“Schult is one of the only home manufacturers that provides its independent retailers a superior customized product, mortgage financing, and comprehensive warranty service support. Most manufacturers just sell homes.”
That definitive statement about what makes Schult stand out in its industry comes from Erv Bontrager, executive vice president for marketing and product development. And, after 36 years with the company, Bontrager speaks with authority on Schult’s ongoing quest to offer the best product and customer service.
“Schult is one of only a few manufactured home builders that not only provides financing but offers a preoccupancy home walk-through with home buyers to inspect the home and familiarize them with features and routine home maintenance to ensure customer satisfaction through the years,” he adds.
This level of attention to product and service is part and parcel of the Schult story, which began in 1934 when Wilbur Schult and Walter O. Wells teamed up to build mobile homes. Not content to roll out sturdy trailers from the rented garage that served as their first plant, the partners embarked on a program of innovations to the product line.
What is in that line? Manufactured homes ranging in size from 940 to 3,040 square feet. Choices that include one-story designs, sectional construction, garage and basement models, two-story houses, and four-section homes. Amenities that feature natural wood trim and cabinetry, brand-name appliances and interiors planned by professional decorators. Floor plans with eat-in kitchens, vaulted ceilings, computer rooms with the terminals in place, luxury baths, porches and clerestories.
“We have focused on designing homes that fit aesthetically into the area, no matter how the other houses are built. And, we are one of only a few companies that focuses on customizing the designs of the homes in order to meet the needs of the customer,” Bontrager says.
Innovation Is Key
An integral element in Schult’s success is the continuing flow of innovations incorporated into the homes. Among Schult firsts are steel frames, forced-air heating, bathtubs, built-in electrical appliances, complete indoor plumbing, panoramic front bay windows, built-in surround hutch with glass doors and a pantry with door-mounted shelves.
“We are considered to be a leader in innovation, ” Bontrager adds, citing several major advances, including:
• In 1941 Schult was the first to offer a steel undercarriage in its manufactured homes, thereby adding substantial structural integrity and enabling transport up to 1,200 miles with very minimal transportation fatigue to the unit.
• During World War II, Schult was instrumental in developing the first manufactured multi-section homes. Produced for the Tennessee Valley Authority, the 2,000 units housed workers at the project.
• In the 1990s, Schult designed and built the first two-story HUD-Code (Department of Housing and Urban Development) manufactured homes. Created for a community in Seattle, Wash., the 75 units are located in an area where land is at a premium and lots are narrow.
Bontrager credits innovative manufacturing techniques with Schult’s ability to produce quality homes at prices well below the costs for site-built homes. “Building is done in a controlled environment that is not subject to inclement weather, so we have lower labor costs. Labor efficiencies also result from a streamlined manufacturing process,” he explains.
The Schult production line, he points out, is set up in a large building that contains about 20 modules in various stages of production. Every stop on the line has an assignment, such as putting in wall studs, which is accomplished by a highly trained team. A detailed quality check is done at each stage. At some divisions, manufacturing stations move every 28 minutes, and the homes are in move-in condition when they come off the line.
A second factor in achieving quality and cost advantages is volume purchasing. “There are national purchasing economies because we buy mass quantities,” Bontrager explains. “We are highly computerized and our objective is to make use of JIT (just-in-time) delivery. We also use national suppliers who have regional facilities.”
The combination of efficient manufacturing and high-volume purchasing yields savings of up to 10 to 25 percent per square foot, depending on the level of customization, when compared to costs for on-site construction. Bontrager also stresses that the quality level achieved in this process is backed by a five-year structural warranty. “Our CSI, or Customer Satisfaction Index, is one of the highest in the industry. We are truly committed to providing a warranty and service that ensures complete percent customer satisfaction.”
Framework for Growth
As the Schult Homes product offering has grown over the years, so have operations. The company currently has facilities in 15 locations, including headquarters in Middlebury, Ind., and employs more than 3,500 people. The sites are: Buckeye, Ariz.; Moultrie, Ga.; Etna Green, Ind.; Plainville, Kan.; Redwood Falls, Minn.; Hermiston, Ore.; Lewistown, Pa.; Pinebluff, Richfield and Rockwell(2), N. Carolina; Pulaski, Tenn., and Hillsboro and Killeen, Texas.
Homes are marketed through a network of more than 600 independent retailers in 49 states.
In 1998, Schult became part of Oakwood Homes Corporation, a 56-year-old business based in Greensboro, N.C. Describing the synergy of this union, Bontrager says, “Oakwood offered not only innovative manufacturing techniques, but also mortgage financing, insurance and first-hand experience in retailing homes though more than 250 of their own sales centers. In turn, Oakwood became part of the leading name in manufactured home builders of integrity, trust, quality and customizing service to independent retailers nationwide.”
Last year Schult manufactured more than 11,500 homes. Bontrager says the company plans to top that figure as more empty nesters and first-time buyers come into the market. “Next year we’ll be even bigger.”