A Cup of Coffee with Scott Jones

Cup-manufacturedhomepronews1) Who, What and Where: (Your name, and your role/job title in the industry, your association roles, etc.)

Scott Jones – I am back in the industry after a break of several months while I established an on-going business called EZTravelpad – a travel agency with a strong online presence. Check it out at www.eztravelpad.com – it’s a better option in many cases than going with other online travel providers + we offer individual service also.

Currently I am back in the MH industry selling in 2 large MH communities- 1 is all adult 55+ and the other is for families of all ages. Both are located in Elkhart, IN. Business is solid.

Previous roles in the industry have included running dealerships in Indiana and North Carolina, wholesale factory sales rep and/or sales manager for Champion, Clayton, Commodore, Liberty & Redman in a variety of markets ranging from South Carolina to Montana. Additionally I spent a number of years in the mortgage industry so have first hand insights into their prior implosion.

Also served on the board for Indiana Manufactured Housing Assn.

2) Background (brief Educational/Professional snapshot before entering the factory-built housing arena):

Grew up in the industry – Parents had a MH community, and a sales center in Terre Haute, IN from mid-60s until late 80s. I remember un-boxing furniture and screwing the legs on the bottoms of couches when I was about 8 years old – remember when our homes all included furniture & decor?

Attended Rose-Hulman Institue of Technology and Indiana State University.

Was absorbed into the industry full-time previous to completing my higher education.

3) When and How: (When and how you got into the Manufactured Housing Industry. Some of the roles you’ve had in the industry, companies, titles, Associations, etc.)

As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in the business. My father built a MH park in mid-60s, served an instrumental role in IMHA during some of the good years. My mother was 1st female on that board, and I think I may have been the youngest to serve, but not certain of that fact. I remember the day my father and Paul Stiner were floating in our pool and decided to bring an ex-military man with no industry experience in as Exec Dir of IMHA – that man was Holt Blomgren. Memories are funny

I was exposed to, worked with and for some great people who made a difference in this industry – there are still some great people in this industry – it’s hard to imagine right now, but our best days may still be in our future!

4) What are your personal interests or hobbies? How do you like to spend non-work time?

I love to travel, hence the travel agency. It’s a big world, and I intend to see as much of it as I can. My wife and I have no children so are free to enjoy our pleasures as they present themselves – skiing, traveling, dining, going to the movies. I am finding there isn’t much free time these days, but am resolving for 2010 to make changes to insure more down-time. I’m currently reading a bit on restructuring priorities and time management.

5) As a wholesale rep and in your Association roles, you’ve seen a lot of different things over the years. What was memorable? What do you see that has lessons for the industry today? For example, you mentioned in a blog post a story out of California that many may find of interest, and you can go on from there if you’d like.

I was relating a memory of a time back in the mid 80s when I was on the board with IMHA. We had a significant sum that had been collected in a fund from manufacturers and retailers. We were deciding how to use the funds. I suggested an institutional ad campaign. I thought we could afford to produce a campaign with a celebrity like Paul Harvey or someone else who people trust to act as an industry spokesperson sharing the virtues of manufactured housing. I was told that California had tried such a campaign but it hadn’t worked so we moved on to another plan. I was later told that California had hired Art Linkletter, and the reason that the campaign had failed was because TOO MANY customers showed up at dealerships that were ill-prepared to meet the customer’s expectations.

Look around – you know that this industry has had a habit of under-delivering on our potential.

I have traveled extensively and met with hundreds of retailers. I have done business with people who did it right, and those who didn’t. Perhaps I shouldn’t have enabled those NOT doing business the way they should. Perhaps none of us should have and we’d be better off today as an industry.

I remember traveling North and South Carolina in the mid & late 90s, seeing homes crammed into retailers’ storage lots – 2, 3 & 4 years worth of inventory – and it wasn’t just in the Carolinas.

Manufacturers paying retailers under the table to buy more and more inventory – totally unsustainable. Retailers turning a blind eye to unscrupulous salespeople inventing income docs on their computers. Lenders turning a blind eye to phony down payments. It was a house of cards that we ALL built. It’s human nature.

6) What do you consider the largest challenges facing the industry today?

Two things –

Financing and capitalization are the biggest challenges.

There needs to be some reasonable financing available for HUD code homes placed on private property. I think something like the Fannie Mae Select program is a good start. Financing will gradually come back, but make no mistake, underwriting is going to be tougher for a long time so we need to develop a product and niche to attract the home buyer that CAN afford something else but chooses not to go the site built route. It’s NOT all about price. It IS all about VALUE.

7) What are the biggest challenges to retailers and associations today?

Survival. Maybe it’s time for new alliances and partnerships?

8) How would you like to see the industry respond to these challenges?

Think urban renewal, think public transportation, think green, think outside the box.

The MH industry has an opportunity to sell the baby-boomers 1 more time, and THIS IS our LAST shot at them. Demographics are in our favor as economic forces have dealt the economy a big punch in the gut, and many people have downsizing on their radar. Our industry is totally capable of serving this huge market, but it involves selling them a lifestyle, not just a house.

The days of the traditional street dealer may never come back like they once were, but the days of the developer may be upon us like never before. The boomers want to buy into a lifestyle. Low maintenance, convenience, affordability, efficiency. They are not interested in a large home on an acre in the country with a well and septic tank and a riding mower that needs repaired. They are interested in a nice home close to the grocery store & church. They want a home that’s safe, with neighbors looking out for them if they decide to go away for a few weeks or months. They want a community that they can count on to help them after their hip replacement because the kids live 2 time zones away. I believe this is the new buyer for the MH industry.

9) From your perspective, what are some significant initiatives associations you know that have been undertaken to support the industry and its future?

I know there are some good people at associations across the country. I like the Wisconsin Housing Alliance and Amy Bliss’ “Tomorrow’s Home Foundation” initiative. This is something that could gain a lot of traction in the press and provide excellent PR.

PR is free.

10) What do you think the broader industry can do to improve the climate for Manufactured/Modular Housing today?

Each of us must go to work each and every day dedicated to figuring out how we can provide a better value – and that doesn’t mean figuring out how to cut a corner or provide a cheaper widget. It means making the experience of buying and living in a MH better.

11) What are your thoughts on promoting an industry-wide image building campaign, ala the RV Industry’s noteworthy Go RVing multi-media campaign? Do you think a regional/more localized marketing/PR campaign would work better than a national campaign? How would you suggest the industry avoid the very issue you noted in your California/Art Linkletter post if there were a regional or national campaign?

I believe in institutional advertising and I believe in associations, but I don’t think a national campaign is feasible due to the regional differences in our industry. It’s a different buyer with a different mentality from one market to the next. Sure, there is some commonality, but Detroit and Chicago are totally different markets than Lansing and Springfield – let alone the vast differences between Connecticut and North Carolina, etc.

It is way to premature to talk of institutional advertising when we’re in survival mode, but social media may be an answer – maybe it’s time for each of us to use YouTube, Facebook & Twitter to their fullest potential. As an example, I know of a MH dealer that has an ad that has gone viral on YouTube. It has been viewed over 1,023,138 times in the last 2 months. Someone was thinking outside of the box.

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