Monday, June 9, 2014

An Interview with Excel's President, Phil Hickman

Today’s interview with Phil Hickman was one that I was hoping to get for some time. Phil has been involved in helping Excel Homes expand into a five plant modular home operation spanning a huge part of the country.

Phil Hickman, President of Excel Homes

Modcoach: Phil, thanks for taking the time to speak with me. First question I have is how did you get into the modular home industry?

Phil: I am the President of Excel Homes and All American Homes which include Mod-U-Kraf and Excel of Maine, Keiser.  I have been in the modular industry for 18 years starting at Unibilt Industries as VP of Operations. Previous to that I began my career at General Tire and Rubber Company in operations as Materials Manager, Huffy Corporation  as VP of Operations. I have a bachelor’s degree in business management.

Modcoach: How has Hurricane Sandy impacted your factory?

Phil: Hurricane Sandy has impacted our factories in a big way. Our strong builder network in New Jersey and New York has allowed us to increase our production roughly 50% in the past year, directly related to the Hurricane Sandy rebuild effort. At the same time we are experiencing a substantial increase in business from other key markets. Excel Homes has been able to shift our southern business and some of our New Jersey business to Rocky Mount, VA to be constructed. This keeps the backlog spread evenly across the builder base allowing growth in all areas of the business.

Modcoach: I understand that commercial business was a large part of your business. Is it still such a big part?

Phil: Commercial continues to be an important part of our business. IDBS, our commercial division, is seeing a great demand for multi-family and condominium construction. Our unique ability to shift production between 5 factories allows us to better manage the commercial backlog at each facility. This flexibility keeps the single family business running largely uninterrupted by the commercial product.

Modcoach: Is the size of today’s homes different from the boom times before 2008?

Phil: We have seen a steady increase in the average size of the houses we are building, as well as more attention to higher quality finishes and energy efficiency. As we have continued to focus on the highly customized market, we have built a reputation among higher end buyers for building a high quality house. That’s driven our business to larger houses compared to pre-2008 – in fact our average house is >15% bigger than it was in 2007.

Modcoach: Have code regulations hurt our industry?

Phil: Yes, we continue to work with state and local officials to stay informed and on top of the current regulations. We do run into specific codes or regulations that work against the Modular method of building.

Modcoach: Why do you think that the modular home industry still stuck at 3% of the total new home market?

Phil: Our industry as a whole has done a poor job of educating the general public on what it means to build modular. There is still a lot of confusion or misconception in the market place on the type of homes we build. We have made some great strides in the past years with exposure on media such as This Old House, and Modern Marvels. The industry as a whole needs more exposure like this to gain acceptance.

Modcoach: How does a company with such a small group of executive leaders oversee 5 modular production facilities at once?

Phil: This requires strong management at the local level. Each one of our production factories is operated by the local management with regards to sales and operations. These folks know the business and the workforce in each area. In many cases they have been working alongside their colleagues for 30 plus years. This approach combined with some fresh young talent and the leadership of our owners combine to make managing these factories enjoyable.  

Phil, it’s always a pleasure talking with you and I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts about the modular housing industry. Next time, lunch is on me.


Mark said...

Very good interview with a well known and well liked individual in the insdustry. As a builder of Excel Homes product I trust and believe everything I hear from Phil. He was a great addition to the Excel team and has served the company and their builders well. Keep up the good work Phil.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Mark. Class act.