1) Who, What and Where: (Your name, formal title at the MHI/NCC and where you are based).
Jenny Hodge, Vice President – National Communities Council (NCC), Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI), Arlington, VA.
2) Background: (Educational/Professional snapshot before entering the factory-built housing arena.).
Prior to MHI, my professional career was as an insurance industry executive whose background includes underwriting, sales, product development, market research and strategic planning. People that know me know that I am passionate about marketing which is so frequently confused with marketing communications although both aspects are important.
Good marketing always starts with good data. How do you design an advertising campaign if you don’t have the relevant information – for your target audience or to measure results? My marketing background includes both strategic marketing (with research and planning functions) as well as managing creative campaigns.
I have Bachelors of Science degree in Finance from George Mason University with a concentration in real estate finance. I was a licensed Realtor and sold real estate to pay my tuition. It was a great experience and was the first of many unique opportunities in my career.
3) When and How: (When and how you began in MH.).
Officially, my association into MH was in 1999 when I joined American Modern Insurance Group since coverage on MH was the company’s largest line of business. Most people don’t realize that American Modern’s original parent company – The Midland Company – was the original vertically integrated company in manufactured housing. At one time, Midland manufactured, wholesaled, retailed, and financed homes. Insurance was an afterthought and just one more revenue stream.
4) What are your personal interests or hobbies? How do you like to spend non-work time?
When you love what you do, is it really work? I am a big music fan with a varied and eclectic taste. I could not fathom a world without music as it is integral to my perspective. I enjoy reading and usually have at least 1-2 books going at a time. Finally, I love to cook and the thrill of mastering a really good recipe. Anyone up for a fried catfish contest or chili cook-off?
5) You spent a number of years working with Mike Bowen and American Modern. Please share insights into both, and how that benefits you and your members in the National Communities Council.
The real benefit to NCC – and the broader MHI membership – was the fact that I already had a significant experience, relationships, and history in the MH world while still offering a fresh perspective. It’s finding the right balance between history and today’s reality but appreciating the context of events.
In addition to marketing research, I did a lot of strategic planning work at American Modern. So, Mike Bowen “volunteered” my services to MHI and I found myself immersed in a variety of projects.
Over the years, I facilitated strategic planning sessions for the MHI Board, the Financial Services Division, and participated on a variety of task force projects.
American Modern was also a generous sponsor for the research to investigate consumer perceptions so I also was integrally involved with the “Roper Report.” These industry experiences were also supplemented by the amount of consumer-level MH research and analysis we did at American Modern.
Being a part of the MHI team, I get to bring all of these “puzzle pieces” together and apply the full picture to our industry efforts.
6) You are fresh from the Louisville Manufactured Housing Show, and headed to the Tunica Show. Tell us your thoughts about such industry trade events that feature education, homes, exhibitors and mixers. For those who have not come ever or in years, what reasons would you suggest that they may want to come? Also, your having seen both the ‘entry level’ shade and shelter homes our industry offers at Louisville and Tunica, as well as the more upscale residential product, do you see value to our industry to promote and ‘go after’ both entry level and more residential markets?
I am always impressed by the high quality and wide range of homes our industry produces. Whether a modest 800 square foot 2-bed/1-bath home or a 3500 square foot high-end modular home, the value of our homes is unmatched.
Instead of debating which market segments the industry “should” promote or pursue, Iet’s tell our story. Let’s show the range of homes, demonstrate the value-for-dollar quality and highlight the benefits of better building (and energy) efficiency. Individual businesses will need to decide which segments best match their unique competitive advantages and act accordingly.
Expressed differently, consider this example: Walmart, Target, Macy’s and Nordstrom’s all sell women’s clothing. Each one of those stores offers its own shopping and consumer experience. Do you think the CEO of Target lays awake at night trying to compete with Nordstrom’s? I don’t.
However, I would guess that all of these businesses are losing sleep thinking about Amazon.com’s plan to be the “seller of everything” with almost instant delivery! So, just as there is room across the spectrum of traditional “brick and mortar” retailers, there is plenty of room on the housing spectrum for all kinds of “factory built” homes to flourish.
7) In Louisville, and also planned for Tunica, you were part of a special outreach to potential new comers to our industry, which was part of the focus of an interview with you on BuilderRadio. What is the value to bringing new blood and new capital into our industry? Does new blood and capital help or harm current industry players and their business or property values?
By definition, new participants will bring new thinking and perspective – that’s a good thing! This industry has a lot of smart and successful folks but there is always room for more.
New people inspire different ideas – and opportunities – by asking the innocent questions necessary to learn. When someone who is new to the industry asks “why,” it allows us to reexamine, improve, and refine our processes instead of just doing things “the way they’ve always been done.”
Incidentally, I’ve never heard a traditional single-family or commercial builder ask if new blood would “help or harm” their industry. Let’s open up the tent, actively recruit fresh faces and embrace the opportunity to raise our game.
8) At the Louisville Show, you were clearly engaged with community operators of all sizes, not just the ‘big boys’ as some try to paint MHI and the NCC. Please explain to those who may not understand why it benefits everyone of whatever size to be involved with an association like yours?
Being part of an association creates opportunities – for learning, sharing, and making a difference. These opportunities exist within the many excellent state associations in our industry and on a national scale with MHI. The best way to maximize the value of membership is to be active within the association.
It is true that within the National Communities Council division of MHI we have both very large, portfolio operators as well as single-site community operators and many mid-size owner/operators in between; just like in other forms of multi-family housing investment categories.
At the end of the day, it really is about how well the actual, local community competes in the local market to attract potential residents. Thus, when we have members of all sizes the conversation inevitably turns to those same issues – what can a community owner do to maximize their community? Sell more homes? Be more efficient?
But, if you go back to my initial answer to this question, it is about how learning and sharing creates opportunities.
An association can coordinate resources, develop program content, and advocate with a united voice for its members. I’d encourage any community owner or operator to be active with his or her state association and MHI. The strength of any association is always in its membership.
10) While MHI is widely seen as the largest and most influential national trade association, our industry is not so large that your work takes place in a vacuum. Please tell our readers why there is wisdom in working with other state, community or other manufactured housing associations makes sense.
I have never felt that collaboration is a weakness. In most circumstances, adding different perspectives, seeking feedback and inviting ideas almost always improves the quality of the final outcome.
Reasonable people can “agree to disagree” and it is not realistic to think that all people (or associations) will always have 100% identical views on an issue. But, more often than not, people (and associations) can focus where there is agreement. We might disagree on a tactical approach, method of implementation or specific execution but what approach is in the best interest of the issue (or industry) overall?
Let me quote Ben Franklin who said, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Diplomacy may be frustrating but there is no reason to surrender our civility towards each other.
Dick Jennison (l), Barry Noffsinger (c), Jenny Hodge (r)
Chicago Dinner Cruise,
2013 NCC Fall Leadership Conference
11) You were personally involved in some of the visits to Capitol Hill, even though lobbying is not considered to be your core focus. What advice do you have for those who want to support efforts like HR 1779 or the companion Senate bill, S 1828?
The best advice would be to get involved! Specifically, call your Representative’s and Senator’s office and tell them about your business. Send an e-mail, be persistent and follow-up for acknowledgment. Invite your Representative or Senator to your community (or retail location or factory). Offer to host a “town hall” meeting with your elected officials. Tell your story about how many jobs your business provides and why these issues matter to your residents or customers.
MHI is fortunate to have a terrific government affairs team under the leadership of Jason Boelhert. We have a variety of materials available on our web site including sample letters, issue briefs and other resources. Or, simply call us and we can point you to the right direction.
Finally, one other way to support lobbying and advocacy efforts is to support the MHI Political Action Committee with a financial contribution. For more information, please contact Gay Westbrook at 703-229-6212 who is MHI’s Vice President for Political & Public Affairs. All amounts are welcome and no amount is too small!
12) Leigh Abrams and Randy Rowe are among the many voices that MHProNews has interviewed that called for a national image campaign to advance manufactured housing. Sam Landy at UMH and CU Factory Built Lending have not only supported that call, but have taken the extra step of supporting the ManufacturedHomeLivingNews.com online image and educational effort. You know also know that Sam Landy, who in an interview with MHProNews said that given the need for affordable housing in the U.S., he can see manufactured housing return to shipment levels of 300,000 to 400,000 a year. Against that backdrop, and as a person with a marketing background, do you think that the image of manufactured housing hurts us with potential customers and supporters? Do outdated stereotypes keep us from advancing as rapidly as we might with elected officials and regulators?
Who believes the maxim that “perception is reality?” Yet, it is also true that there is significant misperception of our housing product in the public’s mind! There is a wide variety of opinion on how to improve the image of our housing product. In the interest of diplomacy, I’m going to focus on some common ground.
How many readers have ever called their local television news channel to complain about the melodramatic intonation and condescending arrogance when a news anchor talks about an incident at the “trailer park”? If we believe that the maxim “all real estate is local” includes our great homes, what are we doing to tell our own story at a local level? Just as individual businesses need to determine their own competitive market segments, “fixing” the misconceptions of our homes is probably not a “one size fits all” solution.
Expressed differently, I have never met a community owner or operator that was not proud of his or her community. Large or small, retirement or family, resort-like or modest, every single community owner I have met has said something along the lines of “this is my community” and expressed authentic pride of ownership (or management). Changing people’s perceptions will take time, tenacity, and thoughtfulness but it can be achieved.
13) Any closing thoughts on the value of being in state or national associations, or other topics of industry interest, for our readers that you’d like to share?
Get involved with your state association, and consider joining MHI, too. Success is a team effort! ##
A Cup of Coffee with…Kenny Lipschutz, HomeFirst™ Certified Communities