to 2,600 square feet. The lots will be an average of one acre in size.

westchester homes

This could mean between $2.5 and $3M to Westchester Homes and with the way the national housing market has been, that is nothing to sneeze at!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

NEW PENNSYLVANIA HOMES SEE $13,000 INCREASE IN COSTS

When the 2009 PA Building Code went into effect this January 1, the price of new house built in PA, either site built or modular are estimated to jump about $13,000 because of new regulations concerning insulation, electrical systems, wall bracing and fire suppression components.  You would think that the state would want to promote new construction after the current downturn in housing.

building codes

Pennsylvania's state residential building code became a law in 1999. Since then, there have not been any problems with the code, despite the fact the code changes every three years.

The Pennsylvania Builders Association is trying to repeal this code and revert back to the 2006 regulations for the next three years to give the industry time to get ready for these changes.  Other groups that support the idea of using the 2006 building code standards include the Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS, the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, the Pennsylvania Manufactured Housing Association, the Modular Building Systems Association, the NAHB: Log Homes Council of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Residential Owners Association, the Pennsylvania Apartment Association and the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania.

Now the gap between the existing home sales and new home sales will become considerably wider in PA.

IS YOUR STATE NEXT?  If you don’t think it can happen, you’re very mistaken.

SURE SIGN THAT A RECOVERY IN HOUSING IS COMING

Pickup truck sales for March were up for the first time since 2007.  Home Builders, remodelers and other subs are buying trucks as fast as the factories can make them.

Ford F150 Raptor Ford Pickup Truck sales are up 42% from this month last year.  This is their new “Raptor” which I’m sure you’ll be seeing at jobsites very soon.

Chevy Silverado The Chevy Silverado and it’s GMC counterpart saw a combined 20% jump in March sales compared to the same period last year.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

EXCEL SENDS THEIR BUILDERS NEWS ABOUT THE SALE TO H.I.G.

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7 WAYS TO FIND NEW PROSPECTS

Spring is officially here and if you don’t have your prospect bucket filled by now,  you’ll not be building any new homes in the summer or early fall.

If you can see the bottom of your  prospect bucket, you have to find some ways to get it filled soon or your late fall, winter and even your early spring ‘11 sales will suffer also.

Here are 7 suggestions to help you jump start the process of filling that old bucket of prospective home buyers.

Stop Being a Secret

Tell everyone you come across what you do and the advantages of “going green”, Energy Star and “saving the environment” if that is your marketing direction.  Talk about new houses that you’ve started and past satisfied customers.  Just stop sitting in your office and wishing people knew about you.

Networking

Networking is crucial to building your business.  There is one important thing to remember however.  Only network in groups that can give you good referrals! 

networking

Form Strategic Alliances

Brainstorm with all the businesses you do work with; your plumbers, electricians, foundation subs and excavators.  Ask them about any prospects that might have called them about building a new home.

Check Your Prospect File for Deadwood

Your Prospect file isn't just a bunch of names on paper or in your computer.  Keep this important information updated on a regular basis.  Even just calling people to update current contact information helps you keep in touch.  Remove any names that have built homes with someone else or have stopped looking to build.  Just because you have a hundred names on your list doesn’t make it valuable.

Always be asking for Referrals

Respectfully and gracefully ask, ask, and ask for referrals.  If you don’t ask do you really think that anyone will call you with one?  Me neither.  And if you offer an incentive for referral, be sure to mention it OFTEN!

Update Your Literature and Promotional Materials

Make sure that everything you have from your factory(s) is current.  There’s nothing worse than getting people excited about a house that the factory determined can’t be built effectively or a promotion that has expired.

Imagine Your IDEAL Customer

Be clear about the type of buyers you want or you'll waste precious time and money.  Build a list of ideal clients; who they are, where they work, why they need you, etc.  Then go after them through your marketing efforts.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

EXCEL MODULAR HOMES SOLD TO HIG

In what can only be considered good news for Excel Homes, Modular Home Builder has learned that H.I.G. Capital has acquired Excel today.  Official news later today will confirm the sale.

H.I.G. Capital is a multi-national financial company owning over 70 US companies.  Click here to visit their website. 

One of the strengths they bring to the table is their involvement with two other large modular factoriesAll-American Homes and Mod-U-Kraft. Hopefully the management team that will be put in place will produce the results that are needed for this acquisition to be a major success.

good news

This makes for a perfect marriage with All-American Homes covering the mid-western states, Mod-U-Kraft the mid-Atlantic and southern states and Excel Homes covering the mid-Atlantic and New England areas.

Good Luck Excel Homes!

KNOWING YOUR COMPETITON MAKES YOU STRONGER

Most, if not all, modular factory Sales Managers have stacks and stacks of their competitor’s brochures, house plans and price lists and yet they still have a hard time improving sales.  You’ve got to ask yourself is just having the raw information is enough to help your sales reps compete?

Another fact I’ve discovered is that Sales Managers only have so many hours a day to do what they are hired to do…manage the sales of the factory. 

Sometimes Sales Managers focus so much on what is special about their own company that they forget about the competition. 

    • A factory’s current builder base and prospective builders will be continually bombarded by other factories where they will see and read your  competitors' marketing materials. 
    • They are going to talk to your competitors on the phone. 
    • They are going to price your competitor’s  products, review their workmanship, and meet with their sales people. 
    • Builders will continually conduct their own competitive analysis of their current factory and other factories. 

So what can a Sales Manager do to improve their factory’s chances of retaining their current builders and bringing in new ones?  The Sales Manager must conduct their own competitive analysis know where you stand in comparison to your competitors from the builders perspective.

beating the competition

Here are some questions you need to ask your staff, your sales reps and yourself:

  1. How good are your competitors' salespeople?  How professional are their presentations?  How slick are their marketing materials?
  2. How does your other marketing materials compare?
  3. What do they talk about?  What marketing materials do they give to prospective builders?
  4. Do your competitor’s sales reps follow up?  How soon?  How aggressively?
  5. How well does your factory answer the phones compared to your competitors'? How often do builders wait on hold, or have to leave a message, or have to go through layers of automated messages on the phone?  How soon do you return their call?  How does this compare to your competitors?
  6. How does the competition stay in contact with current builders and prospects?  How do they follow up?
  7. And probably the most important questions:  What do they do poorly?  Why do customers leave them?  And are they leaving your factory for the same reasons?

Don't conduct a competitive analysis to copy the competition.  You could be copying systems or methods that do not really work that well.  Sales Managers must bring all this information together and develop a marketing strategy to fend off competition.  Bringing the sales reps together to discuss your findings and asking for their help is the best ways to improve sales!

This is about understanding what your builders and prospects see, think, and understand.