Simplex Open House

Thursday, April 6, 2017

An Interview with Michelle LaBounty of Plattsburgh Housing Outlet

This is the first of a series of interviews I am doing about women in modular.


Over the years I have encountered a lot of women owned construction companies and it's time I acknowledge their achievements. When I asked several women to be interviewed on my blog about how they got started in modular and what we can do to encourage other women to enter the sales and construction side of our business, every single one of them jumped at the opportunity.


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Here is my interview with Michelle LaBounty, owner of Plattsburgh Housing Outlet in Plattsburgh, NY, who offers both manufactured and modular homes for sale.


Modcoach: Good morning Michelle, thank you for taking time to talk with me.  I ask everyone this question. What got you into the modular home industry as a builder? And how long have you been doing this?
 
Michelle: I grew up in a family hardware store so have spent my entire life in and around construction, but came into this field by accident.  My husband, Eric, started work at Plattsburgh Housing Outlet in June of 1991 as his first job out of college “until he found something.”  He worked his way up the ladder, and then in 2000 was offered to purchase the business- which is when I officially started.  So I have been around the manufactured/ modular business for the past 26 years and officially “in” for 17.

Modcoach: Do you think you have an advantage when it comes to helping couples make their decision on who they choose to build their home?

Michelle: I do.  At first, and this used to happen at the hardware store too, I was not often taken seriously by our vendors and often our customers.  But as they work with me, they find out that I know my stuff.  As a woman, I think I can bring understanding and compassion to the field as this is a very emotional time for people.  


And sometimes we are helping people for great reasons- and sometimes sad reasons. We are always honored to earn their business but it is difficult to help customers who have experienced a loss of a spouse, a sickness or a fire/ loss of their current home.  I also joke around with couples, but there is a lot of truth to it that I am “half home builder, half marriage counselor.”  It is often hard to get people to agree on what to spend, the design, colors- you name it.  I feel like I am the go-between.

Modcoach: Today there are more single women purchasing new homes than ever before. Do you find yourself becoming a consultant they can trust because you are a woman builder?  

Michelle: Absolutely, I know when I am personally buying something, I don’t want to feel that I am taken advantage of during that transaction.  I think that our company philosophy, as well as my personal demeanor, can help give our customers peace of mind.  I even think that women are overlooked as part of a couple during the buying process, so I am mindful to pay attention to ALL my customers, and even their advisors, during the process to alleviate any concerns.

Modcoach: If you could talk to Michelle when you were just starting out as builder, what advice would you give her?
 
Michelle: Don’t take everything so personally. I really still need to learn this. We try so hard to satisfy our customers and have a great reputation, but sometimes people are impossible to please. I sometimes dwell too much on that, instead of the victories. I would also be very mindful of what vendors and contractors to work with, as their work is very much a reflection of your own.

Modcoach: Is being a ‘modular’ home builder a better path for young women in becoming a successful entrepreneur than being a site builder?
 
Michelle: I really can only speak to the modular side of the equation, but I know that it is very rewarding helping someone build the home they will live in, no matter how modest or how grand, this is where that family will celebrate holidays, watch their children grow… the day that I take a family into their new home after the “set” is amazing.  


It is the day that all of our hard work comes to fruition.  And often times, we will have created a custom plan that none of us have ever walked through before- and that is also amazing.

Modcoach: Is our industry doing enough to educate young people, both men and women, in the benefits of becoming modular home builders?
 
Michelle: No, and honestly, we are having a hard time finding people (men or women) who are interested in this business.  It is a hard business to learn- the skill set is quite diverse.  You need to be personable, not afraid of follow up, able to understand each nuance of all of our manufacturers, have a working knowledge of site development and lender requirements and more.  But once you have that- and it can take several months or more to grasp it- you have limitless potential!


Modcoach: People often ask me if they need to have a college degree in engineering or business before attempting to get into new home construction. May I ask what your educational background is and how it helps you be a better owner?

Michelle: I have two degrees- first is fashion merchandising/ design- I was going to be a famous designer in NYC.  It is always funny to me to see the background of folks in this industry.  I think that helps me stage our models, help with home design, color selection and more.

My second degree is in Business Marketing.  I use that degree to market to our clients as well as to promote our company and the industry in general in our marketplace.  I think that whether it be a formal education or not, those in the modular home business need to have the ability to negotiate with our vendors and customers, have a good sense of overseeing projects in different stages of completion, be able to manage staff and have a good understanding of accounting to watch the books and cash flow.


Modcoach: What do you think is the reason tract builders and small independent site builders aren’t embracing modular home construction?

Michelle: We don’t have any large tract builders by us. The bar for us compared to the site builders in our area however is quite different.  Because we have a sales center with model homes, I am often fascinated by the level of expectation of us vs. them. They often don’t even have a formal office.  


Our clients think that we can instantly provide them with the exact floorplan they desire, quotes that are accurate to the penny and don’t hold them (whom we are often compared to) to the same standards.  I’ve toiled with how to combat that, and think that some site builders may have a difficult time transitioning to this segment of the industry as such.


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Michelle, thank you for taking the time to talk to share with everyone your experiences in the modular home business. Your observation about site builders transitioning to modular is unfortunately a universal problem. Many site builders try going the modular route and quit after only doing one or two homes.

My readers and I wish you many more years of success in the housing business.

1 comment:

Carl Nolan said...

Coach, i really enjoyed reading your interview with Michelle LaBounty. I had never heard much about her other than she was a HUD dealer in New York.

You say this is the first of many interviews you are foing with women in construction and honestly you couldn’t have started off your series witha better person. I found her interesting and very knowledgeable. I especialy like her viewpoint on women being as much a counselor as new home builder. Men don’t understand all the complexities that go into a lot of the decisions a woman makes either with her spouse or by herself when deciding on which builder to hire.

I especially like her comment to your question on educating new builders.

Modcoach: Is our industry doing enough to educate young people, both men and women, in the benefits of becoming modular home builders?


Michelle: No, and honestly, we are having a hard time finding people (men or women) who are interested in this business. It is a hard business to learn- the skill set is quite diverse. You need to be personable, not afraid of follow up, able to understand each nuance of all of our manufacturers, have a working knowledge of site development and lender requirements and more. But once you have that- and it can take several months or more to grasp it- you have limitless potential!


We have relied on our modular factories to teach new builders the tricks of the modular trade and they are woefully lacking in doing it. I see nothing changing in this,

I am looking forward to you next interview as I think you are really on to something here.

Thank you for everything you are doing for modular building.