Sunday, June 1, 2014

An Interview with MHBA's Tom Hardiman

Tom Hardiman, Executive Director for the Modular Home Builders Association (formerly the Modular Building Systems Association) since September 2012.  Concurrently, Tom has been the Executive Director of the non-residential Modular Building Institute since January 2004.  He is a managing member in the association management company Hardiman-Williams, LLC. 

Tom is also the Government Affairs director for both MBI and MHBA monitoring state and federal level legislative and regulatory issues for the industry.  He has been a registered lobbyist with the U.S. Congress since 2004 and has been a registered lobbyist in West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland, as well as coordinating grass roots activities in numerous other states including Texas, Nevada, and California

Modcoach: Have code regulations been hurting our industry?

Tom: Without a doubt, excessive regulations, legislation, and building code interpretations have had a negative impact on this industry.  Many people cite a study that indicated the cost of federal regulations on small businesses exceeding $10,000 per employee. This includes the cost of our complex federal tax code, environmental regulations, and health care changes.  But I would contend that figure is low as it only includes federal regulations.  Much of what our industry does is regulated at the state and local level and often more impactful. 

For example, a recent decision in Maryland to require modular homes to be installed with fire suppression systems even in counties that opted out of the regulation put this industry at a significant cost disadvantage.    Similar regulations in states like Massachusetts have cost this industry tens of thousands of dollars directly and an untold amount in lost business opportunities. 

Our industry is impacted by so many different government agencies it is always a challenge to stay in compliance.  Transportation at the local, state and federal levels are another big issue.  To make matters worse, the regulation are not consistent thus requiring a Ph.D. in logistics to transport a module from the factory to the site, especially in the Northeast.

It is a full time job monitoring state level legislation, regulations, and code interpretations for the industry, and if that was all this association did, I would suggest it is well worth the dues investment.
 
Modcoach: Are you getting more involved in social media such as Facebook and Pinterest?

Tom: Absolutely!  In fact, it’s surprising that companies are NOT more engaged with social media.  While it can be time consuming and difficult to determine a return on investment, it does offer a very easy and low cost way to promote your company and reach new customers.  I think it is important to have a social media strategy in mind before launching multiple sites.  Our goal is to reach more people and drive traffic back to www.modularhousing.com.

MHBA is active on Linkedin, where we have over 2,600 connections, as well as Facebook, an area we plan to grow over the next several months.  We are also on Pinterest, but in all honesty still have some work to do.  Many people are visual learners and many are still skeptical of this industry.  I don’t think we can sell the advantages of modular without images, which is why we are on Facebook and Pinterest.  It’s also interesting to note that a high percentage of home buyers are female (or at least a lot of the home buying decisions are influenced by females).  We recently launched our “modular home of the month” initiative and promoted it aggressively on Facebook. We post was seen by over 18,000 people, seventy-five percent of which were females.  Aside from the time to gather the images and post them, the whole campaign cost us under $150 for the month.

Modcoach: Why do you think that the modular home industry still stuck at 3% of the total new home market?

Tom: I think there are three main reasons we do not have more market share:
  • Public perception/lack of education about modular homes.
  • Regulations and other government imposed barriers to greater adoption.
  • Inconsistent and/or non-existent professional development opportunities within the industry. 


It is absolutely ridiculous in this day of complete and open access to information that the general public, and more upsetting, government officials continue to be unaware or confused about modular construction.   There is a power force known as “status quo” working against us as well.  I think people believe that building a conventional home is less risky than a modular home. There will be problems, but problems are expected with conventional construction.    If a conventional contractor screws you over, it’s not big news. But if a modular home project goes south, it‘s bad for the whole industry.  It’s not fair, but it is reality.  The industry (collectively) needs to do more to promote the advantages of modular construction to potential home buyers.

Also, as an industry we have to do a much better job of treating our employees like professionals and provide them with the resources to help make them more professional.  This is a multi-billion dollar industry and too often we still treat it like a mom and pop outfit.

And I will throw in another reason why market share hasn’t grown – we are a very fragmented industry with many smaller companies focused on their own operations and survival.  We do not speak with any authority or unified voice on matters of importance to this industry, and have far too many companies sitting on the sidelines as if it’s not their livelihood we are talking about. 

For our part, the Modular Home Builders Association is directly addressing these barriers by offering more training opportunities, expanding our industry marketing efforts, and by being constantly vigilant towards excess government interference.  We will provide the bus to help get us to our goals but we need a few more passengers!


It’s always informative talking with Tom Hardiman and I want to thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on our industry.

2 comments:

Anthony Zarrilli said...

Great interview Tom; very informative on many levels. We here at Zarrilli Homes, LLC are very eager and enthusiastic to assist other members and the MHBA organization as a whole to change the perception, educate the public and to ultimately help grow the industry in general. Keep up the good work and look forward to seeing you soon.

Anonymous said...

Coach/Tom:

Appreciate the fantastic interview! I sure hope the modular manufacturers will someday take heed to what you are saying.