by Michael F.B. Barnabas
It you have not yet read their articles, you should. These are in some ways dark messages that could potentially spell the demise for HUD Code manufactured housing as we know it today.
But precisely by stating the facts, they can be the cause for new hope. We can't fix what we ignore or do not take the time to understand.
The numbers do not lie. When an Industry has suffered an 86%+ decline in production in the past twelve plus years, that would be the death knell for most.
Retailers, communities, developers, manufacturers, lenders, insurance, installers, transport, vendors and service suppliers have all suffered. The recent (and in my view, flawed) IBISWorld report our PDF has marked big elements of our Industry for destruction. Almost every weatherman speaks ill of us when severe weather strikes, because they are ignorant of the facts!
We have no one to blame but ourselves for not fixing what is wrong.
Attorney, manufactured home community (MHC) owner and industry/finance expert witness Lavin and banker Al Cole have had the courage to stand up and say what many know, and that too few are willing to admit.
Why are people afraid to speak out?
Because people are afraid of losing their jobs, or their companies, or their bonuses, Wall Street or investor funding, personal status, etc. I know. Because after decades in this Industry, I am one of them.
But inaction or flawed action is just as sure a way of dooming us as suffering a slow death is.
Retailers need sales. I know many MHC operators are struggling for occupancy. Some land lease communities struggle to fill homes and sites even with buy-here, pay-here and rent-to-own, etc. programs. The rest of the Industry that depends on these follows suit, as each is interlocked with the other.
HUD Code manufactured home chattel lenders must be able to profit, or they will pull out or die off. That is the heart of Al Cole's and Marty Lavin's theme. Without finance, how can a big ticket industry survive? Without working with each other (partnering, as Al Cole described it), we cannot turn the corner back to a sound business model and good industry health.
Customers must have a good experience. Customer and resident satisfaction must be the standard we live by.
We need positive changes.
We need leadership and action.
Then, when leadership is shown, it needs to be strongly supported.
Let's look for a moment at associations, especially state ones. Every association fills an important role, or arguably it would cease to exist. The state associations are where the local, state and federal legislators are often engaged. They are at the cross-roads for political action! They need your membership, involvement and support.
We also need Industry trade media. I noted on George Allen's blog this statement:
Gossip? Received this terse email message from 'a friend in the MHBusiness' earlier this week: 'With the proposed $35.00 charge (subscription) for The Journal, starting August 2011, is it too early to plan a wake? Sad.'
Turns out it's true. "You will continue to receive your copy of THE JOURNAL free until August 1, 2011. Thank you all for over 30 years in business. We look forward to serving you in the future." Jim Visser, Publisher.
Why is this news? Because, if there's no alteration to this announcement, the last of the 'free' advertiser-supported trade publications passes from the MHIndustry scene! As you'll likely recall, Community Management was the first to disappear, then a couple years ago, Modern Home and Systems Building magazines; and during Fall of 2009, the venerable Manufactured Home Merchandiser ceased publication, followed shortly thereafter by Don Carlsons Automated Builder magazine.
This should be troubling to every Industry professional. How can an industry exist without general purpose publications? There are specialty publishers such as Allen or Ken Rishel. But the only two 'general purpose' Industry publications today are The Journal and here at MHMSM.com.
Word has it that Mr. Carlson tried the paid subscription option at Automated Builder, and that failed. It would be worse than a shame if The Journal was similarly unable to make it work.
Let me take this opportunity to tip the hat towards this publication.
We should be grateful to the sponsors and staff of MHMSM.com. No one else covers this Industry as they do. I read other publications. Recently, I almost laughed as I noticed that an MHI news wire report carried stories reported on MHMSM.com in some cases weeks earlier. But there are times that MHI breaks a story, or some other publisher. The point is, we NEED resources for industry information to properly understand our industry and what is going on within it.
So our Industry needs this MHMSM.com-style of online, electronic media that allows us to stay informed AND interact!
Some of the articles published by print, email or online publishers provide for no direct way to comment publicly.
Some know that there are publications which are essentially one advertorial after another.
So when a well-known publication presents a columnist that routinely makes outlandish statements disconnected from reality, there is nothing to do but toss the rag in the can. That said, every one of those publications has value. I would hate to see any more fold.
But without changes, without support, business and publishers in this industry will fold.
It seems to me that short-sighted policies have hurt us. Failure to address issues at their heart and failure to serve customers in a fashion that they appreciate has hurt us.
Too many just do not truly love or believe in this Industry.
Imagine if you were the head of a publicly trade firm that lost even 25% market share. Would you lose your job? In most cases, a near certainty. We can't say this long MH decline has happened to all businesses. Mainstream housing kept rolling along until just a few years ago, while HUD Code manufactured home builders kept sliding down. We've gone downhill for going on 13 years, a very unlucky number to us!
Marty Lavin and Al Cole remind us we can and should speak the facts. We can and should see what the facts tell us, how they can point us in a better direction.
I won't recap previous articles, but perhaps MHMSM.com will be kind enough to provide us with links to them at the end of this article.
Let's close on this note. Every crisis spells opportunity for those who are willing to adapt. For those willing to change, these dark messages can bring us new hope.
Editor's Note: Links to the Lavin and Cole articles are given throughout the above text.