Monday, August 7, 2017

My Interview with Alex Berlin of Rochester Homes

Sometime circumstances in life lead people in directions where destinies cross and evolve in ways you would never expect. This is true in the journey of how Alex Berlin and Tyler Anderson became owners of Rochester Homes Inc while both in their 20’s




Alex Berlin never thought he would be in the Home industry. He had always dreamed of being a doctor but due to a series of life events he chose a different career path.


Alex graduated from DePauw University in 2008 and during the summers helped frame houses to make money. After graduating college he married his college sweetheart Lindsey Anderson.


On the other hand, Tyler grew up knowing he wanted to help with the family business. Tyler Anderson at that time was fresh out of IUPFW, and was working at a lumber yard until the next opportunity came along.


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Rochester Homes was founded by Tyler’s grandfather and then run by his father Kenny Anderson. By 2008 Tyler eventually rejoined Rochester Homes full time. Tyler started working on and off at Rochester Homes in his teens, sweeping floors doing odd jobs or whatever needed to be done. Since rejoining the company he has had stints in engineering, service, set crew and in about every station on the production line.


Alex and Lindsey made the decision to come back to her childhood home of Rochester Indiana, population 6,119. Alex worked briefly at a Medical Device Company. After taking a tour of the factory he asked for an opportunity to work in the family business.


It was 2009 and the recession was ravaging the building industry.  The company’s sales hit historic lows that actually threatened its very existence. That is when Alex Berlin and Tyler Anderson began their trek of becoming the owners of Rochester Homes.


Since 2009 the company has gone through a complete rebirth of sorts. After beginning work at Rochester, Alex and Tyler got busy revamping the product line to be more sellable, adding SKU’s to allow for more customization in cabinets, trim and doors and refining production processes that focused on quality and systemization. Kenny and Alex hit the road and were aggressive about building partnering relationships with builders to get new models on builder’s lots. Tyler stayed back at the plant and used his in depth knowledge of the RHI production and engineering processes to redefine the meaning of quality, precision, and repeatable success on the production line. As a result of this, a strong network of great builders and a better economy Rochester Homes is now thriving and is projected to have another record year in sales, six times the amount as what they had in 2009.


Under the tutelage of Kenny Anderson, both Alex and Tyler have assumed leadership roles in the company. They purchased the company from Kenny in January of 2015, with Alex heading up sales and marketing and Tyler production and operations at the ages of 27 and 26.


Curious about how two Millennials were running a successful modular home manufacturing company I sat down with Alex and asked him a few questions:


Modcoach: Tell me about the time from 2009 till the time you co-purchased the company?


Alex Berlin: I would say that 2009, 2010, 2011 were learning years. I would always joke that I needed a sponge nailed to my door because I just wanted to know everything we did. Tyler was ahead of me in that respect because he was so hands on with what he was learning but I am sure he felt the same way. Once Kenny saw our work ethic and drive to help the company grow, he gave us more and more authority to make changes. People were starting to respect us as they saw our work ethic and did not look at us as entitled family members. That is when we started our apprenticeship as business owners.


Modcoach: What were the obstacles in regards to the age difference of you and Tyler in convincing builders to buy from you?


Alex: Not just builders, but our own employees. Tyler worked hard to gain the respect of guys in the plant when he worked out there. We also have other young sales team members and I remember plant guys saying, are you kidding, I would never buy a house from them! Hard work and showing them we bring value was the only way through it. Same with builders, we would have phone conversations first and they would realize we were serious and knew our stuff, then we would meet and they would say you’re kidding, I didn’t realize you were so young! Again, we stood our ground and could go blow for blow with them on any question or idea they could throw at us. The only reason we could do it is because it is a family business and we lived the business for the first several years, if not still. We talk about it in our personal time, to our wives chagrin, but we enjoy it. This business excites us, building homes and relationships with our employees and builders excite us. So we poured our heart, soul and time into it and people saw that.


Modcoach: How did you overcome your naiveté to the system built industry and understanding on how to run a modular home operation?


Alex: Like I said, we dedicated the time to learn. Luckily we both had a background in building. I am personally glad I took several physics courses in college to understand the basics of loads, forces, etc. I also spent a few summers on a framing crew in college. Tyler has done some form of this for as long as he can remember, even working in a lumber yard for a while. Honestly I feel like we have both been guided to this spot from our personal experience. And we have a mentor in Kenny who is not only willing to share any information he has at any time, but is great about being challenged and letting us either succeed or fail with new ideas.


Modcoach: Do millennial tendencies work to your advantage?


Alex: I am not sure if I buy into the whole millennial stereotype, its too generalized, but I guess we are a generation that needs to have value in what we do and we don’t accept the status quo. Not accepting the "this is the way we have always done it" idea has brought about a lot of great change, both in the ability to sell our homes, and in making sure they are built right and consistently. Obviously being raised on tech has helped our office become more streamlined as well.


Modcoach: Who are your role models?


Alex: Tyler and I were both raised by hard workers, actually extremely hard workers. My parents spend their weekends in what we call, "project recreation" which is constantly upgrading their home, landscape, etc. They are both extremely hard workers and have a will to strive for the best in all they do. Obviously Kenny and his wife Julie had to be this way as well otherwise they wouldn’t have survived small business growth and the recession. Tyler says Kenny spent endless days, nights and weekends working. So I would say we both have wonderful role models that taught us the value of hard work and we strive to reflect their values.
Modcoach: Does your youth that affect your ability to lead internally and externally?


Alex: No one can be lead without permission. People judge their leaders by their attitude, work ethic, ideas, goals, etc. You’re there in the trenches with them, willing to do whatever to succeed and they respect that. The people who had a problem with our leadership have either struggled and left, or have moved past that idea. Tyler and I still give tours on the weekend so that we can show everyone we are in this with them and we can stay connected to our end user. No one, who is paying attention, can say that we aren’t leading by example.


Modcoach: Are there misconceptions people have about you and how are you able to change their perception?


Alex: Youth, entitled family members, etc. Hard work trumps everything, as I said, you lead by example. Both Tyler and I have high levels of engagement where we treat everyone with respect no matter their age or experience level.  Having good attitudes and selling these homes for the right reason also helps. Tyler goes so far in making sure our homes are right before they leave because he has been the guy that received homes on site. He knows what it is like to get something that you have to spend hours fixing. Also, he has taken service calls from retail customers for years and doesn’t like having to explain that we just had our heads in the clouds when we sold them something. When our sales team puts something on paper that doesn’t make sense, he and our team calls them on it. Therefore, the product that goes into the field speaks for itself.


Modcoach: How do you perceive the future and the aging builder population and the future of Mod sales to builders?


Alex: We do have an aging builder network somewhat, but there is some young blood finally getting into place. We have a great builder network and I have faith that our builder partners will either continue on or form succession plans. A builder can make great money for themselves and their team in this business. On top of that, this business model probably makes the most sense to that generalized idea of Millennials as we understand technology, modular components, speed, and efficiency more than the generations before us may have. I think that we will see more and more young blood get into the industry every year. And if we don’t, we are an agile enough of a company to change with the market if need be. On top of that, modular is starting to become a buzzword in our opinion. We have had more developers inquire recently. They are very interested in knowing what we doing and how that might work for them. We show them a product that is very similar to what they build on site, and probably better, but built with more efficiency.


Modcoach: How can manufactures attract more Millennials home buyers?


Alex: My generation isn’t looking for products that say "FOR MILLENNIALS" on them! For instance, when I go to a restaurant, I just want to go to place that loves what they do and is good at it. I like craft beer and food because I like to think that the people who made this business drink their own beer and eat their own food and enjoy it. I like taco trucks because I know that the person who owns the truck is probably cooking, and knows that if they make a bad taco, it goes on them directly. We are not a corporation of waste. All of our people interact with our customers, at least from time to time, and sometimes even our customer’s end-user. We are authentic, we love what we do and we build a great product at a great value. People in my generation will see that if they are paying attention and will focus more on us than a corporate competitor in my opinion.


Modcoach: Why and how did you come up with the new logo and tagline?


Alex: Our old logo didn’t tell anyone what we did. We love what we do and we want to show it so we made a new logo to show that we are involved in the housing industry. That being said, one of the most important things for us was to honor and recognize the value and equity in our heritage as we move forward into the future. You can see that we used the original three diamonds that our founder, Milam Anderson, and his son Kenny used in their versions of the logo .Our tagline the “Next Generation in Homebuilding” involves how we see our self as a company as well as what this industry embodies.


Modcoach: What are your future goals for the company?


Alex: We don’t ever want to get away from our roots. We like what we do and don’t want to be owned by a bank. So we have some decisions coming up that we either need to responsibly grow to meet the demand for our product, or we will stay the size we are and focus on efficiencies and our best relationships. The path has not unfolded yet, but either way we will keep producing a stellar product for a great price. We hope to continue to enjoy what we do by having great relationships with our customers. We have the opportunity to optimize and do great things over the next few years and one way or another we will do that. We enjoy feeling like we help provide a product that supports local families in Rochester, builder families all over the Midwest, and puts a roof over people's head all over the Midwest. Nothing will change there.


Modcoach: Thank you for sitting down and letting my readers know that the future of Rochester Homes is going to be great.

For more information about Rochester Homes you can contact them at 800-860-4554 or visit their website at www.rochesterhomesinc.com.

2 comments:

Harris Woodward said...

Great interview Gary. I met both these young men at one of your Boot Camps, and they are certainly the real deal. My favorite facet of their thinking: NOT going down the "we've always done it this way" highway. If only more manufacturers took this valuable advice to heart...

Best wishes, Alex & Tyler. I hope your model behavior and success draws more hungry young people into our industry.

michael dowdy said...

great interview, clark modular in mt. pleasant MI is our builder and will be setting our new Rochester Home in a few weeks. we are so happy with our decision to buy a Rochester Home from clarks.