Modeling manufactured homes

Monday, October 15, 2001

Shopping for a new home can mean lots of driving around town looking for the best location, size and lot, not to mention attending open houses. But some home buyers are finding their search to be a bit easier now that a giant home showroom has opened near Fruitland, Mo.

It's easy to find the D-Mart Homes Mega Center since it is visible from Interstate 55 and there are always two or three manufactured homes situated outside.

D-Mart Homes is establishing a new trend in manufactured housing sales. Inside the 80,000-square-foot structure is room for 20 homes, some complete with decks, landscaping and even carports. Everything you might need for a mobile home -- from garden sheds to gazebos -- can be found in the showroom.

Larger than a football field, the showroom features mobile home products and single-wide and multi-section manufactured housing. There is even a 40-foot-wide street down the middle of the complex.

More than 19 million people live in the 8 million manufactured homes in the United States. In Missouri, more than 400,000 people live in 200,000 manufactured homes. About 8 percent of new home construction starts in the state are manufactured housing. In Illinois, more than 310,000 people live in the state's 151,000 manufactured homes, according to statistics from the Illinois Manufactured Housing Institute.

In 1980, Congress changed the name of mobile homes to manufactured homes. The industry boomed in the early 1970s when more than 2.4 million manufactured homes were delivered to buyers between 1969 and 1973. The sales have continued to climb through the 1980s and 1990s.

The new D-Mart showroom opened in March and was built as a weather-controlled location to showcase manufactured homes, said Ralph James, manager of the facility. D-Mart Homes is a division of Drury Southwest, and the Mega Center is the brainchild of Bob Drury.

Only 19 homes were inside the center Thursday -- 12 of them double-wide and 7 single-wides.

Increase in browsers

Since opening in March, the Mega Center has seen an increase in customers browsing for homes. "We've attracted people who were not even in the market for a mobile home. The center is designed to make shoppers more comfortable. When people select a home they want, we can deliver in a few weeks. Or, if they want it today, we'll send out the home they pick right now," James said.

D-Mart will host an open house this weekend for anyone interested in seeing the manufactured homes available.

While the D-Mart center may not be the first mobile home mega-store in the nation, it is the first one constructed for that purpose. D-Mart has been in the manufactured home business almost a decade.

The company also has some area mobile home parks, complete with streets, utilities, awnings and storage sheds. The largest is Weiss Park, near the sales center, which already contains 160 homes, with spaces for another 300.

Manufactured homes are big business in the United States. The homes, which are built in sections and shipped to sites, account for about 20 percent of all new-home starts in the nation.

During a recent year, total industry shipments were over 370,000 homes with sales of multi-section homes outpacing "single-section" homes 62 percent to 38 percent.

Recent research studies reveal an average of 88 to 92 percent of manufactured home buyers would either recommend a manufactured home to their friends and family or would themselves buy another manufactured home.

Having a showroom for customers is great, James said. "It's environmentally controlled and people can view homes in comfort."

While many Missourians live in manufactured homes, Florida, California and Texas have the most manufactured home owners. Florida is the leader with about 1.3 million people living in more than 750,000 homes. Texas has 1.2 million people living in over 550,000 homes and California has more than 1 million people living in more than 550,000 homes.

There are more than 100 companies building manufactured homes in more than 300 factories throughout the U.S., and thousands of retail sales outlets, including several in the Cape Girardeau area.

rowen@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 133

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