Saturday, August 10, 2019

Eight “Why”s of the Modular Construction Industry

If you’ve been reading about the rapid acceptance and growth of modular construction in residential and commercial construction, you’ve probably noticed there is still no true definition of exactly what the term “modular” means.

We read about companies like Katerra, Entekra, Blueprint Robotics, Bensonwood and many other factories like them being called modular when in fact they are just building panelized walls, floors and trusses.

Manufactured home companies like Clayton, Cavco and others building homes under the HUD code are also being called modular as are tiny houses being built from garden sheds bought at 84 Lumber on utility trailers bought from Tractor Supply.

There are also the companies building homes from new and recycled shipping containers who the media calls modular.

Meantime the companies that started the real modular industry in this country have sat back and watched as all these other types of construction are being labeled ‘modular’.

Here are my Eight “WHY”s the modular housing industry needs to answer.

Why aren’t the older established modular home and commercial companies denouncing most of these other types of construction for being called modular by the media?

Why doesn’t every IRC based modular home factory belong to the Modular Home Builder Association? Even though this organization has seen slow but steady growth in membership, they are still a long way from having every factory in the US as a member. Tom Hardiman and his team are some of the best.

Why doesn’t every modular factory belong to the Building Systems Council of the NAHB? One would think the BSC, being a council of the NAHB, that companies would be flocking to their meetings. But alas, that is not the case. Their annual conference sees the same group of people attending even though they offer a lot of great things for their members.

Why don’t the owners, GMs and management from modular home factories swamp the International Builders Show? The BSC has a program of speakers at IBS just for modular, panel, log and concrete housing members that has grown rapidly under Devin Perry’s leadership but what’s sad is while all other BSC types of construction are seeing increasing attendance at this event most of the modular housing industry won’t go.

Why do you see so few modular factory owners and GMs at any housing conferences across the US? There are conferences on affordable housing, commercial prefabrication design and education and even conferences on BIM, VR, AR, Robotics, Cloud and other subjects modular factories should be attending but very few are.

Why don’t many modular factory people attend the International Builders Show where thousands of new products are presented, hundreds of industry experts speak and networking grows stronger?

Why do so few US modular factory owners and management attend the Modular Building Institute’s annual World of Modular? This is one event where networking rules the day yet few in the modular housing attend.

Why don’t the owners and GMs of the almost 200 independent modular factories in the US simply talk with each other? What a fantastic meeting that would be! They could actually decide to help each other in the areas of freight, set crews, codes and regulations and even automation and design.

If you have to ask yourself "WHY" this is important stuff, you just might be the reason for this article.

Gary Fleisher (the Modcoach) is a housing veteran, editor/writer of Modular Home Builder blog and industry speaker/consultant.


Bill Hart said...

You sure nailed this one Gary! Hurrow! Reminds me of a all too typical "on the street", comment heard from many leading less than forty-types (cron-wise or mentally-wise)and their frustrated view of their hometown, "what our town really needs is about 12 top name funerals, then maybe we can finally start moving into the future that we truly need and deserve here in XXXXXX!"

Anonymous said...

Bill. You know us so well. There is a new breed just waiting to take over when those sloth minded top name people either retire, quit or die.

Unknown said...

There is indeed.

Anonymous said...

The first 7 questions all have a common denominator; belonging to associations and attending trade shows/exhibitions/events not only have a cost, but are of a much more official (and superficial) nature; it's pretty hard to get past this and find enough value to make it worthwhile. I doubt a lot of value comes out from a friendly day on the golf course, or cocktails among colleagues.

The 8th question has an entirely different perspective to it; direct contact with each other cuts straight to the heart of finding value. Yet who wants to do this for fear of competition or the awkwardness of the initial request? I think there is a vast potential of value to be shared out there if companies could just get past the fears of the awkward first step and have an ongoing relationship with another. Imagine two factories in entirely different geographic regions sharing their challenges and successes directly with each other, in an on-going relationship. Does this sound crazy or inspiring?

We certainly can't look to the construction industry to help us. After all, we're the newcomers disrupting the status quo. We can help each other though. But then again, I sadly suppose and suspect that we probably think we're beyond help because we don't need it, or because our situation is just too unique.

Maybe it's too far-fetched to even imagine, but it's a world I would sure like to see. Perhaps there are others out there who also share this sentiment. Maybe also somehow, in some way, those of us will find each other...

Coach said...

Anonymous 10:25, here is my email:

Let's try to figure out something that you (obviously not one of the 'good old boys') and I can do to bring people together for the good of all the industry.

Tom Hardiman said...

Hey Anon, when was the last time you attended an industry (MHBA, BSC, or MBI) event? golf outings and cocktails? No value from learning best practices, new technologies, or just meeting with customers or prospects?

I get it that you have to have a return on investment to join or attend some of these events. But at least don't characterize them all as some stale 1980s trade shows. How do you expect the industry to "find each other" and share ideas if you don't first come to the events?

Anonymous said...

Tom Hardiman, I must say you have a good point (presenting a critical stance based on assumption and not experience) - thanks for calling me out on that. I don't mean to discount the industry groups.

I also agree with the question "how else would the people find each other and connect otherwise." I really don't know the answer to that; perhaps I'm just lamenting that there's not another simpler way. Then again, I wonder if that is what keeps the communication (per Gary's good post) from happening; we all want the result but don't want to put forth the we sit on the fence!

Tom Hardiman said...

I really do understand that people are busy and can't justify joining and/or attending events unless they sense that it will help their business. We do take an entrepreneurial approach to running our industry trade associations (MHBA and MBI). There has been a lot of discussion about a lack of innovation in our industry. MHBA has loaded up our annual conference agenda to cover research and innovation in the industry. I certain its worth the trip for anyone on the residential side of the business to attend on Oct 10th.
On the multifamily/commercial side, I know MBI's World of Modular is worth the trip. We topped 1,000 attendees this past March and I expect bigger and better things next March. Exciting times in our industry.