The IBISWorld Controversy and the Manufactured Housing Industry

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The March 2011 IBISWorld report that cited manufactured home dealers as a ‘dying industry’ has made news inside and outside of the manufactured housing industry. MHMSM.com has contacted a variety of Industry leaders and personalities from coast to coast to get their comments. On-the-record comments have included national association leaders, as well as professionals in factory-built housing from the manufacturing, retail, communities and lending sectors.

Messages, comments and calls to MHMSM.com from manufactured home industry professionals dribbled in at first, and then gained in volume as publications such as The Atlantic and Business Insider covered the IBISWorld report. As an example of mainstream media coverage, a TV station in Houston reportedly called a regional firm to interview them about the developing IBISWorld story.

Derek Thompson, associate editor at The Atlantic, penned a commentary that included these words:

“At the center of a perfect storm of boomer burnout, a brutal recession,
and a rapidly changing industry, the mobile home retail market
could be the worst industry in America. Here’s why.”

Photo from The Atlantic
Photo from The Atlantic

“If I asked you to name America’s least fortunate industry, your mind might go to record stores, obliterated by on-demand apps; or photofinishers, left in the cold as digital cameras turn Americans into our own photo editors; or fabric makers, where business is booming … in Shenzhen, China.

“But when it comes to unlucky industries, it’s manufactured home (aka mobile home) retailers who really hit the trifecta. First they missed out on the housing boom. Then they felt the gut-punch of the recession. Now they might yet miss out on the recovery. That makes them America’s fastest dying industry, according to a new report from IBISWorld.”

Paul Bradley with Resident Owned Communities USA (ROC USA) was one of the first in the manufactured housing world’s leadership to publicly respond to this IBISWorld report. Bradley wrote a feature article for MHMSM.com that analyzed the IBISWorld report. Quoting from Bradley’s analysis:

“The (IBISWorld) report states ‘demand is dwindling’ and ‘sales are stagnant because the industry is not innovating, and that sales are likely to continue falling in the coming years.’ They go on to say, ‘Manufacturers have made cosmetics changes to manufactured homes, but they have not been significant enough to alter their life cycle stage.’ The report puts MH retailers in the ‘Industry stagnation’ category of declining industries.

“Are you kidding me? These are ‘deeply researched answers’?

“First, the headline clearly comes from their marketing division as a means of grabbing headlines. The research is not about a dying industry but a declining industry segment – one of two long-standing distribution channels in the business.

“With MH shipments in 2010 at 50,000 or 20 percent of 2000 levels, it’s not news that retailer revenues over that period declined. On that data, I’m surprised establishments are not down more than 56 percent. It suggests that the segment has excess capacity and additional closings are likely.

“Most surprising to me is laying the blame at the feet of manufacturers on the issue of design! From a ground-level market vantage point, that’s misplaced.

“The industry’s great declines came about as a result of, first, an industry-created chattel collapse where the seeds were sown in run-up to the 373,000 shipments in 1998. The collapse, and the repossession overhang which followed, began the decline like a skilled boxer’s well-placed left jab.

“The right overhand came next in the form of aggressive sub-prime and predatory lenders in the site-built market. In that run-up, traditional MH buyers – who were harder to finance for MH as a result of the chattel collapse – were lost to site-built housing in an eerily familiar boom market.

“Dazed by the right hand blow to our collective heads, the left to the body that has people reeling now is the regulatory reaction – the SAFE act, etc. – to the clearly consumer-eating lending practices of the last decade.

“The results of this three punch combination are declines of the magnitude widely reported and felt, and like a good whack, the pain lasts a while.

“Innovation in housing design, however, is not the industry’s chief failing.

“For those of us in the community market segment, in fact, innovation in new homes is a small issue – not a non-issue but a mere shadow of the aforementioned home financing issue. In fact, we are seeing demand for replacement and in-fill homes but only where we are able to arrange decent home financing. People want more efficient homes and the cost savings with new EnergyStar homes can be dramatic based on buyers with whom I’ve spoken.”

(Editor’s Note: The complete analysis by Paul Bradley can be found at this link.)

Other commentary in the form of articles proposed for publication, private and public comments followed. Thayer Long at the Manufactured Housing Institute issued this email as part of his response:

“State Execs & MHI Board:

“A very well articulated response to the IBIS report from last week by Paul Bradley which was just posted on www.MHMSM.com.

“I’d also just add that the sentiment at the Tunica Show, the Louisville Show, and the expected strong turnout at the Congress & Expo and the Tulsa Show and York Show later this month certainly don’t indicate this industry is going anywhere.

“Tony/Paul – I hope you don’t mind me sharing. We’ll see you in Las Vegas. Thanks for your support.

“Thanks-

“Thayer”

MHMSM.com spoke with Danny Ghorbani at the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR) and to Thayer Long at the Manufactured Housing Institute.

Danny Ghorbani stated in a telephone interview that his comments were not the official position of MHARR, but represented his own views on the IBISWorld report and related.

Ghorbani stressed that the IBISWorld report represented the “failure” of “the post-production sector of the Industry” [meaning, MHI] in “serving that segment of its membership.”

The MHARR official then referenced two previously published documents that do represent MHARR’s official position, which were previously published on MHMSM.com in August and October 2010. These MHARR Viewpoint articles called for ‘the post-production segments’ of the manufactured housing industry to form their own national association; a thinly veiled vote of no-confidence from MHARR towards MHI.

MHMSM.com spoke extensively with Thayer Long at the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI). The typically soft-spoken Long was quick to respond.

Long was at times tongue-in-cheek, at other points direct in his comments about the IBISWorld report and Ghorbani’s often pointed comments on the matter. It should be stressed that Long’s comments, which follow, should be viewed as his own, and not necessarily reflective of the official view of MHI.

In an exclusive interview with MHMSM.com, Long shared the following thoughts:

Thayer Long:
“If it is a dying industry, then ok, then I guess I quit! And if Danny wants to blame it on us [MHI], okay, what else is new? … I am still struggling to figure out what he (Danny Ghorbani) is doing right now. Name one thing that he has accomplished … in the past three years? What has he accomplished…? I would love for you to think about that and get back to me. What has he accomplished? We [MHI] win and lose some battles. But at least we try. We have accomplished some things. Except, except, except… [MHARR]…nothing….

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3 thoughts on “The IBISWorld Controversy and the Manufactured Housing Industry”

  1. Anonymous

    I’ve been in the K.C. market for along time. And have been reluctant to express any comments on this report. Now here’s the but, I’m afraid that at least in this market that this report is already reality not a projection.

  2. Bill Grimsley

    Did the report also explain total new home sales by site built at one time was near 2 million a year and now estimated at 250,000. The 4 th. and most imortant point, in my opinion, that I would recommend Mr. Bradley to analyze is the imbalance in quasi-public corp. Freddie and Fannie, that are now government agencies, along with U. S. D. A. Rural Development, FHA, Ginny, VA, FCS (Farm Credit Services), that do not and have not provided loans for the resale market destroying the value of the homes of low income Americans. Likewise, it is nearly impossible from any of these agencies to get a loan on a new sectional on a permanent foundation with land and improvements. Unlike site built homes HUD code homes through banks demand higher jpercentage down payments with short term variable rate balloon note. We need to quit arguing among ourselves, quit pointing fingers at others, point the finger at our kown chest, and ask ourselves “What have (I)we in this industry done to ensure a level playing field for initial purchase of new and for purchase of resale HUD code homes. Unless (I)we take care of our customers and become politically active, stepping on toes if need be as years of be mild mannered and obedient don’t seem to work, we may survive but be the starving dog looking for a hand out.

  3. Paul Bradley

    Hello Bill ~nnI have looked closely at the imbalance in housing finance and worked diligently to close the gap in our own work.u00a0 I have called the MH market a “parallel market to the residential market where everything is handled differently by different regulations, practices and companies.”u00a0 nnIn my view, on a grand scale, the MH industry struggles with itself whetheru00a0to draw closer to the residential market or to go its own way.u00a0 As a conflicted and disaggregated sector, moving closer to the more regulated residential market is hard to motivate from within.u00a0 A few voices have tried; most frame the ideal as “the good old days.”nnTo your point,u00a0unless the industry shifts to a more residential set of practices, you will never pull down any of the government-backed loans you cite.u00a0u00a0And, over 90% of all residential lending now is government-backed!u00a0 Consider it quid pro quo – security and fair dealing (of the regulated, structural sort) or no deal.u00a0 Pretty simple really.u00a0 nnIn the community segment, the deal on its most basic level isu00a0long-term leases.u00a0 It’s been the same condition for 20 years and still no real takers.u00a0 Randy Rowe speaks of “economic security” as one of his five keys, and he stated at the Allen Roundtable in 9/2010 that it is linked “abesolutely” to home financing.u00a0 nnSo, Bill, long as we might, the question is a business basic:u00a0 Are we listening to our customers and finding solutions to their problems?u00a0 I am someone who has a 360 degree view ofu00a0customers; to your point, what do our government lenders need and how can we meet that need?u00a0 nnThank you for the discussion.u00a0 Paulu00a0

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