Friday, May 8, 2009

Marketing the Clayton i-house

Yesterday, my free blog taught Clayton Homes, the billion dollar industry giant, a lesson.

Promotion-wise, Clayton did the important thing just right though. They introduced their revolutionary i-house, the first affordable green manufactured home by a major manufacturer, at the Berkshire-Hathaway (owned by Warren Buffet) shareholder’s conference last week. A conference that had huge media coverage. There, the i-house caught the attention of Fox News and CNBC, which led to an article by the Associated Press.

The AP article was picked up by dozens -- soon to be hundreds -- of newspapers, including the article topping yesterday’s Yahoo News’ “most emailed” list.

So what did I do, a mere blogger, to teach them a lesson?

Well, when the AP article about the I-house was being viewed by thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands, Clayton’s website for the i-house got overwhelmed and many people couldn’t connect to it. They searched in Google or elsewhere for Clayton i-house and my blog site is at the top of the search list. I’m not sure how long it’ll be there, but who knows.

Let me give you their official i-house website site here, as today you shouldn’t have a problem connecting:

Back to my story. Clayton didn’t make any real mistake. People who had their interest piqued by the AP article -- especially those who consider buying such a home -- are going to be more interested than ever.

Of course, Clayton, could have taken some of the sting out of people not being able to reach their website, by hosting their Virtual i-house Tour on a few different servers, so people could have at least seen what the house was about, in this culture of RIGHT NOW.

After all, I predicted months ago, that the i-house could be the Prius of homes. Because of the name, “i-house,” the media is fixated on comparing it to the ipod. I’m sure that’ll work too, for publicity purposes especially. "I-house" sticks in people's minds better than calling it a Claytongreen or a Claytonius.

But, let’s face it, the i-house is more comparable to Toyota's introducing the Prius, than things done by Apple. People’s reaction to it is similar to what was said about the Prius.

People say things like:

“It’s a waste of money.”
“Wake up! It’s a trailer!”
“I saw the house and I absolutely love it!”
“It will never sell.”
"This looks good and seems to be too good to be true for the price."
"You'd have to be crazy to pay $ for son could make the same thing for $15,000." (Okay, I just made that one up but there are comments in a similar vein.)
“I’ve been waiting for something exactly like this!”

I'm feeling the same as the last comment. And I felt the same about the Prius too. The Prius had millions of people who didn't think it would ever sell. Even the GM guys smirked, maybe a little uneasily though. Other people were open to the idea, read about it, and found that the people who bought them, loved them. It lead to a whole new shift toward hybrid technology.

Can Clayton do the same, with the i-house, making an affordable, well-built green manufactured home catch on with the public? A home manufacturer doesn’t have the advantage of people seeing homes all over the place, as people see cars on the road, but there’s another way… It's my big idea, and if you can suffer through some other rambling, I'll get to it. Or, just skip to the end.

Clayton, like Toyota, has come a long way just by introducing the i-house. Already, there’s a whole new wave of interest, by many people who have never considered buying a manufactured home. That is, people wanting to make a big change in their life. Live in something that is energy efficient. Get some power from the sun. It appeals to frugal people. It appeals to environmentally conscious people. And it appeals to people wanting quality and style, for the money.

Wealthy people, who are most able to afford an efficient, green home with solar panels, have not taken the lead in green home buying, at all. About five years ago, when Toll Bros., the largest builder of McMansions, offered an upgrade to higher wall and roof insulation, less than two percent of buyers opted for it. What do they care about heating bills, right? Other people can't be impressed by insulation, like they can with granite counter tops (they do add value), or a dome on an eighteen foot foyer.

Things are changing gradually, whether it is people being proud that their Prius looks different, so people can see they are environmentally responsible, or Jay Leno talking about his wind turbine. The green revolution is going to take place among more average people, just as it started with the counter culture. With Obama, green is going mainstream, and fast.

Clayton did a smart marketing thing in separating the i-house website from their main Clayton Homes website. As the largest manufacturer of homes in the country, Clayton offers a lot of models, which can be confusing, and for me anyway, their main website is awful. The website for the i-house works better, looks better, and needed to be on its own.

Clayton isn’t alone in being a manufactured homes company that has a bad main website. Nearly all manufactured home companies do. For years, two of my favorite brands, Karsten (now owned by Clayton) and Solitaire (plain, kinda boxy outside, well made, inexpensive), didn’t even feature a single photograph of most of their homes. What did they have instead? Architectural drawings, and for some models, no drawing at all, just a floor plan.

To begin with, the manufactured home industry, and their dealers, were late in coming to the web. To this day, most smaller dealers of manufactured homes do not have websites that list inventory or salesperson contact numbers.

Alvin Toffler wrote a prescient book called FUTURE SHOCK (1971). He theorized that computer technology would create a third wave in changes in society. The first wave was agriculture, and the second wave, industrialization.

Toffler conjectured that the third wave caused by computers would throw society into the future at a speed never experienced before. The advancement of technology, the way people do things, such as learn, communicate, do business, would be turned on its head.

Consider the change that have taken place in the last two decades. Children and young adults who grow up in the computer age often have more facility with computers than their parents. Many jobs rely on ability and understanding of computers.

Along with Toffler, I had a similar sense of the importance of computers when I was 17 and went to college back in 1971. As a music major, I hated punch cards, and late nights spent in the keypunch room trying to type up a program. I struggled through a few courses, and many more later on, to learn what it was about. It wasn’t until I got one of the first home computers, that it became exciting. The web was was the best of all, since I've always loved information and learning, just not school so much, not enough to finish graduate school anyway.

Before the computer wave, parents with the same educational level as their children, were more skilled by virtue of life and work experience. That isn’t always true now, and this is the first time in history something like this has happened.

Computers have changed marketing too, with each advancement in computer speed, memory, and software. Things like the EBAY, Amazon, Craig’s List, YOUTUBE. They are changing society, the way we learn, work, buy, not to mention entertain ourselves.

Invariably, the blinding speed at which things change leaves old school marketing in the dust. Instead of being on top of the curve, or ahead of the curve, large companies lag behind these changes like just-tranquilized elephants.

How many self-made multi-millionaires were there fifty years ago, kids fresh out of college, or in the case of Bill Gates, dropping out of college, to be titans of industry? In the old days, unless you were handed family money, it was rare to make a big success until age forty or fifty.

Companies like Clayton tend to cling to what they are used to. When given the opportunity to display all kinds of detailed information on the web, at first they tried to make their websites like brochures, but on the web. Glossy and enticing.

I have no background in business, no MBA from the Wharton School or years experience running a business. But, I know what I want as a consumer in the way of information from a company when considering purchase of their products. Whether it is a new laptop, or a manufactured home, I know the kind of information I want before I buy, or in the case of a home, travel fifty miles to go see. And I don’t think what I want is that much different from what other people want.

I like a website that is easy to use, and there can never be enough photos of a home via a link. I also want video tours of homes. If it is a home that is new, an exciting concept like the i-house, I would like to see a complete video tour of the house, and a house that is set up in a real natural setting.

Why is that important?

At a dealer, the homes are jammed together on a lot, or right on a highway. It isn’t the best setting to see a home. But, come on, in a video, wouldn’t it be nice to see an i-house, not inside a building?

To be honest, I was seriously considering buying a manufactured home about five years ago, and then my stocks dropped, and I pulled out. Before that, I’ve had a long interest in them though. I’ve been reading about them for years, long before the internet.

So, what is my cutting edge idea for marketing the i-house?

Have one set up on a nice property, with an articulate greenneck like myself in residence, to blog life in the home every day. Maybe some live cam hours of everyday life in the i-house, or hours where people could be taken on personalized interactive video tours using a remote cam.

Of course, I would like to do this. But, the point is, even if I weren’t selected, I would like to see someone else do this.

How many of you out here would like that? How would you like to be able to ask questions, interactively, to a person who is living in the i-house, or read about their daily or weekly i-house related experiences on a blog?

Any people who want to contact me, aside from leaving comments on the blog which are always welcome:



  1. Do they depreciate 50% the moment you buy them like all other Clayton products?

  2. Uh oh. You mentioned the D word. Depreciation. It is definitely a consideration, not just for Clayton products, but the other home manufacturers as well. It is a valid point.

    It is possible the i-house could buck some of that big-D depreciation element, because of its green features, more robust construction/insulation, rad look, and name-brand windows/doors.

    Also, if it is being called "industrial chic" by the Associated Press journalist. Watch out. That right there is Marmol-Radziner-trailer-talk. Marmol Radziner is one of the high end manufactured home builders in California, as in prices that start at over a half million or so. Their homes are discussed in the loftier world of architecture.

    This story with the Clayton i-house is just unfolding.

    If you are in a situation, where investment value is the most important thing, the i-house is probably not something you should jump into. The main reason to buy this house, should be that you want to live in a house like this. You tour it. You get the feel. You recognize the quality, having compared it to other products, and you want to live in one.

    Will I have this feeling about it? I'll know in a few weeks.

    Another situation would be owning a property, or knowing of a property you want to buy, where it would be prohibitively expensive to have a house of this standard built.

  3. So the only place a person can live in this kind of house is on a trailer park? Or did I misread? If that is the case I am much less interested, but since I live in the very expensive suburbs of NYC I doubt these houses will be coming to my area anytime soon, anyway.

    Or am I being really pessimistic? I hope so. I've love to see these popping up all over, including one with my name on it.

  4. Only in a trailer parks? No no no. These babies are zoned "modular" in many places. That's the highest classification a manufactured home can have. Keep in mind counties will have other standards too, including wanting homes that conform to size limits or a prevailing style.

    Even in my rural area. No domes! Even though there are two here already.

    I live ten miles outside Santa Fe, NM. I run into Jane Fonda at Whole Foods all the time. (Just joking, but she does have a ranch outside of Santa Fe, not in my neighborhood though, although her area is equally poor in parts.)

    Anyway, my neighborhood is mixed, everything from a two thousand acre multi-million dollar ranch three blocks away, to a sprinkling of $300,000 to $500,000 homes, and some junked out thirty year old singlewide trailers, each usually on two acres or so. Singlewides are no longer allowed here but I called the local Clayton dealer and they said the i-house can go here.

    I'm outside city limits. Within Santa Fe city limits, they are more strict. While not quite Westchester, there are some streets that are zoned for manufactured homes, and a few trailer parks here, but most areas have strict codes, on style, materials, size, foundation, even color.

    There are a couple of modular builders in your area. But I think they build mostly McMansion type homes.

    That's the good news. The bad news. I think if you punch in your zip at the Clayton ihouse site, you'll find they aren't delivering anywhere in New York State. Something about bridge height.

    You are right about it probably being a problem with zoning anyway, even in in the least expensive suburb of NYC. Well, there's always retirement to look forward to, right?

  5. Thanks for the info. I am currently obsessed with this house and checked back to see if you answered.

    I actually live in Rockland County, and yes -- lots of McMansions. I tried the zip code thing at the Clayton site and they said it isn't currently available, like you said because of height issues with the bridges. I am hopeful though. In their blog someone asked about the NY/NJ area, and they said they are working on it and to stay tuned. Apparently there is a lot of interest. I registered with them too, just in case they're keeping track of what areas they have interest in.

    I am a single parent living in a one bedroom apartment that costs more in rent that a lot of the population is paying in mortgage. Though land would be an issue for sure around here, the cost of the home itself is quite attractive! Plus I LOVE that it's green, and that it's so modern. This is my new dream house, and it's good to have dreams, yes? :)

  6. Love your blog... Thanks for all the great info. You asked for questions and I have several for you!

    1) What does installation and site work typically cost and is that something that can be purchased directly from the dealer or do we have to find a contractor in our area? Does delivery include dropping the ihouse on the foundation or does the crane need to be booked by the contractor?

    2) I see that cabinets are installed already. Do we know if these are high quality durable cabinets? I have a bunch of ikea stuff... it looks beautiful but doesn't stay beautiful after daily use... it just falls apart.

    3) How are Plumbing/Electrical issues handled after installation. I watched a video on the ihouse that walks through clayton process for building. Plumbing is run through the floors, ceiling, and walls which are very carefully glued together. If and when leaks or problems occur, is there a special skill set required to fix the issues?

    4) Are there plans for an eventual two story ihouse?


  7. Sure, I'd be happy to take a stab at your questions...

    1) What does installation and site work typically cost and is that something that can be purchased directly from the dealer or do we have to find a contractor in our area? Does delivery include dropping the ihouse on the foundation or does the crane need to be booked by the contractor?

    1) ANSWER:
    Quoting from the Clayton sale's person's answer: "The i-house is designed to be pier set, and can be modified for other sets if desired. The price of the i-house as shown on the web site, includes an estimate for delivery AND the siting of your home on piers and anchored. A cement board surround perimeter is also included in the price and air conditioning. Master bedroom deck, stairway to rooftop deck and first level railing is not included in the price."

    Translation: The pier setup is free, including crane or whatever to put the home on the piers, and anchor it down. Cement board is skirting that goes around the bottom of the home, to the ground. That's all included.

    However, a few areas may require a perimeter block foundation, instead of the free skirting. The foundation work, if you need it, is is not done by Clayton, but Clayton has contractors that can do it, for around $10,000 probably.

    For a full basement you'd tell Clayton you want that and they have to make some structural changes to the home that cost extra. Don't know the cost on that, or the cost a foundation contractor charges to dig and pour a full basement.

    In the above comment from Clayton's blog, I'm not sure what they mean by air conditioning.

    2) I see that cabinets are installed already.
    Do we know if these are high quality durable cabinets? I have a bunch of ikea stuff... it looks beautiful but doesn't stay beautiful after daily use... it just falls apart.

    2) ANSWER:
    I tried to read around about Ikea's "Akurum" built-in kitchen cabinets. They seem to have a good reputation for durability, and they are supposed to be greener than most. Boy, they aren't that cheap as far as price goes. The plain white ones are much cheaper.

    3) How are Plumbing/Electrical issues handled after installation. I watched a video on the ihouse that walks through clayton process for building. Plumbing is run through the floors, ceiling, and walls which are very carefully glued together. If and when leaks or problems occur, is there a special skill set required to fix the issues?

    3.ANSWER: Hmmm, not really sure. Gee, I can't find any video like that. Did you see it online?

    Decades ago, some trailers used to have non-standard fixtures, and plumbing that was hard to get to or cheap, like no shut-off valves, but that was changed. I've never heard about difficulties with newer (after 1994) manufactured homes in regard to plumbing/electrical repair.

    Unlike most stick built homes on a slab, manufactured homes usually have in-floor heating ducts, and that's why it is important to have good floor insulation, which the i-house has.

    Ask that question to Clayton though. I think that in some case repairs to those things can be easier in a manufactured home, because things are above ground, and can sometimes be reached from underneath.

    4) Are there plans for an eventual two story ihouse?
    4)ANSWER: I dunno. Seems like forever I've been waiting for them to finally come out with something like this. I'm sure they'll want to see how this one goes.

    If this is really successful. Cavco or some other builder will have to come out with something to challenge it, maybe in a two story.

    A two story model would be good for urban areas with smaller lots.

    Below is a good forum to sign up for and ask questions, if you feel there's something you didn't understand in Clayton's answer. I like the the "ask the experts one," and the First Time Home Buyer's Forum is good too.

  8. Thanks for the answers... this is the video I was refering to

  9. No domes in your area???? Oh no! That's terrible. I like the look of the i-House, though I can't see how it's all that affordable given housing prices for regular stick homes, especially at the higher end (but then, I was including all the green extras, which MY house would have but most houses do not), but my personal dream house is either an Earth Ship or a Monolithic Dome. I waver between the two. The main advantage this one has is that it would be MUCH less work for me. :-) I just seem to have a thing for the circles... I did very much like the flex room 3, though - would make a great art studio. And I love the deck on top. Can't have a deck on top of a dome. I think I'll go try and find some more videos on Earth Ships now, though - the garden areas in the sunrooms on those are just beautiful... and talk about green, those houses are tres verde. :-)

  10. Even though my first love was trailers, I went through a dome phase and an earth ship phase that lasted years. I like the mass of the earthship (straw bale too) walls. Domes, I just like the form, inside and out.

    Like you, the natural circle and rounded forms, and of course, how energy efficient they can be. I ran into one article, which completely put a dent in my dome fantasies, especially the non-monolithic ones. It was by one of the first major proponents and builders of domes. It was about the problem of moisture retention in the ceiling area, and other problems too. The acoustics can be overly live too. If you write to me at my email address (at the bottom of the blurb under my photo), I'll try to find that article if you are interested.

    I like some of the smaller monolithic domes the best, because the windows light them up better.

    Earth Ships were another fascination of mine. I still like them, but touring a demonstration model killed part of my interest in them. I didn't like the blinding window wall on one side, and the cave like feel of three mostly windowless walls on the other side of rooms. The indoor green space is nice, and I'm sure some of the more recent designs, with a small skylight, or an extra window, are better. At the time I was seriously considering one, the most affordable ones were ten miles out in a community in Taos. I don't mind a short distance on a dirt road, but I wouldn't like driving ten miles on one. Plus, at the time I was looking there (late 1999), they had no phone service, and only very expensive internet. I didn't care about the phone part, but I did want cheap internet.

    I find one of the greatest assets in image cruising for types of houses, for example passivhaus (my current favorite non-manufactured type, along with small adobe houses) is use of the free browser plug-in called Cooliris. It works with either Firefox or Internet Explorer, and turns the google image search into a window wall of images that is much easier to navigate. Click on an image you like, it enlarges and sharpens it.

    You can click on an icon in the image, and go right to the page it is from, and then back to the wall. It makes it easier to do internet house hunting, or video hunting, dreaming and exploring.

  11. I this that you are on the spot! To sell these wonderful little homes, they need to set one up for someone like yourself, on their land, and allow them to blog, cam, and get the word out there! Show uses, when people come to visit, etc. GREAT IDEA. Clayton, are you listening? A write like Greenotter would be a perfect choice.


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