The Home Store in the News – Modular Momentum
by Charles Bevier
Excerpted from Building Systems Magazine
With a Ph.D. in child psychology, Andy Gianino not only counseled troubled youth as part of his clinical practice, he taught at the university level and conducted research as well. When he decided to dabble in home building, he felt he was more than up to the challenge.
“As far as intellectual challenges go, what could be more complex than human nature?” Gianino recalls thinking at the time. “I soon learned otherwise. Home building is far more complex than I ever imagined”.
“All the things a builder has to integrate, the knowledge you have to have, the people skills you need to be able to work with buyers, subcontractors, employees – to put it all together to create a home and do it well is amazingly difficult. I discovered that I just loved the challenge. I also discovered that I was more interested in building homes than I was in psychology.”
So when he decided in 1986 to pursue home building full-time, Gianino knew he needed to adopt a system that would help him succeed. He turned to modular technology, using AvisAmerica as his supplier, because, by his own admission, he had little knowledge or experience. “I literally did not know what a 2×4 was when I started 14 years ago,” recalls Gianino with a laugh.
Educating himself, Clients
Realizing that learning any new business comes at a price, Gianino set about to pay it. “I tried a variety of things. Not all of them worked. But the important thing is that I learned from my mistakes,” he recalls.
He also learned to convey his growing knowledge of the realities of the building business to home buyers. He developed – and continues to refine – a 60-page sales document that takes the buyer through the process, from site work to turnkey finish, detailing timelines, and budgets, allocating responsibilities and describing the multitude of options and decisions that have to be made. “When we drop that on the table many times people’s reaction is, ‘Oh my gawd! What are we getting into?’ It can be overwhelming. But we just stop and explain that while other builders may just give them a one-page contract, we want them to be able to make an informed buying decision. Even if they don’t buy from us, they’re going to walk away knowing what they really need to know about building a new home . Too many builders out there will quote a vague square foot cost and leave it at that. We want them to have all the facts.”
Besides establishing credibility, it also allows his sales staff of four to detail the company’s service level, which is what distances his operation from the competition – both modular and site builders, says Gianino.
“With my background, one of my strengths is realizing the importance of customer service. Follow-up is crucial. It’s not like I’m reinventing the wheel here. But I read a lot of the trade publications and I try to assimilate the best practices. If I’m creative at all, it’s in adopting what’s working for others. From the beginning I set out to educate myself so that I, in turn, could educate my clients. My goal has been to evolve as an organization making the company better with each project.”
Gianino credits the modular system for much of his company’s success. He’s able to offer buyers 10-to 12-week turnkey completion times on a multitude of designs and floorplans, compared to six months to a year for the site building competition.
With 80% or more of any given project being constructed at AvisAmerica’s facility, Gianino and his staff of 35 can concentrate on sales, marketing and customer service. Gianino’s company, The Home Store (Whately, MA), has been averaging more than 60 turnkey completions annually on scattered site lots, ranging in size from 1,300-sq. ft. ranches to 3,500-sq. ft. Colonials. This year, even with interest rate hikes, The Home Store’s business has increased by 66% to more than 100 homes.
His company has accomplished this with his primary sales area in Franklin County, which enjoys the dubious distinction of having the lowest average per capita income in the state.
“It’s a lot harder to compete here, compared to some other areas. We’ve really had to work hard to establish policies and procedures that are cost effective,” says Gianino. He says the modular system allows his company to reduce the company’s overhead costs substantially.
The Home Store has also carved a niche as the leading provider of universally designed homes in the region, with the company constructing an average of eight of these each year. If you’re unfamiliar with it, universal design seeks to serve the needs of multiple generations by adapting the design of a home to people, rather than the tradition of people adapting to a design. With the graying of America, the goal is to have these spaces work for us even as our lives change and we grow less physically able to perform certain tasks.
“It’s an interesting phenomenon. Six years ago I wasn’t doing any of these. But today, when you throw in some mother-in-law style accessible additions that we’re doing, along with new fully accessible homes, I’d say our universal designs comprise more than 11 or 12% of our business,” says Gianino, who is also the builder representative on an advisory council to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. “We’ll do seven or eight of these accessible homes this year. I can easily see this becoming 20% or more of our business in the next few years. There’s a growing awareness among home buyers that you should really be building for future use, especially among baby boomers looking to build their final house.”