Encouraging Signs From a Younger Demographic By Frank Rolfe

The other day I was driving through one of our communities in Illinois and I noticed a nicely dressed young couple on the deck of a new Clayton home we had brought in. I’m
seeing more and more of that these days, and it’s great news for the industry, as we seem to be attracting a more upscale, youthful crowd all of a sudden. Is this a fad or a permanent trend?

Attraction to smaller living spaces

It’s no surprise to anyone who watches the “Tiny Homes” show on HGTV that young people are willing to live in spaces much smaller than other age groups. Some say that Millennials are the next “Greatest Generation” and, if that’s true, then they are
definitely on the right path regarding housing expectations. Of course, manufactured homes are perfect for those who are seeking small square footage in a detached dwelling. Unlike Baby Boomers – who often have bathrooms as big as some
manufactured homes – Millennials are not that in tune with the concept that bigger is better.

Focus on relationships

About a year ago I was given a private tour of Airstream Village, the manufactured home community that was built by Tony Hsieh, the billionaire founder of Zappos.com. He chose to live in this property over a penthouse condo he owned nearby. The
attraction was the concept of living shoulder-to-shoulder with a group of about 60 people in a very confined environment. All of the units in Airstream Village are either tiny homes or Airstream travel trailers – with no unit over 30’ in length. There’s a giant stage in the middle, as well as a converted cargo container structure for a business center and another for a laundry. So why did he want to live like that? The answer is that Millennials are huge believers in the power of relationships. Studies have shown that relationships are one of the top goals of this younger crowd both in business and their personal life. Manufactured home communities are perfect for this goal of building relationships, as the social interaction of residents is well known (just look at Time magazine’s article “The Home of the Future” for their take on this).

More respectful of their budget

Millennials seem to be much better at keeping their expenses in check that other age sectors (the reverse of Baby Boomers). Since they value relationships over materialism, they don’t need a lot of stuff to be happy. In this manner, manufactured homes offer one of the least expensive methods of having a detached dwelling with privacy and a yard. And millennials are huge into getting good deals, as they were born of the internet
shopping age where everything is a commodity and seeking the lowest price becomes a sport. With most manufactured homes costing around $1,000 per month less than a traditional apartment, the price attraction for Millennials is huge.

Everything old is new again

Everything in life seems to cycle over time from hot to cold and back again. Furniture from the 1950’s (“Mid-Century Modern”) is extremely collectible and valued by young people today because it’s different and interesting to them. And manufactured homes are also a big part of 1950s and 1960s culture which, frankly, makes them “cool” again. If you never had any prior exposure to our product’s design, you would find it unusual and intriguing – kind of like the first time you see “Viva Las Vegas” or a film in which Elvis lives in a “trailer park”. Every decade has its time to shine in this perpetual design circle of life, and the current era is the time of the manufactured home. Up to bat next,
I imagine, is a return to appreciation of the ranch house.

Lower negative stigma

Let’s be honest, our industry has a really bad stigma. There’s no denying this. The good news is that the Millennials missed out on all the television and movie programming that built that stereotype. “8-Mile”, “Trailer Park Boys” and other offerings were produced either before the Millennials were born or when they were in kindergarten. As a result, they do not harbor the same negative thoughts that other age groups do. This allows
Millennials to give our product an unbiased, fresh perspective.

RVs are leading the way

One of the main reasons that Millennials are attracted to the manufactured housing product is because of the extremely positive marketing and efforts of our cousin, the recreational vehicle industry. Just as we have done such a lousy job of putting our best foot forward with American consumers, the RV industry has hit home run after home run. Their sales are the highest in U.S. history, each and every year! They have created the perfect blend of product design and price point, and then coupled that with one of the best public relations efforts I’ve ever seen. I see the “Go RVing” in many of America’s most upscale publications such as Town & Country magazine, and then on TV during such events as the X-Games. They’ve snuck RVs into everything from the Neiman’s catalogue to Hot Wheels. And, in so doing, our close relative has opened the
door to a higher opinion of our product. It should be noted that young people are the second strongest segment buying RVs behind Baby Boomers.

Conclusion

I expect Millennials to be a significant part of the manufactured home community business going forward. Our product matches well with their goals and lifestyle choices. It’s affordable and “cool”. But let’s all try to be more like the RV industry in promoting to this age group – this is our chance to finally put the negative stigma to rest.

Comments