A sure sign that a company is busy is that the vice president of sales for a major manufacturer of modular building systems reschedules his interview with a magazine writer three times because, as he states, “With us, the customer always comes first. And we have a lot going on here.”
A sure sign that a company is responsive is that the president of that company calls an hour later to address follow-up questions, and states, “I really believe that in our business, customer satisfaction is what it’s all about. And good communication, especially with our dealers, who are our customers, is a big part of that.”
Archie McKinnon, an owner and the president of Design Space, Inc., is one of the partners who founded the company in 1990 in Homerville, Ga. He and Jimmy Wiggins, executive vice president, have developed their business to reach markets in the Southeast, Northeast and South. McKinnon comments further that, “Our name and our reputation mean that we’ve shown that we can custom-build the desired product.”
When Roy Farmer, the nonstop but equally courteous sales executive at Design Space, made time for the interview early one morning, he continued in a positive mode. “Over the last three years we’ve done two very important things. First, we’ve continued to grow in number of customers and markets. Second, we’ve put even more focus on the quality of every unit we make.”
Farmer is describing the workings of a company that operates three facilities to keep up with demand and employs about 300 people in designing and manufacturing custom building modules for businesses, schools, hospitals and military bases. With approximately $35 million in annual sales, Design Space is ranked No. 3 in a competitive industry. The same ranking survey puts the company in the No. 2 spot for volume of units produced.
A Custom Process
The first Design Space facility was located in Homerville, Ga., in 1991. Two more facilities, new headquarters and manufacturing space in Douglas and manufacturing in McRae, were subsequently added in the Peach State. All told, the company has 200,000 square feet of manufacturing space. Operations inside those plants keep teams of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, roofers and finishing technicians moving on coordinated assembly lines.
Farmer says the manufacturing process for a module travels the length of the building in a prescribed order after the chassis has been pulled into the shop. First, the floor is built on the chassis, then the interior walls are installed, followed by the exterior walls. The roof, which is built on a large table, is picked up by cranes and positioned on the structure. Electrical wiring and other interior work is next. Finally, the siding and roof exteriors are completed with finishing materials.
According to the executive, it takes two weeks to build a typical module. He emphasizes, however, that all Design Space modules are custom designed by the company’s engineering and sales departments, who work closely with each customer during the one to two weeks lead time before production starts.
“Everything that is available in a site-built structure is available in our buildings,” Farmer points out. “We do wood-frame construction, and we do steel-frame construction, which is being required more and more for noncombustibility.” He also emphasizes that meeting state building codes and usage requirements are a central component of the company’s success. “Almost every state has a department that monitors our industry, and we’re approved in all the states in our markets.”
Examples of recent major projects show both the versatility of modular building units and their ability to meet code. Just to name a few, in the past two years Design Space has manufactured a 90,000-square-foot dormitory project for a military base, 26,000 square feet of administrative space at a New York college, Magnet schools throughout New Jersey and numerous Operation Headstart buildings in Southern states.
A Customer Network
McKinnon stresses that building solid relationships with the dealers who sell modular units is a priority at Design Space. “The better the job goes for a dealer, the more repeat business we get. So, if there’s ever a problem, they can always count on us to take care of it – even if it’s not our problem. Dealers have told us that we’re No. 1 in doing this.”
Farmer reiterates this extra-service policy: “We have highly qualified service technicians who respond to customers’ calls. And our service managers who take the calls know how to respond because they have at some time all done the work themselves. And when our technicians are on-site, they respond to whatever problems they encounter, not just problems that may be from the factory or from transport.”
These statements take on added meaning in light of the fact that Design Space does business with dozens of dealers in 31 states and several foreign countries, and produces approximately 2,900 modules annually and ships them hundreds or thousands of miles to their destinations.
A new service Design Space has begun offering dealers is refurbishment of rental modules. Farmer explained that dealers usually have a number of these units, which require renovation from time to time. The company transports the modules to one of its facilities and restores the interiors and exteriors.
Discussing future markets for modular structures, Farmer focuses on domestic growth.
“We want to take on more market share by selling to more dealers and adding more states to our markets. We also want to see growth in heavier construction utilizing more steel and concrete – meaning more permanent structures.”
McKinnon looks to geographic expansion into overseas markets, stating, “I see a big pool of customers in foreign markets, and one of my goals is to see a lot more business with dealers who are selling to those markets.”
Design Space, Inc. – a company with places to go and a product that travels well.