Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Do Modular Home Builders Have the Right to Expect Quality from their Factory

Most modular home builders probably don't think too much about the homes their factory produces on a daily basis – unless they happen to have a home on the production line, of course.

The majority of builders simply view the modules being produced in the factory as assembled building materials and like many things in life they tend not to take up much space in our minds. This is, until something goes wrong.

Regretfully, the production lines in some factories are not known for consistent quality. Going back to 2008 when home production slowed almost to a standstill, many factories cut their Quality Assurance (QA) people. As business began picking up the past 2 or 3 years these positions were the last ones to be filled if they were filled at all.

How many builders have found themselves at the jobsite along with their customers and watched as modules were unwrapped before being set just to see windows and doors missing, interior trim missing, incomplete drywall work or kitchen cabinets missing? For the lack of a nail the kingdom was lost.

Then you, the builder, find yourself trying to explain to your customer that you will correct everything. Don’t worry, this happens sometimes. But what you are really thinking is that you didn’t get a call from either your rep or anyone at the factory that there was a problem headed your way.

So you smile and head to your truck while dialing your rep’s number only to be sent to voice mail. Now you call the factory and get transferred to the service department that is already on the phone with another builder and you are sent to voice mail. Then you text your rep and after waiting 10 minutes with no reply, you send off emails to the rep, the service manager, the sales manager and the owner of the factory telling them that you expect a return call ASAP.

Behind the scenes at the factory, nobody seems to know what you are concerned about because they hadn’t heard anything about a problem from their QA person. Oh damn, they don’t have one. So they go into the factory to find out what you, the builder, are complaining about only to get deer in headlight looks from everyone involved in building your house.

Now it seems that there is a game of Rock, Paper and Scissors being played in the factory to decide who is going to call you. The loser is tasked with not only finding out what you are upset about but also begin the healing process by saying just about anything to make you happy.

We’ve all been there. I was a sales rep and let me tell you that sometimes I would rather have had to handle live rattlesnakes than to tell you that our factory screwed up. Nobody at the factory really wants to fall on their sword so it usually is a game of hot potato until someone, usually the factory owner, steps up and makes the effort to right the wrongs.

Now having that QA person on the production line and in the yard inspecting each module before it ships seems like a great idea. Most of these problems could have been avoided from tight QA and calls about a missing item to the builder before the modules arrive would not be like opening a Christmas present in front of the homeowner.

The quality control process starts long before the first module rolls off the assembly line. I worked in a factory where every home that was to be produced was sent to the production team one week before it was scheduled to hit the line. There every aspect of that home was reviewed including whether all the materials had arrived including special order items. Shipping routes were discussed. Local codes were reviewed again and each production supervisor was responsible for everything being complete and if they signed off on the plans there were no excuses later on for something going wrong.

The QA person was part of that meeting and took note of special items and unusual construction that the house may require.

There are still some factories that continue this practice but sadly there some that would rather pay out huge sums of money for repairs and service after the house is delivered than making sure the house that was delivered was good to go and complete when it leaves the factory.

It only takes one or two of these problem houses arriving at the job site before the builder wonders if this is the right factory to buy homes from for their customers.

I hear more and more stories about builders waiting weeks for factory service people to visit the job site for problems that should have never have arrived with the modules. For the lack of a nail the kingdom was lost.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. It educated me so much, I am planning to have home builders from TopNotch Construction and with this I think I know how to choose the right builders.

S. Peterson said...

The decades-old adage is still applicable: It costs $1 to fix the problem in the production line, $10 to fix it in the yard and $100 to fix it in the field. Early detection is the key. That and eliminating the "On the floor and out the door" mentality.

Randy said...

Instead of this being 100% the factory fault, a builder could take the time to come to the factory and see what the product looks like before it is shipped?

Anonymous said...

Again Randy why is the responsibility being put back on the builder for the Factories responsibility? I guess I should go to all the factories of the products I purchase and make sure that the product is correct so that they can eliminate their quality control department and put this on the customer-ridiculous....

Randy said...

I went back and re-read my comments..Anonymous.. I like that...and no where did I say the responsibility was put back on the builder. I would think that an investment of that size might deserve a look see?
Do you buy a truck sight unseen and not test driven?
So the new business plan is ..I hope I hope I hope it arrives to my expectations-ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

The issues are even worse when it comes to quality. Many plants aren't even shipping all of the ship loose items with the modular units. On top of getting a partially complete or poorly built home, we now find that we don't have what we paid the factory to provide to complete it. In some cases, these items are needed for the set crew to set the home. The shortages report, if any, comes out 3 days after the home ships. Now, as the builder, we have to run around to the hardware store to get the items. In some of our sets, the nearest store can be an hour from the job site. Bottom line, when I buy a GMC, I don't drive to Detriot to check the quality of my truck. I should expect quality and be surprised when I don't get it. In this industry, it starting to be the opposite!