Monday, October 29, 2012

Valuable Lessons From the West Coast "Prefab" People

In almost every MGM musical in the 1940’s, just as Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney seem to run out of luck, someone comes up with the idea of putting on a show. Ideas follow fast and furious, until the cliché line ("My uncle has a barn! We can do our show there!") serves as the turning point after which a huge musical seems to magically appear.

The same thing seems to be happening on the “prefab” side of the modular home industry. The “prefab” I am referring to is really just a modular home that is built west of the Mississippi River, primarily in the Land of Oz called the West Coast.

East coast new home builders call their homes “modular” and buy them from large production home factories. These builders rarely use social media to tout their wares. There are a few exceptions but for the most part they are traditional new home builders and advertise like they have for many years, even decades. But they can learn a lot from their west coast prefab contemporaries.

Jetson Green and many other blogs and websites devoted to everything green and sustainable have for many years published articles about prefab homes that are either Lego designed or made from shipping containers.

The people behind almost all these newfangled “prefab” homes are Architects, designers or dedicated tree huggers with a vision. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, the self proclaimed Inventor of Prefab housing, Michele Kaufmann, is an Architect. But unlike MK, they didn’t go out and start a factory which went belly up a short time later.

Instead, after they had their designs, they searched for a modular home factory to build their unique home and then went on a marketing tear the likes of which the more traditional modular home builder has never considered.

Just like Judy and Mickey, they say “my uncle builds modular homes. We can have him build it for us.” This is a very smart way to get started. No factory overhead if the business goes belly up.  And just like Judy and Mickey, they market their designs to every green, tree hugging blog and journalist they can find. Many of the factories turning out these “one-off” prefabs do not have assembly lines, relying instead on cribbing their homes which requires a longer build time and higher costs. That doesn't appear to be a major problem to the west coast new home buyer.

That buyer loves the idea that their home might be featured on a blog somewhere. Even Walt Disney’s nephew is pimping his new Blu Homes prefab modular.

The west coast prefab people can teach the east coast builders quite a lot about getting the message out about their homes. Could you imagine the buzz our industry would get if every modular home builder and their factory started mimicking the efforts of the west coast folks? There would be mayhem with all the orders for new homes coming into the factories. Buyers would begin to understand the benefits of modular construction. Developers and tract home builders would flood the factories with orders.

But alas, it won’t happen anytime soon. Most factories simply sit back and think that as the economy improves, it will automatically increase sales for the factory.  3% of a rising tide is good enough.

Just waiting for that old 3% rising tide to wake me up
I’ll bet those west coast guys are looking at the stodgy east coast home builders and asking why they aren't trying harder. Your guess is as good as mine.

1 comment:

Damon Hernandez said...

Let's hope that more on the east and west coast start using digital fabrication to build high quality prefab.