Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 170

Revisiting The Name Game

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I unearthed a copy of the 2015 Journal of Manufactured Housing recently and found the lead article was a debate over what the correct name is for our industry. Yes, that’s how little was going on in mobile home parks back then. In this episode of the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast we’re going to revisit the issue of what the correct name for the industry is, with some shocking conclusions. They say that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” but is that true for a trailer? Or is it manufactured home?

Episode 170: Revisiting The Name Game Transcript

There's an old saying that, "A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet," but does that extend to trailers? This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast Series. We're going to be talking about the name game, all the various names that people use for our industry. We're always in search of some kind of new label, some kind of new identity. Recently, I was going through some papers and I found the 2015 edition of the Journal of Manufactured Housing. This was a very popular magazine back in the day. It ceased publication years ago. And the big article in that issue of the journal was regarding what was the right name for our industry.

People were very upset back in that era by what you called a Mobile Home Park. In fact, using the word Mobile Home Park would get you nothing but snarky comments and stares from people. They were shocked and horrified. You could even mention the name Mobile Home Park, because the correct name they thought was Manufactured Home Community. Let's try and figure it out for a minute where that came from. So the industry began with the name trailer. It was not a bad name. It was not meant to be derogatory in any possible form or fashion. Trailers came from wealthy people who built trailers to pull behind their cars so they didn't have to sleep on the ground at the end of the day. Trailer Parks became parking lots for wealthy people to park those trailers when they were on the road, and cities built those Trailer Parks proudly just like private airports to try to attract these wealthy customers to stay and maybe buy a meal or, more importantly, invest in their town.

So the word Trailer Park really didn't have any negative stereotype, but yet our industry didn't like it. Then the name changed to mobile home. Why? Because as the homes became larger, there was a fissure in the industry between RVs and mobile homes, mobile homes being considered for permanent residency with RVs being for temporary. So the name mobile home was to define that this is something that's better than an RV. This is a home on wheels, not just temporary housing product. But once again, the industry didn't like it. So then, in 1976, HUD took over building mobile homes. Prior to that, there had been hundreds of different manufacturers, some people who were hobbyists building them just in their backyard or in a Quonset hut, or maybe in their garage.

And when HUD took it over and said, "From now on every mobile home that in has to have this HUD seal on the back." They then changed the name again to manufactured housing, and consequently manufactured housing community. The problem was nobody ever picked up on the name. So when it went from Trailer Park to Mobile Home Park, for some reason, customers adopted that new nomenclature and it became the new standard. But when they shifted from Mobile Home Park to Manufactured Home Community, apparently nobody got the memo. No one ever used the name. The American public never embraced the idea of manufactured home. So people took it a step further. They, again, didn't like the manufactured home label and they tried to change it to a land lease community. They thought that sounded fancier apparently.

But the problem is, just like manufactured home, it didn't get adopted by anybody. Nobody much cared for the name. No one ever knew what that product was. So the industry has all these labels, many different labels. Some people today would say Mobile Home Parks are all about affordable housing. There's another label. But does it really matter what the label is? Probably not. What's important is what your product looks like, what your customers think. Do they like to live there? Do they tell their friends, "This is a great living experience and a good value for the dollar"? That's important, but I can tell you the name they're going to use. They're going to use the name Mobile Home Park. How do I know? Just look at the SEO, search engine optimization, on the internet for our industry.

Look at the number of hits. It'll clearly tell you that there are only two names for our product that were actually adopted by the American public, Trailer Park and Mobile Home Park. When you look at Manufactured Home Community, a tiny, tiny fraction of Americans ever search under the name Manufactured Home Community, and virtually nobody does under the concept of land lease community. So what it tells us is the real name of the industry as far as the American public is concerned is in fact Mobile Home Park. So, on the one hand, we'd have to say that the correct name is Mobile Home Park, but at the same time, most people who own Mobile Home Parks adopt different names for different purposes. Let's assume I'm going to have a nice sign made out the front, and I want to have the description of my product on the sign. I'm going to use Manufactured Home Community. Why? Because it sounds classier.

I may put the same on my business card. Why? Because again, it sounds classier. But yet I know no one's ever going to use that name. So Manufactured Home Community to me, to a park owner, is like we're in a tuxedo. It gives you a better version of yourself, but one that's very uncomfortable and very temporary. I don't know many people who go around every day wearing a tuxedo. I don't see them mowing their yards in tuxedos. I don't see them playing catch with their kid in a tuxedo. I don't see them go to the movies in a tuxedo. So I think we all have to assume that the name Manufactured Home Community is only there for special occasions, and that's probably appropriate since no one even knows what a Manufactured Home Community is anyway.

But when you're out there talking to customers, running ads, selling homes, renting homes, it's all all about Mobile Home Park, because that's the name that everyone has adopted. If I ran my ads in the newspaper and said, "Manufactured home for sale or rent," no one would respond because they wouldn't know what that meant. I would bet the average American, if you said manufactured home, would think of a stick built or a modular and would not even think you're talking about a mobile home. They'd correct you and say, "Wait a minute, you mean mobile home? What the heck's a manufactured home?" So in all advertising, you've got to use Mobile Home Park, or you just won't be able to sell or rent anything. No one will have any idea what you're even talking about.

What about Trailer Park? Can you still use that? Sure. If you want to go down and talk to the tax assessor and get your value reduced, I would totally say the words, "Trailer Park," because that makes it sound more backwards and not quite so desirable and possibly in poor repair, so that might help you get your assessment down. In fact, some really bad pictures of your park. Find the worst looking house in the entire property and take a photo of that same house from nine different positions, go to your tax assessor on the unofficial day where you can or values without actually appealing them and go in there talking about your Trailer Park with those photos and yeah, you'll get your value down.

Not a ton, but some, because it tends to depress the person you talk to. They're going to say, "Wow, Trailer Park. Look at those pictures. Okay, buddy, I'll go ahead and take 50 grand off the value or something." And then you sign a little document and you're on your merry way. So, again, even Trailer Park can get used. Now, I don't really have a good use for the words, land lease community. It doesn't make any sense to anybody what that even is so I wouldn't even use it. Then you look at some of the stalwarts of the industry. Look at Sam Zell. Sam Zell is the largest owner of Mobile Home Parks in the U.S. If you get his book, Am I Being Too Subtle?, read what it describes as a Mobile Home Park. He wants to be fancy in the book, but at the same time, he falls back in the same category of everybody else.

He calls them manufactured home parks. That, as I recall, that's the name that he uses in the book. Now, should he put communities in there? Sure, he should've put a tuxedo on. But then if you've ever met Sam Zell, he's not much into making any kind of formal appearance. So he chose the verbiage that he apparently uses himself, and he probably fancied it up a bit with the word manufactured home on the front end. But you get the idea. The bottom line is that nobody in the industry really uses the name, Manufactured Home Community, except in very unique formal occasions. Now, why was it such a big deal in 2015? I once gave a speech where I referred to the industry as Mobile Home Parks, and I was chastised by almost everybody there. This was at an MHI Event years ago, about five years ago, and people were just appalled by it.

Today, nobody cares at all. Suddenly, you can say the words Mobile Home Park and no one even looks at you any which way. So why was everyone so concerned back in 2015? Well, in my opinion, what was happening was the industry still couldn't figure out what the heck it was doing. I remember back in 2015, people were still trying to bring out evermore expensive double wides and triple wides with this idea that we were going to suddenly upgrade things. But a lot of that noise comes from the manufacturing side, the people who build the mobile homes. The problem is there's a disconnect, because as a park owner, I don't really care about the idea of upgrading mobile homes. I want stability. I want my a lot rent. I want pride of ownership on the part of my residents. And most of all, I want them to not have a mortgage. I want them to own their home free and clear.

If you look back historically, a lot of the Mobile Home Parks in the old days, there would be dealers all the time trying to get people in the Mobile Home Parks to upgrade their model, just like a car. Trade in your car and get the new one. So they are always trying to press to have the new thing, the new hot thing, try to get some degree of FOMO going out, that people want to keep up with the Joneses and get it all new home and burden themselves with an all new mortgage. Simply not the case. So I think a lot of the pressure back in 2015 came from people from more of a manufacturing side who thought if they could just keep trying to elevate the product, they could come up with something they could sell for even more money.

Of course, we all know what's happened since then. Most of all, the mobile home manufacturing, probably half of it, is all park owners trying to fill vacant lots. It's not the actual end users. It's not the customer. And the park owners, because they're not trying to put on airs, they define the product as their customers define it. That says Mobile Home Park. So I'm really happy how things have evolved over time. 2015, we were all so caught up in the name and, oh my gosh, it was such a big deal if you didn't use the fancy name. Whereas today, everyone has forgotten about the whole idea of putting on airs, putting on the tuxedo. Now, we're all back halfway to the product as our customers know it, Mobile Home Park. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.