Monday, May 6, 2019

My Interview with Barden Homes’ Andrew Barden

I met Andrew Barden, great, great grandson of the founder of Barden Homes in New York while on the Yestermorrow School’s Tour of New England Factories.

Andrew Barden
Having been a panelized builder earlier in my career I actually bought homes from his company. Their approach of supplying darn near everything needed to build a home delivered to your jobsite could have been the blueprint for Katerra’s success.

Since Andrew is the newest generation of family to run the company I took advantage of our trip to get to know him. Watching him at each factory stop allowed me to see first hand what the next generation of factory owners and managers thought was interesting and what they didn’t quite get.

When I got home I asked Andrew if I could ask him some questions about his impressions of other factories operating in New England.

He quickly said yes and here are his thoughts:

Modcoach (Gary Fleisher): Andrew, it was fun meeting you on Yestermorrow School’s New England Factory Tour. I am very familiar with what Barden Homes produces but could you give my readers an overview of your company’s history and your products?

Andrew Barden: What a fantastic two days it was indeed! It was a much needed window into the industry for me. Growing up as closely to the business as I have, I've never really had a chance to see how other companies accomplish the same tasks as we do. What a great learning experience.

A Barden Designed Panelized Home

Our company was founded in 1909 in the Finger Lakes region of New York by my Great Great Grandfather producing wagon wheels, fruit baskets, baby furniture, and ammunition crates. At the end of the second world war we began manufacturing wall panels under my Great Grandfather's leadership.


That business expanded over 2 more generations of Barden family leadership. We innovated and expanded, covering the entire Northeast and began pushing into the Midwest and were at the top of the industry with our product quality and volume. I'm told we did around 750 homes per year. After 2008, we were forced to downsize significantly. Our focus now isn't on volume so much as home quality and customer driven design. We do between 50 and 70 homes per year now, the vast majority being completely custom homes.


We currently manufacture all of our home's framing and trusses in our facility in Middleport, NY. We also sell roofing, siding, doors, windows, kitchen cabinets, and just about everything else our dealers need to complete a home.


We've gone this route for complete flexibility in the process and not limiting our customers to what we can produce on our line.


After seeing where the rest of the industry is headed, I think that this may have to change in the near future. With over 70 years of experience in this business, I'm pretty confident that we have the expertise to continue pushing our products forward.

Modcoach: Barden’s panelization process is labor intensive. What was your impression of Bensonwood’s factory where automation rules the day?

Andrew: Bensonwood's facility absolutely blew me away. It's without question where our industry is headed, but I'm not sure it's where it needs to be yet. There were definitely some processes that I thought may have been completed more efficiently with a human touch for sure. Their product, although unquestionably great and worthy, on the surface seems to be a little overkill for current standards and surely comes with a big price tag. Don't get me wrong, the industry needs innovators like Bensonwood, and I have a profound appreciation for what they've accomplished. My hope is that by the time Barden reaches the level Bensonwood has achieved, we can find a way to keep our employees involved and can address affordability while still making a precision product. Exciting stuff.

Modcoach: During our tour we also visited both small and large modular home factories. Would your company consider entering the modular home market as you are already building and supplying most of the components needed to produce modular homes?

Andrew: I'm fascinated by modular. I think that modular is still in its teething phase, there's unbelievable untapped potential. There's a lot of research left before I can really give a strong opinion on what our exact interest in it may be, but I love the concept of having several building systems at our disposal so every home can be engineered with the best of all worlds. That's really what we're about here and why we've been able to stay around for so long: adapting, innovating and providing maximum flexibility. I think that done right, modular could really be a huge asset for us.

Modcoach: When we visited the Yankee Barn Homes where everything is hands on I noticed a broad smile on your face. It must have been exciting to see that level of attention in wood crafted homes is still being done in the US. Do you think this type of construction is going to dwindle do to all the regulations and codes being introduced into home construction?

Andrew: That big smile had a lot to do with their awesome team as well, I had a great conversation while we were there. It's funny, because in my personal life I'm a massive fan of hand craftsmanship and one-off uniqueness. I covet old Italian automobiles and vintage watches, so yes, Yankee Barn ticks all of my boxes. The conversation shifted in the van after that visit. Previously the group had been chatting about innovation and affordability and how we all wanted to design our homes.

After Yankee, the conversation was just about how darn cool what they do is! To answer your question, I'll make a comparison: I've been reading about the death of the sports car business for my entire life. The industry has been fearful of emissions regulations, crash test standards and the like for decades. In 2019, cars are more powerful, lighter, more stable, and get better gas mileage than they ever have. Yankee Barn's homes will always be in demand, and with the money involved with building one I have to believe that they'll get it figured out. I think it's the stick builders that should be the most fearful. They're going to need manufacturers to put in the R&D in order to keep up.

MODCOACH NOTE: Barden is also one of the largest suppliers of panelized churches in the East. Here is just one example of their craftmanship:

Check out the details!

Modcoach: Tiny homes and Auxiliary Housing Units (ADUs) are becoming more popular and both state and local governments are beginning to welcome them. Is providing components for this market in Barden’s future?

Andrew: There's that flexibility coming into play again. We can absolutely provide components for them right this very minute if someone asked us to. Sadly, our home territory here in Upstate New York always seems to be on the tail end of these trends. I really want our product to be pushed, I want to take on some of these new challenges, but it will have to be driven by the market first. Hear that NY lawmakers?? There are businesses here ready to make a change!

Modcoach: On the West Coast both Entekra and Katerra are making huge headways with tract builders and commercial developers. Has this been your experience on the East Coast?

Andrew: Full transparency, I had to familiarize myself with those companies to answer this. I like what I see from them, but the economy that they're operating in is so vastly different than the economy we're in that it's just beyond the scope of what I can foresee here in NY. Incredible stuff, but just not in the cards for us or this area until some kind of economic shift happens.


Andrew, I want to thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to answer my questions. I can’t wait to sit down once again and as us old folks say “Chew the Fat” some more about what is on the horizon for Barden Homes as well as what you see happening in the New England and East Coast housing markets.

For more information about Barden Homes or arrange for a tour, contact Andrew Barden at abarden@bardenbp.com

2 comments:

JC said...

What a fabulous interview.
If every multi-generational systems builder had an Andrew coming up throught their ranks, this industry would be in far happier shape.
Wonderful to see the exchange of visions.

JC said...

What a fabulous interview.
If every multi-generational systems builder had an Andrew coming up throught their ranks, this industry would be in far happier shape.
Wonderful to see the exchange of visions.