Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 89

Mobile Home Lessons Learned From Great Military Books

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Patton, Montgomery, Eisenhower – some of the greatest strategists in world history have been military leaders. In this second installment of our four-part series on “Literary Lessons Learned” we’re going to discuss some of the great military theories and how they relate to mobile home park acquisitions and management. You’ll see that there is a huge overlap between armed conflict and business, and the theories that advance troops on the ground can also propel your mobile home park investments farther.

Episode Transcript

The best chance you have at success is to run with your bayonet on, screaming at the enemy. This is Frank Rolfe with the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast series, and we're on our second part series on Literary Lessons Learned. We're talking today about great military books, and what you can learn from those regarding mobile home parks.

Well, back when that quote was done about running with the bayonet, that was obviously during the Civil War, but you see that over and over again in most all military books, the very concept that the best chance you have of success is to be aggressive, not to hold anything back, to be very focused, and that is very, very true in the world of mobile home parks. The people who seem to buy mobile home parks the fastest at the best prices are those who are fully engaged in the process. They hold nothing back. They don't just call one or two brokers. They call every broker there is. They don't just look at one or two listings online. They look at them all. They don't just cold call a couple people. They cold call hundreds. So really being very, very aggressive is a very good habit to have as a mobile home park buyer.

It's also very good to have as an owner. The aggression on the owner, what you want to do is always figure out how to better your position, not a the sacrifice of your customers but definitely you want to keep everything aligned with the market. The rents, utility bill backs, property condition to everything. There's nothing wrong with being a little aggressive. I think that's one of the first things I learned from war books is that probably all of us in a civilized society hold back a little bit, but maybe our best chances of success are maybe to push a little harder.

Another thing I learned from the Civil War, books on the Civil War is a case of Stonewall Jackson, and basically what that is about efficiency of effort. For those who have never read any books on Stonewall Jackson from the Civil War, he got his name Stonewall Jackson because in one of the very early battles that he was a commander on, he had his troops positioned in a certain spot because he had already kind of figured out the way the battle would go. Rather than have his soldiers have to run from spot to spot, attacking and retreating, he decided where they needed to be on the very final end of the battle. Yet he had them then just basically all lay on the ground that way no one would see or shoot them. Meanwhile, when the battle was raging on, a general ran over to him and said, "Jackson, you know better than to stonewall because you're not moving at all." With that, the general was shot off his horse and killed, and Jackson told his men, "Don't move. Stay right where you were." And he was exactly correct. At the key point of the battle, the enemy came running up right into Jackson's men who then basically annihilated them, and that's where he got his fame.

So what's the key from that as a mobile home park owner is efficiency of effort. Don't feel like you have to be running around. Figure out what's really important, and then focus on that. So you don't have to be engaged in efforts that are not going to happen. You would never want to call, for example, brokers on parks you wouldn't necessarily want to buy, geographically or price wise. So just take your effort and make it as efficient as you humanly can.

Third item I get out of a book on the Navy, there's some great books in the Navy on warfare, and one story that really made an impression on me when I read this. This is probably back, I don't know, when I was like 18 years old or something. It was a book about World War II and the Navy, and there was this interesting story where you had somebody who had not a very big ship, and they were being annihilated in a battle against this giant battleship. I think it was a Japanese battleship, and the way the Navy apparently works is if you get in trouble, you fire off basically there smoke grenade things, and then you run off into the distance, zigzagging the boat left and right, and that way the other enemy can't see to shoot at you very clearly. So they don't know where you are. So they shoot and they shoot and they shoot, but they rarely hit your boat because you're going at a high rate of speed away from them diagonally, and they can't figure out where you are.

So in one battle, the Navy destroyer battleship, I think it was a battleship, basically had hit this other ship, and it was on fire. It was looking pretty bad. So what the guy did was the commander laid down a whole bunch of this smoke, and then he went out not very far at all, and he told everyone to jump off. They were like, "What's the point?" He said, "Just get the lifeboats out and everyone get in your lifeboat and get off." So they did. And he then proceeded just with him only onboard, with the engines on. He turned the engines on full blast, and he turned the ship around. And as the giant battleship went into the smoke, tried to get one last shot at his little boat, it hit him head on. He, in fact, had gone out and turned his own boat basically into a giant torpedo, and when the two collided, it exploded and sank the giant battleship.

And the reason I think there's a lesson learned from that is often when dealing with cities as a mobile home park owner, there are points of weakness that you can inflict upon the city to get your way. Some of them are very simple. The laws are grandfathering. It's a basic property right, the city cannot make you do anything with your mobile home park that's part of an ordinance that was passed after the park was built. So grandfather is a very real thing that everyone should be able to get enforced. Some states have recently, for example, Iowa, taken the cities away from even challenging grandfathering and saying every lot can be used. Texas already passed that a couple years ago. But nevertheless, even in those states that have not passed the ordinance, you always have the property right of grandfathering, which means the park was in existence in 1962 and they passed an ordinance changing the spacing or setbacks in 1982, that doesn't matter because anything past after the year that the park or the very moment the park was built, doesn't count.

Also, sometimes when cities are beating up on you, it's always good to fall back on the angle of discrimination. A lot of cities don't like poor people. They feel like they don't contribute any money to the tax base and they use up a lot of city services through school and the hospital. And they would love to get them out of their town. So what they'll do is they'll fight the park, and they'll try and scare off the buyer or even if you're the owner, scare you as the owner in a shutting down your park. What you can now is you can go to the United States government and file discrimination suit through HUD. There's only one to my knowledge that's been filed by a park owner against a city, and the park owner won. Not only did the city have to stop everything they were doing against the park owner, they had to pay them lots of money in addition to their now on probation and they're supervised by HUD for a period of years, which is a very scary thing for a city because when you are supervised like that, you have to basically produce documents and reports constantly. So it's a terrible thing.

Another point of weakness that most attorneys have figured out is that cities crumble immediately if you force them to go to a jury trial. They like to always do everything in the confines of the courtroom because that city typically offices with the court, and as a result, they can always get their way because they have an advantage on you. They're basically friends with the court system. However, not the case when you go to a jury trial. When you have a jury trial, basically you have a jury of your peers who make the final decision, and they cannot possibly be tainted in the way that the judge would be.

Another great war book is one written about Bernard Montgomery, the British general who many feel was one of the great commanders of World War II. And what his book was all about is that he never would do anything until he was a 100% ready to do it. In one portion of the book, he's being attacked by the Germans and the people tell him, "Oh, the Germans are going to be here in two days," and he says, "Well, they can attack in two days if they want, but I won't be ready for five days." That's how he operated. He would never do anything until he was 100% prepared. Now some people hated that, that quality about him, that he always felt like he had to have everything perfect. But because he always did it in that manner, he won all the time. He would never be rushed into something.

I think the key item on that obviously is as a mobile home park buyer, you don't want to buy the park until you are completely ready to do it, and as a manager of a park, it would point to such things as the leases for the park. You would never want to put out the leases until you're 100% sure they're accurate. You would never want to send a notice til you're 100% sure you're doing that properly. You wouldn't want to bill back water and sewer until you know you've got that mastered. So you always want to be completely thorough and perfect at everything you do, just like Montgomery. Does it mean it's okay to be a few days late? Yes, be a few days late. You'd be far better off being a few days late to starting your water billing system then to do it without having the full conformity with what the laws require. So you definitely always want to follow Montgomery's method and be kind of a perfectionist. Never get rushed into doing something until you're ready is the bottom line.

Finally, I want to talk about U-boats. I've read many, many different books about World War II and U-boats because it's such a fascinating chapter in American military history because when they brought out the U-boat, people thought there were no defense against it. So when you read the books, early on when the U-boats start attacking the big ships in World War II, they just have no idea what to do, and they are at a completely loss to even have a strategy of how to deal with it. It gets so bad early on that they decide maybe they just can't even use boats anymore at all. Maybe they should just use something different. At one point, they looked in taking icebergs. You have to look it up. It's totally true. They would take icebergs out of the Arctic. They would float them across giant bodies of water, and they were going to make those into ships, and that way the U-boats could shoot and shoot the icebergs continuously and the icebergs would be so massive that they wouldn't be able to sink the whole iceberg. On top of the iceberg is where they would park all the military equipment trying to move it across the ocean.

Now I know it sounds absolutely outlandish today, but that's how desperate they were. They did not know how in the world to deal with U-boats. Then suddenly, you see them go on the attack. The U-boats by the end of World War II, they were on the run. They were the minority. They're being annihilated in droves. By the end of the war, they had learned all the weak spots of U-boats and how to spot them and all kinds of new weapons to destroy them. They watched for smoke bobbles, they watched for oil patches. There were constantly planes in the air watching for any signs of activity that meant U-boat. The minute they found it, they would notify the Navy, which would send out very fast moving ships that could go far faster than the U-boats, and they would drop death charges on them and blow them up.

To me, the big takeaway from all the books on U-boat warfare, World War II, is simply the concept of being proactive versus reactive. When the war started, the Navy was reactive. They did not know what to do. They were the underdog. They were constantly getting hit by U-boats day and night, huge casualties, massive loss of ships. By the end of the war, the difference was they had become proactive. Now they were chasing down the U-boats and destroying them at an incredible rate of speed, and I think there's some obviously huge lessons in both buying and managing mobile home parks based on those U-boats.

When you're looking at buying mobile home parks, you want to be the aggressor. You want to be proactively making a list of every broker. You can do that off the broker section of Mobile Home Park Store. You want to look at every listing online. You want to build a territory. You want to cold call. You want to direct mail. You want to spread the word. You want to be the master of that territory as far as finding all of the good deals you can humanly find. That's how you do it. You don't just reactively look at a few listings online that may pop up or talk to a broker or two.

On the operation side, the same story. You want to proactively solve everything you can. You want to make sure you remove all risk from the property, tear down all dead trees, dead tree limbs, fix holes in the ground, sidewalks that don't match, all these many things. You want to be on top of those items. You don't want to be reactive. If you have a dead tree on your mobile home park, for example, the proactive step would be go out, get three beds, pick the lowest, and get the thing taken down. The reactive would be to do nothing, let the tree fall down, hit someone's mobile home, and now you're stuck with an insurance claim and an unhappy customer that just is not the way to operate your business.

So take your lesson from the military on that and just always be proactive, be fixing things. Don't let things get you down by going bad on you. You need to be out there doing what needs to be done to keep you at the master of your own game.

This is Frank Rolfe for the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast series. I hope you enjoyed this section on our second of our four part series on Literary Lessons Learned, and I'll be back again next week.