The transition from site-built to systems building (also known as modular) is far from a slam-dunk for most builder prospects. This is especially true if the builder has never been educated on the benefits of off-site construction. The best way to help these builders make the move to modular is to invite them onto the factory floor to see firsthand exactly how these homes are built.
"Once we do, the defenses they've erected over the years against modular just melt away," says Gary Fleisher, a developer sales representative for Genesis Homes and a former stick builder himself. "I've been where they stand, with the same doubts and the same questions. But once a builder understands we employ the same building techniques he uses - but in a tightly controlled, ultra-efficient and rigorously inspected environment - chances are pretty good he'll be ready to take the next step with us."
To assist builder prospects through the transition, Genesis Homes in 2003 launched a series of educational seminars at its 10 production facilities nationwide. More than a dozen seminars had been held through October, attracting 239 attendees - roughly one-third of whom became Genesis builders. The number of seminars and number of attendees will rise in 2004 as Genesis aggressively responds to the growing interest in modular construction.
"All our customer must do is manage the process on site," says Andy Scholz, national director of single-family housing for Genesis. "That includes bringing together the various trades to do the excavation, lay the foundation and handle other finish work once the house is set. But with modular, we're talking only a half-dozen subs. That's a long way from the 30 or so needed on the typical site-built project."
Group DynamicsSelling builders "by the bunch" is certainly a more efficient and effective way to compress a builder's learning curve on modular. But the dynamics of a group setting also help a prospect navigate what amounts to a leap of faith.
"Our intent is to answer any question a prospect might have about our business and our processes," Scholz says. "We could do that one on one, and we certainly do. But we think it can be even more comfortable and productive for a prospect to mingle with peers, people with similar attitudes and experiences and therefore similar questions."
"Our prospects hear answers to questions they might not have thought of," says Rick Ormsby, sales manager for Genesis Homes of Colorado. Ormsby's operation, which had conducted four seminars through October, strives to have at least one stick-builder-turned-Genesis-customer present at each meeting. "These pros can talk from the audience's perspective, which enhances our credibility and makes conversion to modular a little less threatening."
Geared to the LocaleWhile Genesis provides its 10 plant facilities with a basic seminar agenda, the details of program content are left to the local managers. For example, a seminar in Florida or North Carolina, where basements are optional, necessarily differs from one in Pennsylvania, where building a home without a basement would be unthinkable. Also, certain parts of the country are less familiar with modular construction and how it differs from site building. "In those locales, we will spend more time spelling out the differences between the two," Scholz says.
Nonetheless, all of the seminars follow much the same format. Lasting approximately six hours, including lunch, a session typically commences with an overview of Genesis, its origin and its mission, as well as the rationale for selling to independent builder-developers rather than through a network of retailers. Genesis underlines the benefits a builder will derive from off-site construction, including dramatically reduced cycle times that save 10% to 15% in operating costs.
Genesis typically delivers a modular home that's 90% constructed to the job site within six weeks of receiving a confirmed order. Crane-setting the house on its foundation usually takes only one day. Finish work, including all trim, can be done within 30 to 45 days, depending on the project's size and complexity. Together, these time frames constitute a huge improvement over normal build-out times, Ormsby notes.
"We show builders how to schedule their excavation and foundation work so it coincides with our production schedules," he says. "That way, our factory can deliver finished modular homes to the job site one a day, one a week or at whatever rate the builder requests."
The Builder's Role
The seminar group also might visit the factory or watch a video to view the production process. Most agendas include trips to nearby Genesis models. Attendees learn about the various floor plans and pre-engineered designs Genesis has developed. Each Genesis facility can produce many designs - one-story, two-story, Cape Cod, etc. - ranging from 1,200 to 3,000 square feet.
"Most builders tend to think their designs are unique," Fleisher says. "When they hear we have a plan that's close to theirs, they're ecstatic. Even when the floor plans are not an exact match, we tell them we can reconfigure our windows, walls and doors to meet their customers' needs. Getting our revised prints stamped and approved takes only a week or two, and that's a big selling point."
Of course, every seminar must address the No. 1 question on the minds of many attendees: "As a stick builder, I control the construction quality, so what happens to the quality when I give up that control?" First hand observation of the production process and the final products goes a long way toward alleviating such concerns. Extensive testing and inspection in the factory by Genesis personnel as well as certified third-party inspectors are emphasized. "A representative of the state of Colorado is in our factory every other day inspecting our production," Ormsby notes.
He also points to the three crews who work the job site. "They inspect the site before the house arrives to make sure the site work is adequate to allow access for the delivery trucks and the crane, and to make sure the foundation matches the house being built at the factory."
Most seminar attendees are experienced stick builders who have spent years, even decades, establishing a reputation for quality. Genesis shares their zeal.
"Our standards are right there with the best of these builders'," Fleisher says. "They like that they don't have to add a lot of options to our designs to achieve the same level of quality."
Seminar attendees also come to realize they would not have to "defend" a decision to build modular to the buying public. "Just as a first viewing of the product convinces them, so will it convince their customers," says Genesis vice president of marketing Kevin Flaherty. "Modular doesn't need any great defense because OUR homes are every bit as good as, if not better than, most SITE-built homes being built today."
For information on attending a Genesis seminar, visit www.genesishomes.com  and click Locations to find the Genesis factory nearest you.