The View from the Trenches

The View from the Trenches
Capital First Realty’s MHC bold new Marketing approach from the Sales Person’s perspective

Along with conventional construction (a.k.a. site building), the MH Industry as a whole has suffered from what might be described as generally lackluster sales performance. There are, however, bright spots out there in retail, development, manufacturing and community operations.

To see what might be learned from the more standout performers, we interviewed Richard J. “Dick” Klarchek, president and owner of Capital First Realty for the November 2009 issue of This article drew considerable interest on the part of industry professionals. So a follow up on the topic makes good sense.

Capital First’s community based manufactured home sales program has implemented a number of noteworthy innovations that all segments of the industry can learn from. Having heard from Klarchek himself in his now archived interview, we now turn to one of the members of his sales team to get the view from the trenches on his bold new marketing approach and how it actually performs.

Against this backdrop, we spoke with Sue Ziemnisky – a sales associate at the TriStar Estates office in Bourbonnais, IL to get her take on and experience with Capital First’s innovative outreach to home buying prospects.

Q. Sue, you’ve been handling calls using this new marketing approach implemented by Capital First Realty for about a year now. How is it going for you, from a sales perspective?

A. Great! We get a steady stream of callers, as well as walk-ins and emailed leads too.

Q. Give us a sense of the numbers, please.

A. Okay, well, before we started it was pretty quiet. But when our marketing started putting up new web-pages, posting on YouTube and Craigslist plus the other marketing changes that were made, we saw an immediate jump in activity. I typically take about 50 new lead calls a week myself, plus what others are taking here.

Q. Interesting! Now, you mentioned Craigslist and YouTube. Capital First also is on well known industry websites like, and so on, correct?

A. Yes, and we get good leads from those. However, what we’ve seen is that by ‘stepping in front of’ the wider housing market and showcasing our upscale Manufactured Home product and the lifestyle, we are seeing people we wouldn’t have spoken with previously.

Q. Give me a sense of the numbers, please. That’s what our readers will want to know.

A. Sure. Last month (November, 2009), for example, I closed 9 contracts myself. We have a team member who is new to our industry who recently closed 12 in 60 days. Last summer I had a month where I closed 12 homes.

Q. Wow! That is a considerably higher result than the typical retailer or community sales office would achieve during 2009 market conditions! But were those just a fluke? How have your numbers been here for the balance of the year?

A. Well, we had times earlier this year when our financing tightened up, and that certainly slowed things down, but it didn’t stop us by any means. Without pulling the actual numbers, I’d say we closed about 100 here in 2009. I know I’ve done about 70 or so this year here myself.

Q. That’s amazing, and by the way, I’ve confirmed your numbers with your primary manufacturer and the corporate office. You and the team here should be proud of yourselves. Now let’s dig a little deeper. The way I understand it, what CFR’s marketing is doing is almost like a curiosity approach, right? You are showing photos of homes, a price on a website and a phone number. At least on some of your firm’s marketing outreaches, CFR doesn’t just spell it out that these are manufactured homes, right?

A. That’s right.

Q. Okay, well don’t some people get mad? Do some feel deceived? Don’t you have a big fall out rate?

A. Well, we had one man that called from Chicago. That’s about an hour’s drive from here. When he arrived, he was pretty upset at first. But what I did was say, “Look, you are already here, let me show you a home or two, you already saw the photos, now see the home for yourself.” He was simply amazed. He didn’t look at just one, we looked at several. Now, that particular man didn’t end up buying, it was a long drive to Chicago, and he didn’t want that type of commute. But he left with a totally different attitude than what he had when he arrived.

 1 fr DSC08592 small

(Capital First Realty model built by Hi-Tech Housing. This ranch style home has 9’ ceilings, crown molding and transom windows among the features. Natural lighting was used in this photo.)

Q. You mean totally different attitude about manufactured housing?

A. Yes, that’s right.

Q. Interesting. What percentage of your callers would you say arrive?

A. I get about 25 callers in the door out of every 50 calls.

 1 dr kit DSC08551 small

(Capital First Realty model by Hi-Tech Housing, DR and Kitchen view, using natural lighting.)

Q. My impression of you, Sue, is that you use a soft approach, is that fair?

A. Yes, I suppose that is. But I do invite everyone who comes to apply. My goal is to get the paper work at least started on their first visit.

Q. So you aren’t bull rushing your prospects, you softly bring them in by phone, show them around and then invite them to apply, right?

A. Yes, that’s right.

Q. Was there a learning curve or an adjustment process to this new marketing approach?

A. Well, yes, I suppose so. I closed like 3 during each of the first few months, but then the numbers really went up from there, especially when our financing kicked back in. In terms of ‘how to,’ I basically just use the outline that was provided for me. I ask the caller a few questions, how they heard about us, what their time line is and so forth. Common sense items that get them talking. Then once I have some basic information, I invite them in. I’ve had 8, 9 and sometimes more customers arrive in a single day. That can get a little hectic, even when you set appointments, because some may come early or late. But you do the best you can with each one and you do get your fair share of that business.

Q. So to sum up, by stepping in front of the wider housing market, you are converting people to the manufactured housing community lifestyle in significant numbers?

A. I think what Mr. Klarchek has done here and some of his other properties is brilliant. We put in this great new clubhouse and pool. We put in this upscale inventory. We tend towards the higher end of the site fees in this area, but when you look at what we offer and compare it to real estate prices in the market, when you look at the tax rates in the area, this just makes sense for lots of people.

We don’t compete against ‘mobile home parks’ – you might say that our marketing ignores them. We are focused on getting the site built customer! We will get the manufactured home clients in here anyway.

Let me give an example. A $225,000 conventional house here in Bourbonnais will have about $8000 a year in property taxes alone. So if we sell a similar size multi-section home with residential features at about half the price, and site fees are about 2/3 of the tax rate, it is obvious that the buyer is miles ahead financially. Plus with us, they are typically getting a new home, by an Energy Star builder with great features, quality and appeal. If you just tell your story, and show the homes, show them the lifestyle and how it makes sense, more than enough people will say yes. In fact, at the moment, we’ve got a backlog on (credit and residency) approvals, we are waiting to get more homes ready to close our next set of customers.

Q. A final question for our readers who aren’t familiar with your particular market. As I understand it, Bourbonnais isn’t a huge city, correct?

A. That’s right. The entire population for Kankakee County is like 112,000 at the last estimate. Bourbonnais is about 33,000 people. (End of interview.)

To put this interview and Capital First Realty’s marketing approach into perspective, these 3 focus properties at TriStar Estates in Bourbonnais, IL, Sterling Estates in Justice, IL, and Sunset Village in Glenview, IL are attracting a significant number of callers in their local area. The other properties get much higher call rates using this approach, because there is a larger population base to draw from. Capital First Realty’s price points are at the upper end of the manufactured housing spectrum by design, because these redevelopment properties are reaching out to a more residential style client. This dovetails nicely with Dick Klarchek’s vision of transforming old metro area ‘mobile home parks’ into sharp, residential style developments that feature beautiful homes in a setting that offers amenities, activities, a grand clubhouse and more.

At various points in the shopping process, the prospective buyers all discover that they are buying a manufactured home. But by presenting the homes as they are – beautiful, upscale and appealing homes – and without labeling the product in their marketing as a ‘manufactured home’ – the number of callers, arrivals and thus sales jumps! The homes, the lifestyle, the ‘math’ of the proposition all combine to sell a higher number of prospects.

This is one possible direction that the industry can go in order to grow!##

—————-> the article, “Time for a Cool Change!” is archived at
Archived at – free access available. <——


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