Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 93

Trailer Park Chic - The Latest Trends

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The mobile home park industry is constantly evolving and today’s park owner is more focused than ever before on building a sense of community and maximum resident satisfaction. So how do you do that? In this episode of Mobile Home Park Mastery we’re going to discuss the latest trends in mobile home parks and how they create the desired results in building superior resident happiness and value.

Episode Transcript

Webster's defined chic as elegantly and stylishly fashionable. This episode of Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast we're going to delve into trailer park chic and find out exactly what's going on, what are the latest trends, what's fashionable in mobile home parks.

The first thing you'll find that's fashionable is trying to create community events. One that's occurring right now in many of our properties is the annual spring cleanup. What's the spring cleanup? Basically it's an event you announce for everyone in the park and those outside the park to participate in to spruce the property up and get it ready for the new year. Normally includes bringing in a roll off dumpster and inviting everyone to throw all the debris and items in their yards into the dumpster and then generally to go house by house painting, cleaning, fixing, repairing, those items that need to happen for the good of the community, making everything look better.

We also typically serve a communal meal at these events. Typically a lunch, it can be barbecue, it can be some other type of food, hot dogs, things that people enjoy, and the key is not only to get them all involved and try to make the property look good, but also to build friendships because as Time magazine said in their article, The Home of the Future, one of the strongest assets we have in mobile home parks is that sense of community. A sense of belonging, the relationships, the support network that comes with that.

Another thing that's fashionable right now is enhancing indoor meeting spaces. Now in most mobile home parks, particularly those built in the 1950s through the 1970s, there's a thing called the laundry room but it no longer has any function because mobile homes today all have washers and dryers so no one needs a laundry room. That's a thing of the past. Often these buildings sit empty but they're typically fairly well built. Normally cinder block or brick construction and they're not a bad size for a meeting room, so what we're doing and many community owners are doing is taking these old laundry rooms and similar structures and making these back into places that people can meet.

How do you do that? Well, it's not very hard. A typical laundry room, again is a well built building, typically square, with a door, has electricity, and sometimes has plumbing, sometimes there is in fact a bathroom in it, but typically there's not. What you do is you go in there, you clean everything out, take it down to the shell, and then typically paint the walls, normally the ceiling is in pretty good order, and then you put in indoor/outdoor carpeting or vinyl or some type of flooring and you're ready to go. You can also add a window heat and air, if that's desirable, to give it a longer lifespan than just those months where the weather is decent, and now you have a place when you add in folding tables and chairs where they can hold birthday parties or any other event they would choose.

Some of these rooms we're taking in making them into libraries. How does a library work? Well, the same difference, tables and chairs but this time we go and work with local libraries to include books. We get bookshelves and we get books, and the books are very, very affordable when you do it through non-profits. This is a place where people can go after school to do homework. This is a place where other people can go just to get out of their house if they'd like to go and read a book or to talk to other people.

We're similarly trying to expand on any part of our clubhouse which is not being utilized in again, into some kind of indoor meeting space area. Typically, you'll have rooms inside the old clubhouse sitting and just filled with parts and junk, sometimes decades old and sometimes recent, just pieces of skirting material you've brought in to fix the homes. The important part is again to get every inch of those buildings usable. Why? Because we really want our people to get together and spend time together. That's how you really create that amenity known as sense of community and we're doing it outdoor too.

Outdoor spaces are an even bigger thing than indoor spaces. Anytime you have a grassy area in your mobile home park, one of the best things you can humanly do is buy some picnic tables and some outdoor grills and transform that little patch of grass into an area where people can get together and have fun. They can sit on the picnic tables and talk, they can play games, they can hold parties, they can grill lunch or dinner. People love outdoor grilling. In fact, a study by the RV industry showed that that is the number one reason people travel in RVs is they enjoy outdoor cooking.

If you want to make it a little longer, you can put in a pavilion. A pavilion allows people to use those picnic tables and grills not only when the weather is good but also when it's raining, also when it's really sunny. It even seems to be a little more usable when it's cold outside and pavilions are not very expensive. You can build a fairly decent all metal pavilion for around $5,000 and up and it really gives people a little extra space they can use outdoors. It's a natural again for parties or any event but the great thing is it gives you shade cover and protection from the rain.

Another thing you can do if you have outdoor space is of course to put in a playground. Now playgrounds unfortunately today, due to liability laws, you're not going to be able to make them as exciting as they used to be in the old days. Back in the 1960s, you could have all these really fun items on the playground that kids would do, but let's be honest, they were a little bit dangerous. Today, those have all been replaced with things that are not quite so fun and also additionally have to have cushioned fall zones, but nevertheless a playground is a great place for kids to meet. It's a great place for adults to meet. They can go ahead and take their kids out to the playground and stand around and talk to each other while the kids are playing. Playgrounds don't take up a lot of space, there's a lot of options. If you look online, there's playgrounds to fit almost any size piece of grassy area.

Now if you have a big grassy field, a great way to create that sense of community is to put in soccer goals. Make that giant field perhaps into a soccer field. You could also use soccer goals for other sports, field hockey. Other things you can do with that. A big grassy field can be transformed into something again that creates that sense of community and gets people together. Speaking of getting people together in a recreational manner, let's not forget about splash pads. Now swimming pools have been in parks for a long, long time. In fact, the earliest mobile home parks back in the 40s they all had swimming pools in them and you'll still see evidence of that today when you drive in the older parks. Normally the pools are no longer working. The reason they don't work is that they're just not piped for modern code, they do not have two drains and over the years typically the pipes are all broken so people give up.

The splash pad is a new invention that most park owners are just now looking into. In fact, just now a lot of cities are looking into them. They don't recycle the water, basically it's a fixture where you almost have a hose that sprays water on or sometimes a hose that goes into a bucket that ultimately dumps down on people's heads and they don't know when, it makes it extra exciting. The beauty of splash pads is since the water does not recirculate you don't have to treat it or do anything with it.

It also is so much lower maintenance than a pool is. You don't have any chemicals to test, you have no one who can throw any furniture in it, and better yet, you can't really get that badly injured. Perhaps the worst you can do on a splash pad is a slip and fall but we all know that the down side of a swimming pool would be someone drowning. Splash pads come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. You can buy them typically from $20,000 and up. They can be as much or more expensive than a swimming pool but in some of the smaller models, you can give people a lot of aqua fun at a fraction of the price.

Another item we're doing to create more of that trailer park chic mystique is the addition of solar lights. These allow us to improve the overall illumination of the mobile park and allow people to gather more at night. It also makes them feel safer. They like that extra ambient light. The beauty of solar lights are they're so easy to install, you don't have to wire them. You can install a whole lot of lights very quickly and you don't have to worry about any [inaudible 00:08:12] getting power over there. There's a company called Gama Sonic that most park owners are buying their solar lights from. They make a great product and it's very, very bright. That's the big difference.

The early solar lights, they didn't put out that many lumens of power so they really weren't that bright. The modern solar lights made by people like Gama Sonic are very, very bright at night and very long lasting. They also often contain little brains in them that actually can tell you when to charge and not to charge based on the weather. Solar lights are helping us expand the amount of time people can get together and communicate.

Another thing we're doing and we just started this last year and it's working out really well, is doing these volunteer events where we actually help the needy and those who need help getting their homes put in good order. What you do is you organize local volunteer groups. These can include church groups, youth group, college groups, any non-profit, Lions Club, it doesn't matter. Organize a date, invite them all to show up, and see what you can get done as far as helping those in need get their homes renovated.

The last event we did, we did sixty homes in one day. That's right, we were able to get enough volunteers. We had over a hundred volunteers. We were able to go in and help sixty people get their homes and decks and yards put in the kind of condition they had always dreamed of. It's a win-win for everyone. The volunteers are very happy and the residents are happy, and then on top of that, again we typically have a communal mean at these events giving people one more chance to create that sense of bonding. It's just a fantastic idea. I don't know why we didn't think of it sooner but I'm glad that we finally did.

Another thing we're doing and the latest trend is cable bundling. Now what cable bundling is is when you combine television, high speed internet, and telephone into one grouping, and we can get these from the cable providers who do these services at a much lower price than the customers can and we pass along the savings. Again, the thought here is that the more services we can offer in the park, the better value it is for everybody and of course, having a great value leads to greater customer retention.

Another thing we're doing that we think is really going to be a big issue in the years ahead is energy conservation, energy efficiency. We do energy conservation typically by having the residents pay for their own water and sewer usage, that way they control their own destiny on what it costs them monthly. It helps us keep the overall lot rent on the park down. But a bigger issue coming up in the future is how do we make the mobile homes themselves function on less electricity and less gas? Mobile homes, if you look at a cutaway schematic of how they're built, one thing they don't have is a whole lot of insulation.

They're not known to be hugely energy efficient and that's particularly true of the older homes, not the newer. The manufacturers today are doing a great job of making the homes better than ever before, but in many mobile home parks the homes are still dating all the way from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. These homes typically have single pane glass, they don't have much insulation, and so we and many people are starting to look at how can we make these more energy efficient.

My ideas include doing different things with the windows, potentially making thermal curtains. There's a lot of different initiatives people are looking at right now and I think it's going to be one of the big growth items going forward as far as trailer park chic is how can we make so people can spend less per month on electricity and less per month on gas that will enhance their value, make it more affordable for them to live there, make them endlessly happier, and of course, a happy customer is a customer who never wants to leave.

Trailer park chic, it's exciting, it's fun watching the way the industry is changing and evolving. It's interesting to always see what's fashionable out there. This will give you some idea of the things that we see going on in mobile home parks today but the good news is all of them point to one item, we think that the mobile home park product is getting better and better. It's currently the best it's ever been. It only gets better every day. We think it's going to be a time in the future in which everyone involved, the residents, owners, and the community at large are very, very happy with what we do, very proud of the end product, and it all begins with those fashionable things that we can do to bring people together to have a better sense of community.

This is Frank Rolfe, Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast series. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again next week.