Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 84

Perfect Peace Of Mind

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We’ve reviewed all the operational aspects of mobile home park operations – but what about the spiritual? How can mobile home park owners sleep soundly with the knowledge that they have done right by their customers and the community at large? In this final installment of our nine-part series on “Mobile Home Park Perfectionism” we’re going to review the key truths that all mobile home park owners must believe in order to be happy with what they do.

Episode Transcript

Perfectionism is a verb, not a noun. It means never being satisfied. It means you're always thinking you can do things better. With a mobile home park, it means you can always create greater net income. You can have half year residence, half year manager. You can always make things better. This is Frank Rolfe, with Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast series, and this is our ninth and final installment on a series we've called mobile home park perfectionism.

Our topic today is gonna be the quest for excellence, the never ending desire to have perfectionism in every aspect of the mobile home park. Now, we've already gone over the first eight. We went over collections, occupancy, home renovations, property condition, staying on budget, liability risks, employee productivity, and customer retention, but now we're gonna go on to a more broad brush approach that's simply the perpetual quest for perfectionism in a mobile home park, so how do you do that? How do you always make things better? How do you always keep the open mind? The first thing you should do is always be watching and listening and reading. Listen to what people are saying, reading lots of articles and books, and they don't have to be just about mobile home parks. You can learn a lot from other resources as well, but always keep an open mind. Never think oh, hey, I know what I'm doing. I'm the best mobile home park operator of all time because frankly there isn't one that anyone can really pinpoint as being the greatest of all time. There really isn't. Sam Zell's been the largest owner of mobile home parks now for a long time. He has about 160,000 lots through his publicly traded recalled ELS, but is he the greatest operator of all time? We don't know. The jury is still out on that.

Of course, Zell doesn't personally operate those parks anyway, more of the system, the team that he has developed, but nevertheless, our industry is so young, being roughly only a half a century old compared to all the other real estate sectors, some of which are hundreds of years old, that we're still developing, and there's all new systems still being devised. Another idea you can do is to join your state mobile home association. We're a member of every state association we own a mobile home park in. We're in 28 states, and we're 28 members. In fact, we're the largest member in a few of the states that we're in, and I can tell you from experience both as a member as well as being on the board of two different state MHAs, Iowa and Illinois, that there's a lot of things to be learned from your state mobile home association. Now, joining is not that expensive. You pay per lot, or if you don't even own a park, you can join as just a friend of the association, but you get a lot for the dues. You'll get a lot of resources, and you'll get people you can call with questions all the time on issues such as rent control or raising your rents through pushing back water and sewer or possibly new foundation requirements under HUD in your state.

So, you'll get a lot of information from those state associations, and if you're not a member, you definitely should do that. Now, the national association MHI, you might get some out of that; although, to be quite honest with you, you're gonna get far more out of your state mobile home association than you will out of probably the national association, but nevertheless, it doesn't' hurt. It's quite a bit more expensive. The price to go into their events is a little off the charts, but at the same time, if you can afford it and if it's nearby, it's never a bad thing to do. You'll learn a lot. You'll meet other operators as well.

Speaking of other operators, don't be afraid to talk to other people who own mobile home parks. You'll never find a friendlier group of people than park owners. Why is it that way? I really don't know. I think one explanation is the majority of park owners are the greatest generation and the silent generation, which is we're the people who built America, and they're very nice people. They like to give back. They like to tell you how things have worked. They love to tell you the history of what they know of the industry. I've learned most of the main basic formulas and thoughts on the industry from those older owners, so if you're not talking to them currently, you definitely should. What do you have to do it?

Well, basically, just give them a call. Google up mobile home park in blank, whatever town your park is in, or if you're looking to buy the park in town, do the same. You'll be shocked at how open they will be with their information. All the time, park owners will get together and share information on everything from who they're using for evictions and home remodeling, or even to pass the hat and raise money to hire an attorney to if they need to do something legally in the city, if they're having any problems with the city regrading permitting or something like that, but talking to other park owners is another great way to get information in your endless quest to be perfectionists.

This next one I find to be very important, and that's to go to other industry events. If you're gonna go to the MHI, the National Manufactured Housing Institute, show in Las Vegas, I'm not so sure you're better off going to that one or the National Apartment show in Las Vegas, which typically, is only a week or two later. We went to the apartment show a couple years ago, and we got a tremendous amount of information from that. We learned all about software packages and manager things that no one in our industry was even using yet because since we are a younger industry and we're not as large an industry, the apartment industry, which is roughly 10 times larger, has access to products that are far more advanced than ours.

It was literally like traveling from a planet to a planet of the future going to that apartment show. The mobile home show, the door prize was if you rolled a beach ball into a toilet seat, you won $100. In fact, Brandon Reynolds, who I went to the event with, my partner Dave's son, he actually won that, and they never even paid him. Over at the apartment show, the door prize was a Tesla filled with $50,000 cash. That just shows you the difference in the levels of expertise from the two shows, and I have found that you can win a lot particularly from the apartment industry and the storage industry. Those are the two I would focus on. You could also get a few tips by going to single family home shows, things about interior finish out, staging of homes, different features of things you can do on the outside, but if you're getting kind of stale in ideas for your quest for mobile home park perfection, maybe the problem is you're not expanding your horizons enough, and maybe you need to study other sectors as well.

You know, Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, he had some theories on life, and he gave an address at Stanford University in 2005, and he shocked a lot of people because people thought he was going to be speaking on the internet and on Apple and technology, but that's not what he talked about at all, so it was kind of a strange commencement. You have all these people who are going out into the world now to get jobs, and I'm sure that they asked Steve Jobs to speak to help steer them into new career options that were just coming down the horizon. Bare in mind, in 2005, you had the start of YouTube. The internet was that mature at that point, and of course, Stanford is located in Silicon Valley, but instead, he gave a speech on the two things he thought were the most important in life. One, to stay hungry, and number two, to stay foolish.

Now, what does that mean? Well, if you read the commencement address, the stay foolish side meant you should always take risks. You should never get stale of what you do. You should never just say, "Well, I won't take anymore risks now. I own a mobile home park, and I'm done, and I'm not gonna ever do anything new and different again." He thought that was a very bad approach, that if he'd done the same thing with Apple, we would not have an iPhone and other items today because they would've just rested on the laurels of the Macintosh personal computer and not felt the constant need to bring out new products, so a lot of what we've enjoyed today, we wouldn't have, but on stay hungry, what he meant was never be satisfied. Always continue that quest. Always be looking for perfectionism, new ideas, new things, so that's how he ended it with his commencement address, which was in the form of three different stories he told about, one of his life, one where he almost died, and another one, I think of some business reversal. But, the whole point of it was stay hungry and stay foolish, and I think in many ways that also applies to this discussion of the quest for excellence.

Finally, you can learn something from everybody. When I first bought my first mobile home park out there in Dallas called Glen Haven, and I office in the thing for a year, every day from nine to five; in that little old beat up single-wide trailer, I learned a tremendous amount. At the time, it was kinda horrifying. It was culture shock for me. It was a very hard scrabble, downscale mobile home park, and here I was coming out of the billboard industry where everyone that I knew wore a suit, had an office and a nice car, and I was dealing with people who didn't own a suit and often dint' own a car, and it was a shock, but I learned a lot. I listened to their stories. I watched their mannerisms and what they did, and I began to determine things that our customers liked and didn't like and things that I could do better. Later on, as I bought more parts and continued to office in it most of the time, I melt different people. I went ultimately form Glen Haven. I switched out into an office inside of a mobile home park up in Howe, Texas where the situation was much nicer. The homes were newer. The customers were more affluent.

And, again, I watched and learned from every customer that I met. I have a lot of strange stories, but I can't say I ever met anyone I didn't learn something from. At the same time, I talked all the time to park owners. Typically, I was trying to buy their property, and they told me the story of how they came to own it, and what the lessons learned were for them over the years, and I think I learned something pretty important from each one of those that I talked to, and even the ones that I didn't buy the parks, I learned from them all kinds of new ideas, what worked for them, what didn't work for them, so I never went away from a meeting even when I didn't buy the park, even when the guy said, "Nah, I don't wanna sell it." I don't think I ever left a meeting where I didn't feel like I had at least learned something. And, I also learned all the different people live in manufactured housing side as far as the people who build the homes and sell the homes and move the homes. All the time I would ask them questions like what's selling well right now? What price points are selling? What colors do customers like? Are there any new types of ideas on skirting? Is there any way we can get the windows bigger?

All these different things, and every single response I got was carefully logged into my mind to help me in that quest for excellence, that quest for perfection, and there's really nobody that you can't gather data from. Every single person involved in the mobile home park industry, whether they mow yards, whether they pour concrete, you can get some amazing feedback. You can start to connect the dots. What makes some parks so successful while others are not? So, you can just literally never get enough information, so that's the theme, in this, the ninth part, of our nine part series on mobile home park perfectionism is keep going on the quest. Never give up. Try and make your park absolutely the best it can be, but never be satisfied that it's there. You can make every park nicer, every customer more happy. You could make every number better. You can continually raise the rent through greater occupancy. You can always be cutting costs if you're smart on what you do. You can tap into new ways to give the customers back something in addition to the never ending higher rents such as cable bundling, but just never give up. Never get complacent. There's so much better you can do all the time with your mobile home park. This is Frank Rolfe with the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast series, hope you enjoyed our nine part series on mobile home park perfectionism, and talk to you again soon.