Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 148

Back To The Future

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What were the hot topics a decade ago? Has anything changed over the past ten years? We’re going to review the headlines and articles of mobile home park industry magazines from 2010 to see if there have been any substantial changes to the “trailer park” business model, and use this analysis to make projections for the decade ahead. They say that history repeats itself, but in the case of mobile home parks, is it more like Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day? That’s the focus of this discussion.

Episode 148: Back To The Future Transcript

You've probably seen the popular film Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. In the movie, no matter what he does each day, the alarm clock goes off and he wakes up and repeats the same day over and over again. And in many ways, that's similar to the mobile home park industry. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast. We're talking about back to the future.

I found some magazines recently. I keep almost everything on the industry. I'm a virtual library of industry publications and information, and I found the Manufactured Housing Journal, a whole stack of them from 2010. So I thought, I look at them to see how things have changed. I spent a full decade, I guess we got some things done, maybe. So what do I see in them? Well, I see the same old sales content. Here's an article called Lessons From Life or Lessons For Sales Success.

You know that article will have a whole lot of great content. It talks about that mobile home park managers need intuitiveness, positive attitude, sincerity, practice, preparation. They need to worry about a first impression. Don't give up, be resilient, ask and ye shall receive, be patient. They're talking the same stuff today, right? I can pick any publication out in our industry today and I'll get the same information. So I guess those articles have been regurgitated now for 10 straight years. In fact, I looked at some of my older issues all the way back to 2005, same article in those two. So I guess on the topics of skills in mobile home park arena, we really haven't changed much over the years really.

And then I saw another article in here. This one was called MH industry converges on Washington to advance industry three point plan. Well, I wonder what the three point plan was back in 2010? Well, here was the three point plan the industry was so enthused about. Number one, improve financing. Number two, update the HUD code and keep our homes competitive. And number three, protecting preemption. Have we done any of these things? Well, let's look at it.

Improve financing. In the article they're calling on the government to try and make chattel lending more possible for the end consumer. Well, that never really happened. In fact, if it wasn't for the good folks at 21st Mortgage and Try It and Pep, there really wouldn't be hardly any financing for mobile homes at all. So that didn't happen. Then it says we're going to update the HUD code to keep our homes competitive. Well, do we really care? Did it really happen? Who knows. The industry is always talking about these little minor items on the HUD code.

We're going to change this and change that. The end consumer has no idea what we're even talking about nor does most any park owner. So I can't really say if these things were accomplished or not. The homes look roughly the same as they did a decade ago, both inside and out, haven't noticed any big changes. So not sure if that HUD code issue got resolved or not, but more than likely nothing happened with that. And then protecting preemption, this whole concept that somehow the federal government will make states like mobile homes and mobile home parks better. And therefore allow them to be found everywhere throughout the city that you can put them on individual lots and you can put them in front of the public library and you can go build a mobile home park next to the junior college. And of course, it's never happened.

So once again, nothing has really changed. We're back in a Groundhog Day environment. And then I found an article written by yours truly that appeared in the 2010 edition. And it's titled The Big Loser Here Is The American Public. And in the article, I talk about all the things the US government can do to make mobile home loans more attainable by the resident. All the great things would happen if they could just do that. All of the families that would have affordable housing. All of the people that would no longer have to live in that dreadful apartment if they just learned about through suave quarantine is not really a healthy place to be living, but they could be their own homeowner. They could have their own yard, much higher quality of life. Wouldn't cost the government anything. Many people in section eight could get off section eight because now they could actually own a mobile home and ultimately pay for it and then only pay lot rent. And they would no longer need the subsidy.

But once again, it fell on deaf ears, nothing ever happened. So why is the mobile home park industry like Groundhog Day? Why can we make no seeming positive advancements? Why do things always remain the same? Well, I think there's some very basic reasons. Number one, our business model is very, very simple. People always want to try and reinvent the wheel. They want to find something new to talk about or say, but really the whole idea of people renting land from you and paying a monthly rent and you as the owner providing basic utilities, nice common areas, a road free from potholes. That's a very simple business model. It's not the iPhone. It's not building a new, faster, more energy efficient jet engine. It's perhaps one of the most basic civil business models in the United States. So really there just isn't a whole lot you can do to perfect it.

We work on things. For example, moving the calls coming in off your ads through a system like who's calling that can record the call and give you numbers. You can call back and make exit interviews, and those are great, but those are still just minor advancements. So one problem you have is our business model is very, very simple. Another problem you have with the industry is that basically most Americans hate mobile home parks, and they have a very poor, stereotypical image of those who live in mobile homes. And because of that very, very negative karma, they don't want to allow new parks to be built and they don't want to allow us a mobile home to go on a residential lot in their neighborhood. You can't blame them. Look at everything the media portrays about mobile home parks. It's all negative. I saw on the Disney channel recently a cartoon on Disney called Trailer Trouble.

In the cartoon, it depicted everyone in the trailer park as either being a criminal or a lowlife or a failure to launch or a drunk. And that's considered humorous by Disney. That's considered a perfectly appropriate modern cartoon. Isn't that amazing in today's politically correct world that you can portray 8% of all Americans who live in mobile home parks as being a lesser class or citizen? And there's no pushback at all. Look at shows like Trailer Park Boys, movies like Eight Mile. Hollywood doesn't have any desire to elevate anyone's impression of people who live in mobile home parks. They find it more fun just to go in and throw in nothing but endless sex and violence, because of course that's what the viewers want and what the heck? They knew when they saw a mobile home park in the title, or they saw a picture of a mobile home in one of the stills, the program, they just couldn't get greater viewership because everyone always assumes that the mobile home park, well, it's just a bastion of terrible stuff.

So in many ways, there's really no way to move the needle. You're never going to get people in cities, city hall, state government to ever really push for more mobile homes or more mobile home parks or even a positive attitude on the industry. And of course, the manufacturers continue to produce the same product. Mobile home today looks no different than it did back in 2010. We really haven't had any big changes in the product that we have. So there's no real reason people can write any articles that are talking about this new wondrous invention, this new product, because our product just never really changes. So will we ever have new things going on? Are we stuck in this endless Groundhog Day rut as an industry? And the answer is perhaps, but also perhaps over time, the stigma, the barriers to the industry will change. A lot of the reasons that we're stuck in Groundhog Day is our own fault as an industry.

We've never been able to put together any form of positive public relations out there. We've never done anything to turn the tide of sentiment from the public against mobile homes and mobile home parks and mobile home park residents. And it's a shame. If you look at the RV industry, they're doing such great things with everything they do. The theme go RV has been a fantastic title, fantastic PR campaign. RVs you see in Town and Country magazine, Neiman Marcus catalog, see them on TV all the time, nothing but positive, positive, positive commentary. RV industry has done everything correct that the mobile home park industry did not. Their sales go up every year. Every year, there's a new record sales year. And it's a shame because there was so much potential with mobile homes. We are the cheapest form of housing. We're the most superior form of housing in our price point.

We're the only non subsidized form of affordable housing. Yeah, we get no credit. We get no visibility. We get no positive karma from anybody. I haven't seen a positive article on the mobile home park industry since I've been in it. I can name you on one hand the positive articles. The New York Times article about David myself and 2014, there was a good Bloomberg article also in 2014. There was the article, the Home of the Future by Time Magazine a couple of years ago. And that's pretty much about it. So do I have confidence that the industry will change going forward? No, I don't have a lot of confidence in it. However, I see some trends I find encouraging. I see a lot of millennials liking the idea of tiny homes. In fact, I see a lot of good publicity for tidy homes. Watch the shows on HGTV.

So definitely we have something going on there. And as a nation, we always have this need for affordable housing and it just keeps growing exponentially. So I know people will never lose interest in the product that we do. And every mobile home park I drive by nationwide looks a little better than it did the last time I was there as a lot of these older properties are purchased from old moms and pops and brought back to life. So really, if you were to map out the general direction, it's definitely up, but it's not up in such a big manner that we can spot the changes.

Now, if I go back in my stack of magazines, back into the nineties, I can see a real change. Back in the nineties, you just had some new entrance of Renown, Sam Zell, jumping into business. Even in the early 2000s, you had Jim Clayton passing the baton to Warren Buffet, lots of big things. So perhaps our industry to really get a historical feel, you can't go back 10 years. Maybe you got to go back 20, 30 years to really see the changes, but they're very slow, very slow indeed.

This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast. Just saying that perhaps all of us should put a little more thought into how we can move the needle on the industry. Maybe we need to consult our local politicians, maybe send an email here or there, or maybe more importantly, just explain what we do to other people so they can have a more positive feel for the industry.

Recently, I had to go out and film a few minutes of a video in one of our properties. I needed someone to act as a camera man. So I took someone from my small town out with me to hold the camera. They had never really been in a mobile home park before. They had just the most terrible negative stigma of it prior to going out there with me. And then as we returned, they said, wow, that was very interesting. That was way nicer than I expected. Those mobile homes were actually pretty decent. The mobile home park itself wasn't too bad. Well, there you go. We have another fan now of the industry. So maybe we can all help to get at least one person a little more interested in what we do, feeling a little bit better about the product, about the quality of life that mobile home parks can provide. Maybe over time, we can erase this terrible stigma that we seem to be stuck in decade after decade and makes some real positive progress. I would love to see that. I would love to see the end of our Groundhog Day. Even Bill Murray finally broke out of a Groundhog Day's rut, maybe we can too as an industry. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.