Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 83

Perfect Customer Retention

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There’s no point to filling lots and homes if the customers move right back out. In this eighth installment of our nine-part series on “Mobile Home Park Perfectionism” we’re going to review the latest concepts in keeping your customers happy and wanting to stay in your property. With lot rents rising in mobile home parks from coast-to-coast it’s important to understand how to keep your customers appreciative the value of what your property has to offer.

Episode Transcript

It's one thing to get a customer, but another to keep them. This is Frank Rolfe with the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast Series. We're in the eighth of our nine part series on Mobile Home Park Perfectionism and we're going to be talking all about customer retention.

Now customer retention is absolutely vital for success. With a lot of properties, it does you no good to bring in one or two new customers, new move-ins each month if you hemorrhage out three or four. You're not actually gaining any occupancy whatsoever. So to succeed, to keep your occupancy where you need it to be, you have to make sure that when you bring in customers, that they enjoy living there and want to stay.

So how do we get perfectionism in making people want to live in the property? Let's go over first the goals of why we want such good retention. We want to provide a fantastic value for the consumer so that they have no desire to ever leave. That's how you establish the environment for retention.

Also, we understand it's a competitive world and to win we must beat the competition and that means staying on top of everything that the competition is offering. So sometimes to retain the customer, you have to make sure that all of your pricing, the quality of your product, everything is aligned truly with the market because that's what you're being compared against.

Finally, we want to make the communities continually nicer and as a result, an even better value. That's the great part of some of the new initiatives the industry is looking at as far as the general looks of the property when you pull up and then additionally all these attempts to improve that sense of community in the property, that special amenity that makes people become friends with their neighbors and get into all the different activities that makes them want to stay among their friends with all the things they like to do.

So here are the action steps to create customer retention perfectionism. First, make sure that the property is adhering strictly to the eleven steps of property condition. And we went over those in an earlier part of this series on perfectionism, but we can go over them again.

First, signage. You've got to have great looking signs. From the sign at the entry to all the signs throughout the property, they all need to look professional. We like to use white vinyl with white vinyl PVC caps on them. We think it's the least expensive, the lowest maintenance. But in addition, the best looking type of signage you can do. All of our signs are on metal, they come from either Fast Sign or an online provider.

Also, if you have any repetitive designs in your park like coach lights are very common, but there's other ones, there's pieces of white vinyl fence, etc. Make sure if you have those that they're all straight and perfect because all it does is amplifies bad maintenance when you have repetitive designs that are broken.

On trees, we remove all dead trees and dead tree limbs. And we also like to remove all stumps. And even though that may not be an aesthetic issue, it definitely is. It's really a health and safety issue, an insurance issue. But obviously it pays big dividends as well on aesthetics.

On the grass, the grass has to be an acceptable height. It cannot be too tall, yet we're not going to be too insanely tight on exactly the height of the grass. It just has to be reasonably cut. Also, we want everything to be weedeated, we do not want people to mow their yards and have weeds yet growing up against every vertical structure. We want to have no grass in the roads, curbs, or paths, so that's where the RoundUp comes in handy. And we want to have all the roads edged so we have no grass growing over the curbs.

On debris, we don't want any big items of debris such as washers and dryers and all those things that are not yard art and serve no purpose. All they do is clutter up the property and make it look bad. Our common areas must be perfect. We must have every clubhouse looking great, painted, all the windows intact. Same with our storage units, our sheds, every single thing that belongs to the park needs to be perfect. That's how you set the example.

Also, we want to have no graffiti in the property. If there's any graffiti at all it must be immediately painted over. We also like to have lots of fences in the property that we own that are white vinyl to mask things behind them, such as dumpster enclosures, storage yards, things like that.

The roads themselves you want to be free of potholes. We want all speed bumps to be striped and freshly painted. And also we want to resurface the roads when needed. On the vehicles, no non-running vehicles, no commercial vehicles parked in the property. Now that only refers to 18 wheelers and dump trucks and the like. If you have a truck as part of your job at work and one of those vans, then that's perfectly fine. And also, we do not allow anyone to use vehicles as storage units. You cannot bring in an old non-running van and use it as your storage locker.

Tenant fences, they must be chain link or picket so that we can see through them. We think that's only a fair thing to ask, so we see what's going on behind the fence. And if you've got chain link, we need to have a top rail so it looks professional.

Skirting, all homes have to be skirted. All the skirting must be solid with no gaps and the skirting must all be the same color.

Home condition, no broken windows or doors absolutely ever. The exterior needs to be one solid color. No rusted roofs. No green mold or black mold on the exterior of the home and no tarps on roofs because of leaks.

Finally, window treatments, the eleventh item. No plywood unless it's painted to match the home. No broken mini blinds. They are so inexpensive to repair, why would you do that? No beach towels or sheets in windows and no aluminum foil.

So, those are the eleven steps to property condition. Those must be adhered to very strongly. If you do not do that, you will lose customers who will become very disappointed in their choice. They will say, "Gosh, I don't like pulling in here in my car. It's embarrassing, it's embarrassing to my friends and family." And they'll leave.

Next, you need to make sure that any resident that is causing harms to the lifestyle of the rest of the community is either removed or that behavior is stopped. Do not let people break the rules continuously when it harms the others, because that sets again a terrible precedent and those people who feel that they can't live happily next to or on the same block as that person, will start packing up and leaving. So you've got to make sure that anyone that's causing harm has to be mitigated. Either they have to be non-renewed and forced out of the property, or you have to get their behavior stopped.

Often the people who are doing things they shouldn't, like loud music, things like that, will comply if you only educate them on what they need to be doing. So don't just assume that they're out to bother the neighbors. But when they are out to bother the neighbors, they have to go.

Next, you have to make sure that the community manager treats all residents fairly and equally and does not play favorites. Nothing makes people more unhappy, has been our view, than situations where the manager has favorites and lets some people do things that they do not allow others to do. This never works out because what it does is it causes hatred and jealousy among those they don't allow to get away with things that are not allowed and it causes all kinds of problems and panics inside the property. So the CM has to treat everyone nicely and fairly.

And coming back to nicely, never let your manager forget that these are the customers who are actually paying the bill. The revenue emanates from them. They, they are the boss. So we must strive every which way to make sure the customers are happy in their choice to live in the property because they're actually paying the bills. Their revenue that covers the mortgage and all the utilities. So they are priority number one, they are our VIPs. Sometimes the manager wants to pretend that they are the VIP. No, they're not the VIP, they're the most important person on your staff, but your staff is there to serve the customers. It's never the other way around.

Also make sure that all the residents are aware of all the amenities and services available in the surrounding community at large because we want them to enjoy not only the Mobile Home Park, but also everything outside the Mobile Home Park. Something we started doing a little while ago is we started writing up little booklets for each property that tell people all of the different services and items of interest in the general community that they may be missing. Lists of where all the parks and the playgrounds are, and the swimming pools and fitness centers and churches and just anything that a resident might be interested in, we lay it out before them like a menu. We want them to be fully ingrained into the whole community at large, just not the Mobile Home Park. The Mobile Home Park is merely one way to live within that greater city or town and we want them to fully appreciate all the things available in that city or town so that they'll want to live there as well.

Also, any time a resident's home goes up for sale, whether it's formally or informally, the customer should be immediately contacted by the park manager, who will then try and convince them to stay or if they just don't want to stay, see if we can help them in the sale of their home or possibly even buy their home. We don't want to ever lose a resident, but it's even worse if we lose not only the resident but also the resident's home. Because then we'll have to go out and find another home to replace that home.

So clearly, if there's any way to salvage the situation, give it the old college try. Just because a resident puts up their home for sale, they may just be mad about something. See if you can solve it. Find out why they're unhappy, why they're leaving. If they say, "Well, I'm leaving because I got another job in another city," well obviously that's not something that you can act upon. But if they say, "Well, I'm leaving because my neighbor plays really loud music at night," that's something you can fix. So go over and extend the olive branch and see what you can do.

Also, it's always a great idea since you already have the Mobile Home Park and you already have a manager, help them sell their home. You don't really want somebody from the outside to buy the home and pull it out. You're better off selling the lifestyle of living inside the property. And often if you'll help the person sell the home, that will help you keep it there. In fact, often, if you are going to help sell it, then also you're going to want them to sign something stating that the home will not leave the property. That's the reward for your effort, in running the ads and helping it to get sold.

Also, if we're informed that another park owner is trying to raid our park or steal our residents or pay to move people out of our property, we need to immediately get with them and stop that behavior. There has always kind of been a gentleman's agreement in the industry that nobody does that, that you don't go out and try and steal customers from your neighbor. Because it's a no win situation. Basically what happens is if I steal a home out of my neighbor's Mobile Home Park and they steal one out of mine, what have we actually accomplished? The answer is absolutely nothing. All we've done is spend money to move homes, we haven't increased our occupancy one iota, so we're out the capital to bring them in and additionally that customer may not work out in their new environment. They may have been happier where they were. Sometimes when you go and remove someone from their old homestead, they're not as happy when they move. The grass is sometimes greener on the other side, but when you get there the grass isn't that green.

So when another park owner does that to you, you should not just hide from the fact, but immediately go to them and say, "Why did you do that? What are you trying to accomplish?" And if they say, "Well, I was just trying to steal a home out of your park," well then probably you should steal one out of theirs. Because again, you're not going to get anywhere if through all your hard work and effort you allow others to come in and try and damage your property. And typically, they're doing this not to benefit the customer. The customer is often more unhappy and more miserable when they move to the other park.

Sometimes other park owners will deliberately lower their rents for new move-ins like that only to raise the rent. Imagine if someone was removed from your property to save $20.00, but after one year the rent goes up $75.00 or $80.00, which can happen. So again, the best procedure in those cases is to go to the person and say, "Please do not raid customers out of my park. You're not helping them, you're not helping me, and you're not helping yourself. So let's stop the behavior." And normally when confronted, they will often stop. But if you don't confront them, they may think, "Well, that owner doesn't care. He apparently doesn't care if I remove his residents," and they go back for more.

Also, always look for ways to benefit the property as far as the image of the general community in the media. We've been doing a lot of initiatives to try and give people greater pride in visibility of the property. Such as sponsoring high school football teams, softball teams, firemen softball teams, anything we can do to get our best foot forward. Because again, to retain people, we want them to be proud of living in that property. And there's no better way to make them proud than to have everyone else also finding pride in the property's existence and making them feel good about living there. So, whenever you have the opportunity, if someone contacts you, "Hey, would you sponsor this or that at the local school?" Or wherever it may be, it's probably a good idea to do that because there's no substitute for good public relations with the community at large when it comes to customer retention.

So again, customer retention is very, very vital as a Mobile Home Park owner. We cannot emphasize enough that those who really strive hard to keep people living in the properties happily normally succeed. But those who ignore it, they do not understand the purpose of it all, typically fail.

Now this completes this, the eighth part of our nine part series. We'll be back next week with one final item in this series, which is going to be called The Quest For Excellence. This if Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast Series and we'll talk to you again soon.