Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Five Dirty Little Secrets of the Modular Housing Industry

Whether you work for or manage or own a modular home factory you know that there are dirty little secrets that every factory shares with others. You don’t come right out and tell each other these things but somehow everyone knows about them.


If asked what makes your factory successful, words like “passion”, “driven” and “innovative” are common answers. But behind these words are the secrets that really make or break a modular home factory.

1. People are Lazy
You may not want to hear this but, really, we are. Every person in the factory will seek to accomplish whatever needs to be done with as little effort as possible. Many times this is referred to as being efficient. Has there ever been an innovation in modular housing that requires more effort to accomplish a current process? Has anyone ever sat down and said that we need to make the production line more complicated?

Think back on ideas your company has had to improve production. Have any ideas that meant more work and extensive retraining ever been implemented?

Laziness is also found in how we think. We tend to do the bare minimum and end up making serious errors of judgment as a result. In a nutshell, thinking is hard work and we don’t do any more work than absolutely necessary (and often not even that much). Given a choice between exerting a bit more effort (mental or otherwise) or a bit less, how many of us choose to work harder? That’s right – we’re all a bit lazy.

2. Patience is Not a Virtue in the Modular Factory
Just as we want things easier, we also want them to happen faster. The fast food restaurants started this. Today if we have an idea for improving the factory we first turn to Google and see if someone else has done it. If you can’t find the answer, how many of you have the patience to sit down and completely start from scratch putting your idea into a Word document, then a Excel spreadsheet followed by a PowerPoint presentation and then defend it and finally seeing it implemented? Yeah, I thought so.

Sales managers want orders now! Owners want profits now! Builders want their homes yesterday! Patience is not really tolerated in our industry.

Every single part of an industry centered around a production line and rapid construction screams for speed, not patience. The success of the fast food industry should tell us all we need to know about the value of instant gratification.

3. Everything Takes Longer Than Expected
It doesn’t seem to matter how much time I allow for any given task – whether it’s picking up dry cleaning or writing an article. Time seems to evaporate, leaving me scrambling to catch up.

In a perfect world, everyone does their job right, the first time and on time. But that never happens in the modular housing industry. Owners sit down with their Sales Managers and want more orders to fill the future production schedule. The SM doesn’t have a face to face meeting scheduled with the sales staff for another week. The Sales reps look at the current schedule and don’t see a real problem so they don’t feel the urgency. Besides, they can’t pull contracts out of their builder’s butts.

The engineering department has builder’s drawings overflowing from one week to the next. They are holding their own until one of them leaves on vacation. Now either that CAD person’s drawings are put on hold for a week or others, who are already swamped, have to pick up extra work. Builders call wanting to know where their drawings are. Threats to call the owner only succeed in getting the drawings pushed back further.

On the production line, the house moves down the line but the special order windows haven’t arrived and the house is built without them, put aside in the yard until they arrive and installed in the elements. Yuck. That never happens!

4. Builders Are Not Treated Equally
Squeaky wheels, price shopping builders, service abusers and royal pains in the neck are never given the best price, the best service or full attention.

I remember sitting in on sales meetings with Sales Managers at different factories where certain builders were singled out as problem children. Sales people were told to cut their discounts, take your time getting back to them, make it tough on getting service and other things hoping the builder would simply go to another factory and slow down their production process.

The more houses a builder ordered, the better they were tolerated. The modular home factory is not a retail store where they want all their customers to come back and shop often. No, they are manufacturers that want to build modular homes, send them out the door and get paid. They have little tolerance for builders that only buy a couple homes a year but expect first class treatment.

They are looking for those cherished few builders that place orders, understand the problems of manufacturing a modular home, take care of small service issues without complaining or threatening to sue the factory, work well with their sales reps and cause few problems for management. Every factory has a couple.

If you feel that you aren’t getting treated fairly by your modular factory, read the above paragraph again and I assure you that you will begin getting treated like one of their “A” builders.

5. Factories Don’t Always Hire the Right People
Just like marriage, sometimes a factory employee will not work out. Salespeople are often kept longer than they should be, doing more harm each week. Even though it usually takes a new salesperson 6 months to a year to effectively begin selling homes, the signs of a mediocre sales rep are usually evident quickly.

Builders begin having a tough time getting them on the phone or answer email. Details are often overlooked and nothing they do seems organized. When a sales rep is kept on the job instead of being let go, builders, the engineering department and the factory suffer.

Sales Managers are a special breed of person. Most have come up through the sales department where they were a star. Offered a salary and management authority, some of them fold under the pressure. Senior management knows they made a mistake but they are forced to choose putting this person back into sales or letting them go.

Hiding in plain sight among their peers, these lackluster employees tend to bring down whole departments with their attitude and work ethics.

I find it interesting that when one of these people are let go, everyone says “what took the boss so long to see how bad he was” or “We couldn’t believe that the boss didn’t fire him months ago.”

Factory owners and management don’t want these people working for them but there are people in every plant that shouldn’t have been hired in the first place.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Coach, these aren't secrets. These are the things builders have to deal with every day from their factories. I could give you a couple more secrets that every builder knows.

Wsbobbitt said...

Coach, I think you are remiss in titling this post. They are not "dirty little secrets", rather MAJOR management mistakes of the modular industry. And all can be linked to the main culprit - lack of communication. If the GM regularly meets with the Sales Mgr; the Sales Mgr speaks/meets/rides with sales team; Sales, Production, Engineering & Purchasing Mgrs talk/meet about production scheduling, drawing status, materials, etc. and Customer Service talks with purchasers keeping them informed about order status, delivery, payment, any items that will be short/missing, etc. a large majority of your "dirty little secrets" will be eliminated.

As you know from your work in the industry lack of communication is an age old problem. A lot of the reasons go to egos coming into play. And when these ego's start making the manufacturer to think they are the "big dog in the equation" the needed communication falls apart and problems arise. Customers are king and mfgrs must understand they have clients who are looking to them for information on the largest investment most of them will make in their lifetime. How well the mfgr helps their builder base in fearing with their customers will help them be successful and hopefully cement their relationship with the mfgr resulting in more orders.

All members of the mfgr's team must hold true the premise - "Our customers success is our success."